the famous argument between Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr on Heisenberg's last visit to Bohr in Copenhagen. Frayn poses the question as the possible subject which resulted in the break between the two men. "Does one as a physicist have the moral right to work on the practical exploitation of atomic energy?"
Frayn also wonders whether Heisenberg suggested to Bohr that together they could stop development of the bomb. Because fission research was in its early stages, it would be possible to tell officials - Bohr, the Americans and Heisenberg the Germans "that bombs are too difficult and expensive." The two scientists were said to have had, in the 1920s, the closest collaboration in the history of science; and, at the time of this meeting, Heisenberg was the leader of the German effort to build an atomic bomb. Heisenberg, returned to Germany and together with other leading scientists in a meeting with Albert Speer, dissuaded the Nazis from building a bomb on the grounds that it was too expensive and uncertain, and "with no hope of success before the end of the war." German war records reveal nothing to suggest that this story is untrue. And Heisenberg, at the war's end, though still a principle director of uranium research for the German military, was in Southern Germany working in a small programme without scientific or military significance, attempting, unsuccessfully, with a small experimental nuclear reactor, to achieve a self-sustaining chain reaction. (Thomas Powers, The Unanswered Question , NYRB, XLVII, 9, May 25,2000, 7).
Bohr, in the meantime, went to the United States, became a close friend and colleague of J. Robert Oppenheimer, fellow scientist and director of the Manhattan Project, and played a small part in this project with the theoretical development of the triggering device for the plutonium bomb dropped by the United States on Nagasaki.
Following the war, Heisenberg in discussions with scientists involved in the Manhattan Project, attempted to explain why he and his colleagues had failed to develop the bomb. He was angrily repulsed by them and accused of bungling the physics and of trying to disguise his failure by inventing "a fable about moral reservations" (Powers, 4) *
Whether or not the question was discussed by Heisenberg and Bohr is perhaps not as important as the question itself.
* [I rely heavily on Thomas Powers article "The Unanswered Question", NYRB for this story. "The histories of these people," he says, " have been minutely recorded on just about every subject imaginable."(Powers, 6) so I imagine I can trust his telling]
Are there limits to scientific enquiry and experiment?
"When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it"
J. Robert Oppenheimer
Oppenheimer's statement is dangerous talk. However, there happens to be no legal, political, societal constraints to scientific research and experiment. I understand that during the 17th Century, scientific academies "decided that any discussion of political, religious or moral problems would not be permitted in their meetings, lest their pursuit of scientific truth be marred by dogma or human passions." This perhaps was the historical precedent which has enabled scientists to ignore the human dimension and to research and develop with impunity, with no responsibility for the consequences of their inventions. This, perhaps, made sense during the Greek Age when science was merely the observation of natural phenomena; or before knowledge of how the energies of nature could be utilized, or before science became "applied." That time has long past, however, but it is not yet too late to change this practice. Judge Weeramantry, former judge and Vice-President of the International Court of Justice reminds us that "[t]he same rules of engineering that will construct a church will construct a torture chamber" and asks the question: "Can the scientist shut his mind to the purposes for which his expertize is required?" (Sehdev Kumar, " A Snake in the Garden of Eden ," The Globe and Mail, Aug.7/00; C.G. Weeramantry, The Lord's Prayer: Bridge to a Better World, Ligouri, Mm, 1998,156)
After the announcement to the Manhattan Project scientists that the atomic bomb they had developed had been dropped by the Americans on Hiroshima there was a surge of excitement, expressions of pleasure, congratulation and urge for celebration. However, as the day wore on, Oppenheimer and his fellow scientists experienced feelings about the loss of life, ranging from, in some, depression, in others, guilt, and still others, outright horror, and in one, physical illness. Oppenheimer's scientist brother, Frank, felt, first, relief that the bomb did not fail to explode, and only after, depression at the loss of life. Concern was expressed by them about their "moral position" and also the fear that the weapon would be used again. Three days later, the plutonium bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and the scientists, those who felt there was no justification for using this bomb, were overwhelmed with feelings of sickness or nausea. Oppenheimer, himself, wondered aloud if "the living at Hiroshima and Nagasaki might envy the dead." (Robert Jay Lifton, & Greg Mitchell, Hiroshima in America , N.Y., 1995,31-2).
