Part of a Series of Excerpts from Prof. Sundar Sarukkai’s book, ‘What is Science?’

Dr. Sarukkai explores the idea of science as a worldview-

” In an earlier section, I had mentioned Feynman’s description of science as a capacity to think critically. In the same talk, he also talks about the ‘beauty and the wonder of the world’ that is discovered through science. Most other scientists repeatedly refer to nature in these terms- when they are doing this they are not doing it as poets do but they are doing it as scientists.”

“… science is a particular way of looking at the world. It could be in terms of awe, wonder and curiosity. It is mediated by inquisitiveness towards nature- wondering why the world is the way it is, why the sky is blue and so on. It is also characterised by a view of nature which science implicitly or explicitly holds.”

(Page 23)

“Another view of nature that informs scientific activity is that nature hides its secrets which have to be ferreted out, sometimes with force if necessary. This view has led to disastrous consequences such as the enormous impact on the environment. Part of the problem lies in science’s view that nature is mute, inanimate and we can do what we want with it in our search for its truths. Such a view allows science the liberty to break a homogenous world of nature into bits and parts in order to ‘discover’ its structure which then allows us to use its resources in a more effective manner. To really accomplish these tasks, science has to hold another problematic view about nature, namely, that humans are ‘outside’ nature. We are the observers of nature, we are the one who attempt to control nature and nature is out there for us to use as we see fit.”

(Page 24)

Science as a Means of Controlling the World

“None of the other human activities such as cooking, astrology, storytelling, art (some of which are seen to be similar to science in terms of narratives, knowledge-making, methods etc.) do what science does- attempt to control and overcome the limitations of the world.”

“While some have suggested that social science intervenes and changes society like science does with the natural world, there is still a radical difference between the natural and social sciences as far as technology is concerned. There is really no comparable ‘technology of the social sciences’ that can match natural science’s interventionist capabilities.”

(Page 25)

Science as Political

“The origin of science is as much a product of creating a social community of scientists as it is a product created by individual scientists. This is one of the reasons why science is inherently political, if by political we mean decisions and actions that have to do with a group of people.”

“All countries, in the name of development or because of their defence interests, have very close ties with the scientific community in that country… This is also a primary reason as to why governments have been the largest spenders on science teaching and research all over the world.”

“… scientists often tend to claim that science is completely neutral with regard to politics and social pressures. Scientists claim that politicians use science in a manner which a scientist may have no control over.”

(Page 26)

“Such a simple distinction between the scientist and the politician is not possible in modern times for science is inherently tied in with the political class. Very good examples of this constant engagement are the scientists’ involvement with the Nazi as well as Stalinist regimes.”

“Since science needs an enormous amount of expenditure it is often only the government which can handle that burden. This makes the government a patron of the sciences and this in turn leads to an uneasy relation between the politicians and scientists.”

(Page 27)

We have now arrived at the conclusion of the author’s chapter on ‘Defining Science’. The next chapter is titled, ‘Doing Science’. Excerpts will be made available in subsequent posts.

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