Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: Physics Isn’t Good or Bad

“Science is amoral. Physics isn’t good or bad. It just is. One guy patents the radio, another creates nerve gas. Equally innocent. Cure for polio or the atomic bomb? Totally, equally amoral. Cannot be judged. Must be allowed to continue developing at whatever rate scientists can secure funding. Chopping people’s arms off to measure how quickly they scream? This is science. Fuck off with your ethics. Ethics are fairy-story make-believe. Science believes in materials, like armor-piercing bullets and hobos signing up for human testing. You don’t want us to build a nuclear reactor just because an earthquake might release radiation over your city? That’s wrong of you. And that’s weird, because science doesn’t acknowledge wrong. Unless it’s the wrong of opposing science. You want to send aid to starving countries instead of paying for another moon landing? Well, fuck you. That moon landing is the future of science. So is creating sustainable agriculture for a ballooning world population, but that’s not for you to judge. Those moon scientists and food scientists both want money. Neither is more right than the other because there is no right in science. It’s not your place to project values onto these people. If anything, you should hold both their opinions and keep flinging money at each of them. That may seem like saying they’re both more right than you are, but that’s only if you think about it, and science is telling you not to. It’s wrong to think about it, because thinking about it is opposing science. In a few years neuroscientists will conquer the brain and, based on how you think, tell you what to think. Want a spoiler? It has you paying us for science. That’s good for everyone, or it would be if good were a material.”


  1. Science is amoral - who can argue with your reasoning - just tell me what to think and where to pay me money ^__^

  2. I have to strongly disagree with everything but the tile.

    While the actual knowledge is neither a good or bad thing, it is the action taken by somebody in the use of that knowledge in which moral judgement can be levied.

    There is a difference between the scientist, electrical engineer, and weapons researcher. The scientist uncovers the fundamental workings of the universe, and this is neither good or bad morally. The EE uses that research and develops a new communications device that allows for tele-medicine. Let's call that a net good. The weapons researcher uses that research to make a new bomb. Let's call that a net bad.

    The scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project were deeply disturbed by what they did and would just about all agree they had a lapse in moral judgement when they created the atomic bomb. But they also realized that the research they did in the 20s and 30s meant that creating the atomic bomb was simply a matter of engineering and it is partially why Russia was able to create one shortly after WWII.

    And as far as funding of science instead of sending aid...what do you think allows us as a society to send aid? If the US government never spent a dime on scientific research, the country would so far behind economically that Haiti might be sending us aid.

    You can debate how much money the public would put towards scientific research, and that's fine. But what anybody in the scientific community would tell you is that the resources should be spread as evenly as possible across the various disciplines because it is impossible to figure out where the next major breakthrough will occur, and gambling more of your resources on say physics vs biology is just that, a gamble.

    Again: science is amoral. Does the discovery of fire become evil because some people have used it commit arson anymore than Neils Bohr's research can be considered evil because it led to the atomic bomb?

    (Oh, and there are ethical standards that explicitly forbid you from cutting somebodies healthy arm off or rounding up a bunch of hobos to perform tests on them, not to mention laws.)

  3. Helen, clearly Michael can! We'll get on your wallet in a moment.

    Michael, there is actually more than one difference between the scientist, electrical engineer and weapons researcher. And I think you know that. However the two latter parties, where there work are scientific, are subsets of the former party. Also, a scientist does not exclusively study the fundamental workings of the universe. Again, I think you know this and got too caught up in the rush to disagree.

    The amorality of science is a dodge. Your example from the Manhattan Project actually illustrates this; certainly your interpretation of the arm severing line is. I understand wanting the dodge because it allows you to keep doing whatever you want to do. We humans make these sorts of dodges to support our decisions all the time, and all our scientists are human. But just because something can have positive and negative outcomes doesn't remove it from the ethical spectrum. In fact, that puts it decidedly in the spectrum. That is one reason why we maintain the ethical standards you mention in your parenthetical at the end, where you seem to have taken a clear joke line as serious.

  4. This is brilliant. Also, I found the voice in my head narrating this was the head of Aperture Science from Portal 2, some of those were so clearly his lines! Very well put, sir.

    What always gets me is the way people behave as though today's scientific discoveries are of course infallibly accurate, despite the fact that later science inevitably overturns many of earlier science's "truths".

  5. Jemma, taking scientific studies in stride is important. What the scientific media and pundits report about studies, and what researchers actually do, are often grossly different. I've known several biochemists who cussed up storms about how their findings were covered.


Counter est. March 2, 2008