Dr. Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell in Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial , have documented in a sympathetic fashion the attitudes, feelings and responses of the scientists for their part in creating what amounts to, not only the most cruel and inhuman technological instrument capable of genocide, but also in its further development as a thermonuclear weapon with immensely greater capability, the instrument that makes possible the extinction of all life on the planet. There is no doubt that, though some of the scientists defended their work and felt proud of their part in the bomb's development, they were haunted forever by feelings of guilt for the evil perpetrated through their accomplishment.
However, only one experienced extreme anguish and regretted that he had not left the project. When asked to continue the work to perfect the bomb after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and develop a hydrogen bomb with immensely greater killing power, some of the scientists felt "an intensely felt experience of evil". Oppenheimer thus requested that their choice to do so be governed by their individual conscience.
Hans Bethe, a consultant to the Manhattan Project, when clarifying his position not to work on the development of a hydrogen bomb before the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy was questioned by an American senator who asked that "given President Truman's decision to initiate a crash programme on the H-bomb", if Bethe, as a citizen, had "the right to interpose [his] political judgements on the matter and thereby frustrate the contribution that [he] as a citizen, particularly equipped by Almighty God and the great genius that [he had, had he] the moral right.to withhold?" Bethe's answer was that the United States was a free country "which prides itself on giving the right to the individual to decide his own actions."
However, Bethe, even though he believed that the hydrogen bomb was evil, and hoped that it would not work, continued with the other Manhattan Project scientists to work on the hydrogen bomb. This ultimately led to the increased killing power of a thermonuclear weapon one thousand times greater than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Another scientist on the project, Australian physicist, Sir Mark Oliphant commented that he "learned during the war that if you pay people well and the work's exciting they'll work on anything." He went on to say, that there is "no difficulty getting doctors to work on chemical warfare and physicists to work on nuclear warfare." (Lifton and Mitchell, 66; S.S. Schweber, In the Shadow of the Bomb , Princeton, 2000, 164; quoted in Sehdev Kumar, A Snake in the Garden , Globe & Mail, Aug.7, 2000
On Becoming Death
by David Krieger, 1995
"Now I am become death,
the shatterer of worlds."
When Oppenheimer thought,
"Now I am become death,"
did he mean,
"Now we have become death?"
Was Oppenheimer thinking
About himself, or all of us?
From Alamogordo to Hiroshima
Took exactly three weeks.
On August 6th, Oppenheimer
Again became death.
So did Groves,
And Stimson and Byrnes.
So did Truman.
So did a hundred thousand
That day in Hiroshima.
So did America.
"This is the greatest thing
in history," Truman said.
He didn't think
He'd become death
We Americans know how to win.
Truman was a winner,
A shatterer of worlds.
Three days later, Truman
And his Military boys
Did it again at Nagasaki.
Some time later,
Oppenheimer visited Truman.
"I have blood on my hands,"
Truman didn't like those words.
When Oppenheimer left,
let him in
That August of '45
Truman and his military boys
Shattered a few worlds.
They never learned
That the worlds they shattered
Included their own.
Oppenheimer professed to feel no remorse; and in fact said as much in relation to developing the bomb and its test, named Trinity, at Alamogordo, New Mexico. At the time of the test, which was four times more powerful than the calculations and the "visual effect.beyond imagination", the scientists were apparently "transfixed with fright" and the words of the Hindu sacred epic, Bhavagad Gita, flashed into Oppenheimer's mind, "If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst into the sky, that would be like the splendour of the Mighty One." However, when the huge, sinister mushroom-shaped cloud rose into the sky, another line from the poem came to him: "I am become Death, the Shatterer of Worlds." At other times, Oppenheimer revealed feelings of guilt and responsibility - in his meeting with Truman, for example (the above poem is a true record except that Truman actually said "I don't want to see that son of a bitch in this office ever again" and referred to him afterwards as 'that crybaby'). Oppenheimer also at times remarked that he had "known sin", had done the "devil's work," and in justification of the moral issue, that the prior firebombing of Tokyo removed any moral imperatives. Dr. Lifton, a psychiatrist who specializes in the psychological effects of the nuclear age, believes that it left such an impression in his soul - (soul is my word) - that as he aged his face became that of a grotesque death mask. Oppenheimer died of throat cancer. I do not know if it was thyroid cancer - the fate of many people and their families involved in the nuclear research, development and manufacture of nuclear weapons. (Lifton & Mitchell, 155;Kumar; Lifton & Mitchell, 226)
Though most of the Manhattan Project atomic scientists experienced guilt, it was not in connection with research and development, not on working - to refer to Frayn's question - "on the practical exploitation of atomic power," but rather more about the actual dropping of the bomb, the mass killing of civilians - their predominant concern was killing women and children. Another concern was that the bomb must never be used again, and many began to activate for international control of atomic energy.
