What to think of scientific breakthroughs while reading the morning paper


   Have you read that life exists on Mars? Or may be the evidence points to earthly contamination. But surely there is water on the moon? Or may be it is noise on old military satellite recordings. But certainly scientists found the genetic fountain of youth? Or did they mean a mere extension of our time spend as pensioners?

   A scientific century comes of age.

   We experience a shrinking world, borders grow closer with increasing sophistication of science and technology, but there are no news, really. Health statistics by the dozens are flooding our world with 'facts' and they are revised more often than not. Our age looses faith in its own power to find meaning through knowledge. And the loss of past knowledge is the price we pay for progress. An 'absurd' normalcy of live today is that we are not accumulating knowledge after all, but shifting it to new horizons, for it is easier to uphold illusions than to face the spiritual emptiness of our technological world.

   We believe the scientists not for their rationalism&logic but their prophecies of a better&happier life. What captivates is not the technique but its transcendence, the dreams and romances. Although logic seems irrefutable, it will never steal our hearts. Legends, myths, and honor are puncturing a scientific believe system that made our century a technological one. Yet the gods are returning ever so strong and with them the believe that what we are doing is judged by a higher being.

   So we are willing to believe that a curse rests upon Camelot and that El niño is not  only responsible for the weather's havoc, but stands for natures power beyond our control, a power to which we can attribute human qualities. Accepting our fate in the face of natural phenomena (is there a house owner who did not buy flood insurance?), they become the equivalent of the gods of the ancient world of planets, the oceans, and the sky. This makes 'things turned bad' less threatening, for we as human beings are not responsible. What makes us responsible are education, democracy and the enlightenment of society, for now we understand the consequences of our deeds. The Kyoto conference on global warming is such an article of faith of rationalism. This gives us the power to conduct our lives in a responsible way, for we know about good and evil.

   Curses, Gods, and the fountain of youth. Truth is elusive and we indulge in quick stimuli of front-page hope of long life, no wrinkles, and life elsewhere in the universe. Nothing seems absolute, the mantra of sociology departments of our colleges. The truth, and many believe also the scientific truth, lies in the eye of the beholder. Yet 'the fountains of youth' of postmodern science, served for breakfast and refuted by supper time are just an other human pastime. Once people start counting the ifs and when's in these reports they shall realize the futility of their daydreams.

Lukas Buehler, November 21, 2010

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