Monday, February 2, 2009

Science and Egotism

I guess it really shouldn't any longer however; the advances made these days always seem to amaze me. Advances in science and technology can be fascinating and wonderful things! They have brought about some pretty incredible ways of diagnosis and treatment in medicine. They have been the impetus behind many of the modern-day conveniences which we now enjoy. And of course they have most recently provided a nearly exponential expansion in our database of knowledge.

It seems to me however that this expansion in our knowledge has also served to expand our egotism and self-aggrandizement. Why would I say this? I'll offer up some observations I have made over the past few years;

I have heard countless times, in defense of why one thing or another is done differently now than in the past, "Well, we know better today!" I'm always tempted to follow this up with the question; "How do we know 'better' today?" We certainly know more today however, if one thing experience has taught me ‘more’ does not always equal ‘better’! How can we be so assured that what we know today is better than what we knew yesterday? How can we be assured that what we know today won't be changed or reversed by what we know tomorrow? It's really unclear to me what instrument, scale or gauge is being used to measure this.

Throughout my 13 years in the world of academia I have been exposed to those of my colleagues who act as if (and even those who will outright tell you) "You can't possibly know as much as I do on the subject!" Yet some of the same colleagues are blissfully unaware of some of the more recent discoveries or information available on their own subject. I have also seen those who are of the opinion that if they cannot understand it, being an "expert" in a certain field, it cannot be correct or true. Is this anything other than pure unadulterated egotism? Fortunately they seem to be the exception and not the rule.

There's something about society that seems to cause it to belief or at least act like the species referred to as Homo sapiens is the "ultimate". With some information appearing to go as far as suggesting evolution can no longer improve upon itself. This of course would be in direct opposition with the theory of evolution itself.

Certainly we have an enormously more amount of information today than we have in years past. The bulk of this information is available to so many more people through the Internet than it ever has been. I think it is more imperative now, at least more apparent now than ever, that we comprehend the subtle yet significant difference between knowing and understanding.

I always make it a point on my first day of class to ask the the question, "If a person or a group of people could possibly know everything there is to know but does not understand what to do with that knowledge, what good is the knowledge possessed?"

For now I'll leave you with that and one other question. Even if the technology necessary were available today, could a human being actually "know" everything that there is to know?

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