I wonder why, at the time the choice was made to undertake this research and development, these men thought no farther than the technological aspects of the bomb itself? It had a purpose, it had a use. It had a potential to kill on a mass scale, and a potential when produced on a mass scale, to eradicate all life from the planet. The absence of reflection, of contemplation, of the larger issues surprises me.
A Just Cause
In the first instance there was arguably a good reason for scientists to put their energies to work on developing the atomic bomb. Professor Sir Josef Rotblat, a British physicist tells of his concern that Hitler's scientists would be doing the same kind of experiments and making the same kind of discoveries that he, in his laboratory in Poland and others, in laboratories elsewhere, were working on. Rotblat left Poland for England (because of Hitler) and approached the University of Liverpool with his concerns which began a bomb development project and which later combined with the Americans as the Manhattan Project with Rotblat a member of the team.
However, in 1942, when it was discovered that the Germans had failed (perhaps thanks to Heisenberg) and dropped their project, and Rotblat learned from General Leslie Groves, the project's administrator, that the bomb's development would continue because the real intention was to drop it on Japan as a demonstration to the Russians, Rotblat left the Manhattan project, - the only one to do so. He was silenced until the 1950s and treated in a humiliating manner as a security threat. He returned to England, worked on nuclear applications for medicine and served as President of Pugwash, an organization of scientists dedicated to ending war.
The surrender of the Japanese and the end of the Second World War have been attributed to the dropping of the atomic and plutonium bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the Americans. This is the official story promulgated by President Truman and his advisors and maintained by censorship and decades of secrecy, at great psychological cost to the American people: to their health from radiation poisoning from tests, arsenal development and experiments on people; and I might add to the democratic principles of the United States of America. When the documents were released under the Freedom of Information Act the official story was seen to be false. The secrecy and the actions to maintain it, to control the official story, and to hide the awful truth of the effect of the bombs on the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the means used to do so, are a familiar tale to those of you who grew up subject to the Soviet totalitarian system.
"The language of what belongs to man as man has long since been disintegrated."
One of the things that I have noted with others and experienced myself is difficulty, almost to inability, of describing the absolute horror of the nuclear weapon. I struggle to find words that will convey the outrage I feel. I look for the meaning in myth, in fiction, from a primitive ethic or one from a religious, more spiritual age. One of the scientists in experiencing the Trinity explosion talked of it as Doomsday and the official government reporter/cum propagandist wrote about it terms of, what can only be, psychological reversal - "Creation" rather than Destruction, the destructive force it is. Oppenheimer's mind flashed back to a sacred Hindu text. Dr. Lifton comes closest to my feelings in his choice of language which seems archaic in the technological era - where nothing is sacrosanct, where there are no concepts concerned with the sacred and the profane - when he entitles a chapter of his book, "Desecration."
I have struggled to express my outrage: wrestling with concepts like Pandora's box, Frankenstein's Monster, the Philosopher's Stone. However, I fail! The Philosopher's Stone, symbolic of a thirst for forbidden powers beyond and greater than the laws of Nature is applicable to scientific research and development and a warning of the dangers it poses today. However, this metaphor is insufficient to describe the outrage I feel when related to such a momentous crime against Nature: To utilize the elements and four forces of Nature in the service of universal destruction! We are creatures of these elements and forces of Nature! To create from this a tool that can destroy all of Nature Herself! To use Life and Nature against Herself - complicit in Her self-destruction! - in the service of our destruction - Nature's creatures! I have come to the conclusion that the meaning of the nuclear weapon can be expressed only in the form of the Sacred as a blasphemous act - in terms of Good and Evil. If God is defined as the universal communion of man then this is the destruction of God, the evil destruction of the Good, desecration - the violation of all that is sacred.
