Saturday, January 19, 2013

Back, Bill Gates, and Ian Hutchinson

Back from an amazing week in Beijing - many very productive meetings none of which are bloggable alas.

Very sad news about the hostage crisis in Algeria.

Interesting that Bill Gates is prepared to say "God’s work" about at least some aspects of the work of his foundation: "...the women who are doing God’s work and getting out to these children and delivering the vaccine.”  The article continues:
Gates does not usually speak in religious terms, and has traditionally danced around the issue of God. His wife, a Roman Catholic, is less defensive on that topic but ploughs her own furrow, encouraging contraception when necessary, in contradiction to teaching from Rome....

So, is it about some new-found faith, all this giving? “It doesn’t relate to any particular religion; it’s about human dignity and equality,” he says. “The golden rule that all lives have equal value and we should treat people as we would like to be treated.”
I did get some time to read more of Monopolizing Knowledge and there are many choice quotes it would be good to share.  It also prompts further musing on the sense in which science "knows" things about the world.  There is the ridiculous Cargo Cult "Argument" for Scientism which says that we have to accept Scientism because we use "the fruits of science" which are taken to mean any beneficial technology that human beings have devised over the last few hundred years (aeroplanes are a prime example).

First of all, even if it were true that all beneficial technology were developed entirely by people who believed in Scientism this doesn't impose a logical or moral obligation to share such a belief upon people who use this technology - though perhaps it does impose some form of obligation to treat the belief with a certain level of respect.   Secondly it is not true that all scientists believe in Scientism, indeed in practice almost none of them really do.  And of course much of the science and technology on which we depend for our daily lives was developed by Christians.  Thirdly, science and technology can be applied for evil ends as well as beneficial ones - if humanity does become extinct in the next few hundred years it will probably be because of the mis-application of technology.

But more interestingly (perhaps) it's worth pointing out that "Science" does not actually make any of the beneficial goods on which society depends.  To the extent that these goods are machines then it's Engineers that can claim this honour - and no-one AFAIK has been so transparently idiotic as to propose a creed of Engineerism whereby "all knowledge is Engineering".  Of course it's true that some Engineers have a scientific background or training and that engineers will, where relevant, use scientific knowledge to help them in their work.  But all that says is that Engineers are practical and will use whatever is conveniently available to achieve their goals.  Engineers use mathematics far more than they use science. If we took a half-way reasonable list of the greatest engineers of all time (eg this one has: Leonardo, Edison, Ford, Wright Bros, Hero of Alexandria, Archimedes, Tesla, Otto and Turing - clearly done by an American and highly disputable but will illustrate the point) we'd find that remarkably few were even trained as scientists let along practicing ones (that list has only two graduates: Tesla in Engineering and Turing in Mathematics).

There is of course a lot more that can be said about all this - in what sense can we say that scientific theories are true for example.  But that's well beyond the scope of this post!

No comments: