Science and Technology, Part 1

Exploring the framework for a “Balanced Development” model

 

Ramses Rashidi

©2008 Center for Balanced Development (www.cbdus.org)

 

In the last three articles we talked about the growth and development of the banking and finance industry and its impact on society and economy. Here, we are going to examine the balance in the growth and development of science and technology and we will explore their future prospects.

 

The Roots of Technology

In search of a more enjoyable and comfortable existence, mankind has always been developing new technologies. Actually, based on the evidence found in Africa, human use of technology is traced back to 2.5 million years ago when sharp stone tools were used to serve the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The discovery of fire, as early as one million years ago, caused a great leap in technology as it helped with the development of new tools, food preparation and expanding the scope of human activities. Gradually, advances were made in making clothes, as well as in the building of shelters and habitats. Sometime around 200,000 years ago, the human species having technologically advanced, started exploring new territories and migrating out of Africa and into Europe and Asia.

 

Technology Serving the Development of Ancient Civilizations

Over time, the human race further advanced in developing technologies that would serve the building of new civilizations in the different parts of the world. Egyptians became highly skilled in making sailboats, construction, mining, map making and the use of Papyrus paper.  In Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq), the invention of the wheel some 6,000 years ago changed the nature of travel and carrying cargo. The Greeks invented the waterwheel, windmills, cranes and dome construction. In India sanitation technology, public baths, shipbuilding, architecture and plant cultivation were developed. The Persian Empire was known for its vast network of cities, and its advances in architecture, medicine, astronomy and mathematics.

 

The Roman Empire had the most advanced technology of its time. Weaponry, advanced sailing ships, civil engineering, transport technology, iron work, glass-blowing, concrete, aqueducts, mining, amphitheaters, bridges, harbors, reservoirs and dams were among the numerous achievements of the Roman technology.

 

In the Chinese Empire, there were great advances made in science, technology, mathematics and astronomy. Also notable was the development of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture.

The invention of abacus, matches, fireworks, kites, lanterns, suspended bridges, and cast iron, as well as the four great inventions of the ancient China which included the compass, gunpowder, paper and printing were among the most important technological advances which became known to Europeans only towards the end of the Middle-Ages. During the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-906) great innovation were achieved and there were frequent exchanges with the Western world. Many of the Jesuit missionaries brought the Chinese technology to Europe, as well as introducing Western science and technology to China.

 

In South America, the Inca, Maya and Aztec civilizations were also highly evolved. The Inca construction technology in Machu Picchu, Peru is truly incredible in how the huge boulders were carried up the mountain and so tightly constructed. The Mayan civilization developed astrological systems and advanced construction technology in building the Mayan Pyramids. The Aztecs were able to build a system of communication and design highly efficient cities.

 

Altogether, these ancient civilizations were in constant search of developing and improving their technologies to show the magnificence of the empire and how highly evolved they were. Although, it is noteworthy to point out that the social rank and file oftentimes were enslaved to serve the ruling class and the privileged. However, the overall development pattern did benefit the members of the community in terms of having access to certain basic technologies. 

 

The Emergence of Science and the Scientific Methods

If technology was about usage and knowledge of tools and crafts to control and adapt to the environment, science was about observing and understanding the physical world and how it works. Up until the 18th century the proper term for the study of physical world or nature was natural philosophy and the study of the human mind was called moral philosophy. The word “science” was used to refer to knowledge. Gradually, natural philosophy was referred to as natural science (non-human) and the study of human beings as social science. In the early 19th century the words “science” and “scientist” were still ambiguous. However, in the last half of the 19th century a discussion emerged which focused on “scientists”, as a special group of people who did “science” as a distinct form of knowledge different from other human endeavors.

 

By the 20th century the modern notion of “science” as a special brand of information about the world, practiced by “scientists” and using “the scientific method” became well known. The concept of science has played a major role in our understanding of the physical world as well as social phenomenon. Great theories have been put forth which have led to numerous technologies being developed and improved. However, like anything else, human fascination with science in the modern times has transitioned out of the bounds of moderation at the expense of losing sight of the human factors of life. Today, we are constantly striving to keep up with science and technology in the developed communities around the world while the majority of our planet’s population has little access to the most basic technologies. What was once the means of building civilizations today has become the domain of only the most privileged and inaccessible to the rest of humanity. Today, when it comes to science and technology the word “balance”, in its micro and macro sense, does not apply.

 

Meanwhile, popular science has been treated as the absolute fact, while time-tested social theories and cultural values are regarded as obsolete and outdated. This attitude has led to the demise of our social structure and the breakdown of human relations as we increasingly focus most of our attention on controlling every aspect of life through science and technology, while placing the individual in the center of human activities. This raises a number of questions; “What is science?”, “What is the role of science and technology in society?”, “Is science capable of addressing all issues involving human beings and nature?”

 

In the next articles we will continue our discussion on this very important subject of science and technology and its impact on society and the development process.

 

Ramses Rashidi (ramses@cbdus.org) is the founder and director of Center for Balanced Development.

The center is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources and services to foster global balance in social, personal, ecological and economic development.