Hans Morgenthau, who has been described as the "main ideologist and mandarin. of the realist school of [thought]," - that is to say, not a person that one would imagine would concern himself with the ethics of this issue - warns that it is a fallacy to think conventionally about nuclear weapons. He argues that after Hiroshima the symbolic systems and linguistic tools that were appropriate to describe weapons of war prior to Hiroshima are redundant and our linguistic tools are insufficient and sometimes seriously misleading. Weapons of war prior to Hiroshima, he says, were tools of engagement between two warring parties after which one would be defeated and the other emerge the winner - "a rational relationship between a means, an instrument and an end." In his view, to refer to nuclear instruments and their utilization as weapons and war is resorting to euphemisms. A nuclear device, he says, is not a weapon but "an instrument of unlimited, universal destruction"; nuclear war is not war but - to quote him, "suicide and genocide.. a self-defeating absurdity". (Pertti Joenniemi, Arms and Language: In the Beginning there was the Word , Cultural Roots of Peace, Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute, Zurich, 1984, 38-9)
Morgenthau's discussion of language provides rational credence to what I am trying to express. However, it is "Clausewitzean" in concept; rational in the acknowledgement of exchange relationship with its sense of "other" and a strange "justice" - Clausewitzean justice, that is to say, concern for other's deprivation of victory or defeat. It is diminished and soulless in its absence of concern for the sanctity of life. He bespeaks the language of the technological age.
"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world."
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein
We can attribute the articulation of a transformation of the idea of the Good, to Nietzsche for he articulated the values for the new age and confronted us with the profound implications for our technological destiny. This destiny is rooted in and develops organically within the technological age.
In the technological age, the moral and spiritual dimensions of Being are diminished. Being itself is diminished. One is no longer valued as "Being", for his or her humanness, but rather for his or her usefulness. One becomes and is valued as a "human resource", raw material, cannon fodder, and a tool in human form, valued for his or her utility. The moral imperative of human value, human dignity, has been transformed to a technological imperative, value as a commodity. Technology takes over human abilities, the human is diminished. Lewis Mumford writes that the phonograph and radio do away with the impulse to sing, the automobile to walk, the camera the impulse to see and to remember. We assimilate aspects of the machine and the machine assimilates aspects of the human. The human inevitably is diminished. Only part of him or her is valued. The pervading attitudes of the technological culture discourages humanity in individuals.
Technology is not just the instruments, the prostheses made by and for man, it is also a new way of knowing and understanding and both instruments and knowledge are affected by their mutual infusion. Canadian philosopher, George Grant, believes that "Technology is the ontology [essence of things or being] of the age." Technology shapes and is shaped by all aspects of human development, that is to say our language, constructs, concepts, attitudes, belief systems. There is no longer a concept of the sacred, ethics are diminished to principles of survival, codes of behaviour, operational ways and functions of life; morality an invention of organized society in its own interest; and justice, no longer related to truth and beauty is, in Grant's view, "the result of interested calculation." (George Grant, Technology & Justice , Concord, Ont. 1986, 61)
"Have we not been told that to speak of what belongs to man as man is to forget that man creates himself in history?"
-- George Grant
Our language, as articulation of Being, shapes, is shaped by and thus constitutes the world view and affects the way we think and perceive.
Language is not a neutral factor - the power to name and define is a form of societal influence and control. In language one organizes, classifies and makes normal one's experience of the world - the more narrow the world view the more diminished the language. In the narrowing and simplifying of language, of concepts, of reason, in the technological age, unmitigated by the moral and spiritual dimensions of the soul makes it impossible for concepts like the "sanctity of life", higher concepts of justice than those in human created law, to have meaning.
Unless we comprehend that this world view, that the essence and being of technological society is less than (merely part of) the totality of being, of existence, Grant warns that "we obscure from ourselves the central difficulty in our present destiny: we apprehend our destiny by forms of thought which are themselves the very core of that destiny." (Grant, 32)
Since the Enlightenment when the great humane ideals of freedom, justice and equality co-existed in harmony with scientific thought, the understanding of human progress, to paraphrase Albert Schweitzer, has dwelt more and more on the results of science and less and less on reflection on the individual, society, humanity and civilization. Moreover, Descartes' concept of being, "I think therefore I am," rather than a humanistic concept of, say, "I live therefore I am," or "I am life therefore I exist", has tended to dominate critical enquiry, and has led thought into abstractions, fragments and away from knowledge of what is in essence human, of what is humane.
