Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Response to John Horgan's "The End of Science"

John Horgan makes some incredibly sober predictions about the direction science is heading.  According to Horgan, the scientific community is increasingly cleaving to a fantastic trans humanistic future where the homo sapiens resembles something in akin to a Borg crossed with Star Trek’s Jane Kathryn Janeway. I suppose at best it would be a small victory and possible orgasm for trekkies everywhere.  However, he points out that such an outcome is unrealistic, especially in the time frame that many of these anti-aging pill popping enthusiasts are predicting.   And then there are scientists who are super content studying the aimless and mundane, and their life’s work doesn’t have a hope in hell in inspiring any sort of profound change. They spend most of their days counting the poop rings on the inside of a crustacean anus, or they attentively watch the mating behavior of chimpanzees while stroking their own swollen members. It is debatable what positive effect such work could possibly have on the future of humanity.  Imagine the amount of financial resources that are wasted at educational institutions every year to these thick spectacle wearing supposedly academics.   
Ideally, science is supposed to be about discovery, which results in novel new ways of thinking, and possibly invention. And any novelty of Invention should in principle make the human condition more tolerable.  Horgan suggests that the hayday for such discoveries is over, and that we could be heading in a direction where paradigm shifting discoveries slow or have even ended. And combined with increasing threats from a myriad of irrational and random forces, his prospects for the future of humanity isn’t as optimistic as some of the academics within the present transhumanism movement.  I tend to fall somewhere in the middle of Horgan’s position and someone like Ray Kurzweil.  
 The way I view science presently is that the species has mastered some of the basic foundational theories necessary to move into more difficult areas such as the human body and robotics, which I see as two significant areas that will probably continue to make slow gains over the next few centuries. Slowing the aging process is probably possible, but not to the extreme that Kurzweil hopes.  Realistically, science will probably extend life expectancy 15-25 years every century, and I could see some novel new theories within cell biology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence that may help to accelerate those fields. However, I tend to be less optimistic that such changes will come in a short period of time.  Basically, if I was Ray Kurzweil, I would become a bit more comfortable with the reality of dying because the borg hive queen isn’t beaming down to transform and tweak his biology anytime soon.

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