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The Development of Civilization?

The question of whether “science and technology [have] been primarily constructive or destructive forces in the second half of Western Civilization” is framed as offering two choices. Possible Consequences of the “Scientific Revolution” The relationship between the Earth and the sun. Major work in the hard sciences that occurred during a period between the 16th and 17th centuries resulted in what has been referred to as “the scientific revolution” (Kreis).

In particular, developments occurring between the work of Copernicus, published in 1543, advancing the theory that the sun, rather than the planet Earth, was the center of the universe and culminating in Newton’s “mathematical system,” the calculus, that resulted in “a concrete and scientific explanation of the motion of the heavens” (Kries 3) qualified as what Kuhn has referred to as a new “paradigm” (page numbers). One remarkable aspect of this new theory is that it is totally counter to human perception of the Earth as stationary – it must have been astonishing for people to learn that the Earth actually was rotating around the sun.

What, if any, were the effects of this aspect of the scientific revolution on human cognition? Certainly, at the time this revolutionary idea gained acceptance, people knew that since the beginning of civilization, human history could be characterized as one of constant bloodshed, where those with power inflicted torture on those without power (Braudel & Mayne) that render the word “civilization” a strange one to use.

Did knowledge that we were not the center of the universe, this change in our knowledge of the relationship between the Earth and the sun, provide us with the humility that might have changed the nature of relationships between those with and without power? Since it remains true that every minute of every day more than one person is inflicting excruciating pain on another, the new “paradigm” was not used as a constructive influence on human behavior and thought.

Since it similarly was not used as a destructive influence, the most reasonable conclusion would seem to be that there were no implications regarding the applied social sciences or the humanities. Gravity ( ). Until Newton formulated the laws of gravity, Aristotle’s theory that heavy objects dropped down towards the Earth and lighter ones were driven upward was accepted. In turn, Newton’s laws were used by Einstein in developing the theory of relativity. Scientists, of course, cannot know in advance the possible practical applications of their theories,

“but it was his [Einstein’s] equation (E = mc[square]) which made the atomic bomb theoretically possible” (Isaacson 27). Obviously, nuclear warfare was a destructive influence on civilization. On August 6, 1946, the United States became the first country to use this technology that required only an instant to turn Hiroshima into a wasteland of burned human corpses, barely living others covered with blood, blood dripping from sockets that once were eyes, others who would remain crippled, grotesquely scarred, or with an illness, varying in severity, that occurs when radiation ravages the cells of one’s body (Hersey).

It was not a matter of the United States being uniquely “evil” relative to other countries. Indeed, a Japanese woman Hersey interviewed who had been a victim of the bomb said “it was war and we had to expect it” (89). In other words, would the United States have dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and soon after on Nagasaki if Japan also had access to the bomb? Indeed, had only one country developed the even more deadly hydrogen bomb, would that country have used it?

Inevitably, however, the Soviet Union, followed by other countries, also developed nuclear weapons. Wasn’t it inevitable that other countries would want the same toys that we had? In fact, more than sixty years have passed without one country using nuclear weapons against another and despite George Bush’s imagination, the intense fear of nuclear attack in the decades since World War II seems to have faded. Perhaps, we know now that there are so many ways to wreak havoc that what we fear most seems to change with the times.

Indeed, in terms of using science in the development of weapons, one could argue that the person who developed the first means other than the human fist to kill another began a chain of inventions used in warfare that has increased the distance between killer and killed. Remarque eloquently had his main character, Baumer, the young German soldier in World War I, come to believe that wars were between generations, not countries: “Why do they never tell us that you [a French soldier he had killed] are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours (223).

. . I see how people are set against one another, and unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another . . . And all men my age, here and over there, throughout the whole world see these things” (263). So, of course, science has been used as a destructive force regarding weapons of war – but how can we blame science for human behavior? Medical applications. Without advances in the hard sciences, virtual revolutions in medical research would not have been possible.

Examples (source) include heart by-pass surgery adding decades of good health to those who were doomed to an early death less than half a century ago, modern chemotherapy which, again, now is available to save so many of the previously doomed, artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, etc. allowing more and more of us to go forth and multiply, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), that has resulted in use of thalamic deep-brain stimulation in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

In face, revolutionary advances in psychopharmacology ( ) have resulted in medications that allow us sweet oblivion to the brutal realities of our lives (indeed, why hasn’t anyone managed to put Prozac in our drinking water? ). One major problem, however, in describing advances in medicine as constructive forces is that given our failure to change the nature of human relationships, described above, raises the question of why we should appreciate extended life spans.

Works Cited

Braudel, Fernand, and Richard Mayne.A History of Civilizations. New York: Penguin Books. (2003), Hersey, John. Hiroshima. New York: Vintage Books. (1989/1945). Isaacson, Walter. “Chain Reaction. ” Discover (2008): 26-9. Kreis, Steven. “Lectures on Early Modern European History: The Scientific Revolution, 1642-1730. ” Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. (1962). Remarque, Erich Maria. All Quiet on the Western Front. Trans. A. W. Wheen. New York: Ballantine (1982/1929).

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