"The abdication of thought has been. the decisive factor in the collapse of our civilization."
-- Albert Schweitzer
I would suggest that the language of Good and Evil, the sacred and the profane was not part of the conscious lexicon of these ("our") scientists until, in some, the explosion of Trinity or, in others, the information that the bomb has been dropped on the two cities in Japan, resulted in a transformational or transfiguring experience which was then followed by a period of reflection -contemplation of the event - Oppenheimer's remark that the people who have survived Hiroshima and Nagasaki may envy the dead, for example. The scientists' anger and rejection of Heisenberg's "moral reservations", referred to earlier, not only suggests - because their response was not a blank stare - that perhaps they were defending against their own feelings of guilt, conscious or unconscious, but also perhaps - a failure to recognize the language of inner conviction, or find it at best irrelevant, outmoded in a profession whose only recognized ethic is "loyalty to truth" whose models of nature are mathematical and completely eliminate the human dimension. (Weeramantry, 157)
"We have talked for decades with ever increasing light-mindedness about war and conquest, as if these were merely operations on a chess-board."
-- Albert Schweitzer
Though at first, "just cause" would not require deep contemplation of a moral and spiritual nature, by 1942 - Nazi Germany's failure to develop a bomb - "just cause" - would no longer be a factor, for surely to drop two deadly weapons of mass destruction on Japanese cities, inhabited predominantly by women and children, in order to demonstrate one nation's power to another, the Soviet Union, is unconscionable.* Only Josef Rotblat found it morally indefensible and had the moral courage to leave the project. The other scientists were seemingly deficient in moral sense, - perhaps it was repressed, sublimated in the service of their profession and a new age, and manifested, only after the fact, as guilt.
Since the Enlightenment knowledge of Good and Evil, right and wrong have been displaced from inner knowledge ("soul knowledge") - from inner conviction - to "learned knowledge" - externalized to one of "values" in service of the quality of life (the positive goal of technology). Innate knowledge and inner conviction is transformed to reasoned choice, and becomes what is expedient. Perhaps what has been lost could be described as intuition, something in this age not to be trusted, something that is allowed, and often praised, in women - Socrates' daimonion perhaps; believed by him to be the highest moral authority in humans. The ethical position is no longer one of Good, or in relation to Good, or Good versus Evil, but rather (borrowing from Murray Bookchin) something like the "lesser of two evils" or "benefit
* Moreover, the bombs were further tests. Prior to use of these bombs U.S. military commanders were instructed not to harm these cities in order that the effects of the bomb on cities and people would be better understood. A uranium bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and a plutonium on Nagasaki, both cities were of little military significance. The first choice of city of the ancient cultural city of Kyoto which had no industry, no military significance. The city was saved because Truman's advisor Henry Stimson had been there and thought it should be saved. American personnel studied the effects of the bomb on the survivors of the blasts, burn and radiation victims but refused them medical help, saying that it was up to their government to provide it. versus risk" - to reverse the analogy of the Philosophers' Stone,transmutation of gold into lead. What is deficient or unacknowledged by the scientists in the Manhattan Project is any obeisance (or homage) to the language or concept of moral law, the standard of conduct respected by good people independently of positive law or religion. (Murray Bookchin, The Modern Crisis , Philadelphia, 1986,9)
What has been lost is the idea of the good as "Other", the self in contemplation and communion oriented to the other. "Otherness" is seen as object or objects, rather than as speaking subjects - merely raw material at one's disposal "for knowing and making." Good deprived of its spiritual and moral dimension becomes value, or values, a concept of worth, utility, commodity, judgements from a denatured soul rather than ideals permeated with meaning. One's sensitivity towards life is lost, or repressed, resulting in a diminishment, narrowing of one's own character - Marcuse's one dimensional man. (Grant, 32)
Canadian philosopher, George Grant, describes it this way: "The good of a being is what it is distinctively fitted for.. In living well together or being open to the whole in thought, we are fulfilling the purpose which is given us in being human.. Good is present in the fulfillment of our given purposes" Socrates, on his deathbed, speaks of good in itself, and makes "clear that we are beings towards good." Grant makes the point that "at the heart of the Platonic language is the affirmation.. that the ultimate cause of being is 'beneficence'." The idea of Good is concerned with virtue, with right or wrong, with conduct or duty to one's neighbour. (Grant, 43, Plato, The Collected Dialogues , Phaedo, Princeton, 1963, 81-86, Grant, 42)
"Therefore All Things Whatsoever Ye Would That Men Should Do To You, Do Ye Even So To Them: For This Is The Law And The Prophets"
-- Math. Vii, 12
Right and wrong, good and evil are predicated on the idea of Good, which is itself the essence of Justice and is, perhaps, best expressed in what is known as the Golden Rule - to treat, to consider others in ways that you would like to be treated or considered - a concept of equalness and relationship (equality) governed by one's own conviction. In the new age it has lost its idealist content become merely a contractual arrangement - something like 'Do unto others if you want them to treat you, consider you, in the same way'. This gives a sense that one is independently creating the values, the freedom to create, develop, make happen, what one wants to happen. This gives one the idea that one human freely determines his or her own destiny and moreover, has no responsibility for the destiny of "Other" - individuals, community, the planet. An 1884 fragment of Nietzsche's writings refers to Justice as a function of power "which sees beyond the little perspectives of good and evil." It is this understanding which makes possible the Manhattan Project scientists' moral lacuna and which enabled them to proceed with their work in creating a tool which could, in its further development wipe all life from the face of the planet.
The products of technology are not benign, not neutral, not outside morality. They are created, developed and used by moral beings. Their invention and applications require a reordering of society and culture in all its aspects and is, as well, taken into account in the creation of new devices. An example of this is the atomic bomb. The growth and size of cities, caused by technological development, would have to be factored into the calculation of the impact of the bomb. To have the largest psychological impact on the Soviet Union, you need a sizeable city to drop a sizeable weapon and so on. These factors must surely have been in the conscious awareness of the scientists as they made their calculations.
Science and technology have progressed to the extent where the dangers outweigh the benefits. Bill Joy, Co-founder and Chief Scientist of Sun Microsystems wrote to me about the new 21st Century technological weapons of mass destruction and asked me "to raise the issues of these technologies and support efforts to contain these dangers." Joy is concerned, first of all, because, unlike nuclear weapon research and development which is controlled and secured by the military, these new technologies are being developed in corporate laboratories and "may empower anyone to [commit] massively destructive acts." These technologies - genetics, robotics and nanotechnology - he warns, are capable of self-replication and destruction on such a scale that, in the case of nanotechnology could destroy the biosphere in half an hour. Joy is concerned that these technologies, not only weapons of mass destruction but "knowledge-enabled mass destruction.. hugely amplified by the power of self-replication" could cause an arms race similar to that of nuclear weapons. (Joy, letter and " Why the Future Does not Need Us " (Wired, 2000)
We may be closer to extinction than we imagine! British cosmologist, John
D. Barrow warns of the "prospect that scientific cultures like our own inevitably contain within themselves the seeds of their own destruction [and] will be the end of us. Our instinctive desire for progress and discovery," he believes, "will stop us from reversing the tides in our affairs. Our democratic leanings will prevent us from regulating the activities of organizations. Our bias towards short-term advantage, rather than ultra-long planning, will prevent us from staving off disasters. In projecting "a future of increasing technological progress", he continues, "we may face a future that is increasingly hazardous and susceptible to irreversible disaster." He believes that "as the world becomes an increasingly sophisticated system, it is increasingly at risk from the consequences of its own headlong rush for development," and "our existence is precarious." He goes on to say that "pondering these things, it is not difficult to imagine that it might be very difficult, or even impossible, for civilizations to persist for too long after they become industrialized." (John D. Barrow, Impossibility: The Limits of Science and the Science of Limits , Oxford, 1998, 112,150, 74)
We are confronted with a situation in which the realistic destiny of civilization is nuclear genocide and ecological degradation unless we find the ways and means to divert the course established by science, technology and its rationale in the name of progress. However, we are so determined by our "technological representation of reality" that solutions to this critical situation are, to quote Grant, to "call for an even greater mobilization of our technology." When a technology becomes a threat another technological device is created to counter the threat. An example of this, and currently of much concern in the global community, is the response of the failure to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons and missile technology. This has resulted in, what is commonly called, Star Wars technology, the United States' National Missile Defense system and the weaponization of space which will jeopardize the future of civilization even further. (Grant, 16)
Barrow, too, is caught in the ontology of the age because in seeking a solution to the problem of this self-destruction he speaks of the need for immense resources to be channelled in order to change course and for the scientists to direct their minds on ways to resolve the situation - and I'll quote him - "just as leading scientists who were once enrolled into teams to devise new techniques for attack and defence in times of war." One would imagine it is time to look elsewhere for leadership! (Barrow, 113)
He is trapped in the language of the era when he argues for scientists to continue to pursue scientific research and is unconscious of the irony of his statement "Progress makes existence more complicated and disasters more devastating." Barrow's "progress" is not human progress, the betterment or improvement of civilization, the idea of the Good, but rather in the language of the technological era, it is narrowed, emptied of idealist content and means merely scientific research and development. He continues that we should not avoid "progress" (my quotes), "preaching always a message of paranoia about the dangers of technology." (Barrow, 153)
At some point in the technological era we have taken a wrong fork on the road. We were diverted in our struggle for survival against a forbidding and harsh Nature, and scientific research and development of technology for the promise of a better life became, not only an urge to dominate and control Nature, but also to wage war on man on such a scale that man and nature can be obliterated. Science and technology have become a force of destruction rather than creation. Dr. Ron McCoy, Co-Chair of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, provides chilling statistics on the activities of scientists: "The Brandt Report stated that more than 50% of the world's scientists were devoted to weapons technology and the manufacture of armaments, while less than 1% was devoted to researching the needs of the developing world." (McCoy, Science, Prosperity and Peace , April 2000 unpublished, 9).
Moreover, the technology for fighting war has become so sophisticated that one person, safe from harm himself, has the ability to kill hundreds of thousands, or in the case of the nuclear warriors in the secret underground missile silos with their weapons, millions, with absolutely no connection to the result of his or her actions. The abstract nature of this kind of war breeds alienation so that these individuals can - with no moral reservations or reflection - kill with impunity. Moreover, in the West, the technology for depicting war to the general public has been deliberately developed in order to give no rise to moral outrage. The United States learned its lesson from Vietnam. An example of this is the forced cancellation of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute in 1995 because it was said that the American people were not ready to face this. Another is the television depiction of the Iraq war which was essentially a computerized simulation of attack and defence strategies in which warriors and their thousands of civilian casualties were completely absent. Science has made possible and it has become the war strategy of the United States to wage war without the loss of an American life.
Another wrong road is that of the ancient Idea of perfection or perfecting the self which was actually a philosophical ideal in relation to the soul and spiritual perfection. This has become an external technological manifestation - an exercise of perfecting the body through scientific and technological manipulation, from face lifts, breast implants to heart and liver transplants (in the near future from cloned Chinese pigs) and endless prolongation of life through technological fixes and perfecting the individual by reengineering through DNA manipulation and cloning. The dangers of genetic engineering have not been fully reflected on and as Joy points out, needs to be because it "will challenge all our notions of what life is." One of Joy's concerns is "it gives power - whether militarily, accidentally, or in a deliberate terrorist act - to create ['engineered organisms']" that could cause destruction on a scale greater than that of thermonuclear weapons. (Joy, Why the Future Does Not Need Us , 2000)
Bookchin asks if there is reason to believe that this "sinister departure" is a short-lived phenomenon and that the innate moral and rational qualities of human beings - the lost potential, can be "recovered and realized." "Is it a given," he asks, that the 'Other' must be reduced to "mere objects of manipulation", or "can ['Other'] exist as an end in itself, to be cherished disinterestedly, or treated benignly in a caring ecological constellation of beings." (Bookchin, 113,112,113)
Albert Schweitzer tells us that "Wherever there is lost the consciousness that every man is an object of concern for us just because he is a man, civilization and morals are shaken, and the advance to fully developed inhumanity is only a question of time." (Albert Schweitzer, The Philosophy of Civilization , Buffalo, 1987, 14).
As long as a dispassionate and unreflective science reigns supreme, and the scientific model of nature is mathematical and devoid of the human, it "is only a question of time." As long as the only ethical requirement for science is to tell the truth, and as long as the only responsibility for the scientist in the words of Oppenheimer, " is to remain dedicated" it "is only a question of time." Oppenheimer struggled with the question of the responsibility of the scientist and community for many years and was never able to find in himself an answer other than the above. He talked about the virtue of correcting error and a "commitment to the value of learning" and "therefore," he said, the problem of finding an ethic for today is solved." "Our age has discovered how to divorce knowledge from thought with the result that we have, indeed, a science which is free, but hardly any science which reflects" and this is of great danger to humanity. (Schweber, 180; Schweitzer, 44)
As long as there are no limits to scientific enquiry and technological development, perhaps it "is only a question of time." The limits to scientific enquiry in Barrow's view are financial and the limits "imposed by the nature of humanity. The human brain was not evolved with science in mind." The language of science, mathematics, unlike communicative language which is innate, is learned language - foreign to humans. Barrow's statements probably tells us something about our desire for the Philosopher's stone and that we are on the wrong road. ." (Barrow, viii)
Joy, makes the suggestion when expressing his fears of the dangers inherent in 21st Century technologies that there must be a form of Hippocratic Oath for Scientists and engineers, "a strong code of ethical conduct S and that they have the courage to whistle-blow as necessary, even at high personal cost." (Joy, Wired) Several of the Manhattan Project scientists, Josef Rotblat, Hans Bethe among them, and Einstein and Schweitzer before them, have been calling for an oath similar to that of physicians.
If the past ideals and moral convictions cannot be resurrected, restored to consciousness; if individuals, like the Manhattan Project scientists, and do not know when they have reached the threshold separating right from wrong, Good from Evil, are in positions to create and develop instruments of death, then a code of ethical conduct embracing the sanctity of the human is essential. A new model for science is necessary in which the human is viewed as a speaking subject rather than object for study and manipulation, as matter, or eliminated entirely as in the current mathematical model of science. The scientists, as priests and shamans of culture since the Enlightenment, can no longer offer a language of human progress, a language of hope, so let them turn their energies to undoing the dangers they have unleashed.
British culture critic, Raymond Williams reminds us that technology is not an inevitable series of transformations careering along the ringing grooves of change. Rather, it is a set of humanly decided and humanly alterable options for the application of skills. Lewis Mumford makes the point that the most important thing to come out of the mine is not coal - iron - or gold. Rather the most important thing to come out of the mine is the miner.
The notion of the individual as the hub of all human activity; of the human as aware - responsible - the creator and user of technologies needs surprisingly enough, to be constantly brought to attention; to be examined and reflected upon, and to be continuously reinforced. Furthermore, the notion of the human as merely a part of an extremely complex, interdependent ecological system which it has spent two hundred years or so degrading and destroying, is also an essential focus for reflective thought, for a new philosophy which places man at the centre of his technologies, but not the centre of the universe, in which science sees its leading role as caretaker of the universe, as nurturer of human life.
Since the Enlightenment, according Schweitzer, philosophy has "philosophized about everything except civilization. She went on working undeviatingly at the establishment of a theoretical view of the universe, as though, by means of it everything could be restored, and did not reflect that this theory, even if it were completed, would be constructed only out of history and science, and would accordingly be unoptimistic and unethical, and would remain forever an 'impotent theory of the universe', which could never call forth the energies needed for the establishment and maintenance of the ideals of civilization." (Schweitzer, 8)
If Heidegger is correct and we are "beings towards death" then Barrow's idea of progress, that is emptied of ideals "about progress of the whole" is our rationale for being in the technological era. However, I am with Socrates as he on his deathbed "made clear that we are beings towards Good" and asserts "that the absence of the knowledge of Good is not ignorance but madness". (Schweitzer, 9; Grant, 43)
Thank you very much.
The Diverse Landscape of Knowing: Can We Cope With It
CENTER FOR THEORETICAL STUDY
Charles University & Academy of Sciences
Prague, Czech Republic
10TH Anniversary Conference
August 28th - 30th, 2000