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Posts Tagged ‘The Impact Of Science On Society’

I got ‘The Impact of Science on Society‘ by Bertrand Russell at a secondhand books sale a few years back. It was an old copy and the individual pages were coming off. I finally took it out of my bookshelf and turned the pages delicately and read it.

I was expecting the book to be about how science is important to society – on how we all need to have a scientific temper, how we should follow the scientific process and method and use facts and logical analysis to arrive at conclusions. This book, interestingly, was different. It was about how society evolved from ancient times, when people believed in received information and words of wisdom and how this changed in recent centuries after the advent of science. Then Bertrand Russell touches on how science has impacted everyday life and work and the economy and war and how science impacts different political structures like democracies and totalitarian systems and how science impacts our values. Russell talks about both the positive and negative impacts of science in all these areas. Then Russell goes on to imagine what the future has in store. When Russell talks about science, he is mostly talking about what he calls ‘scientific technique’, which is what we call ‘technology’ today. The factual and historical parts of the book were wonderful. Some of Russell’s analysis and predictions and vision for the future feels dated, but that is to expected because this book came out in 1952, and it was the beginning of the Cold War era, and the world was a different place then. But the things that Russell gets right are amazing, because those insights apply very much to our modern world. Russell prose is simple and straightforward and he writes with clear, simple logic, taking an argument from first principles and leading it forward. He is not scared of offering unconventional opinions and arriving at unconventional conclusions based on where the facts and logic take him, and we understand why his own countrymen were uncomfortable with him during his time, because he calls a spade a spade. Interestingly, this is the first proper book by Bertrand Russell that I have read. I don’t know why I haven’t read his work before, because I really like his writing. I am hoping to read more of his books.

I am giving below one of my favourite passages from the book which feels true even today, though it talks about a different time.

“…even in a country like our own, where industrialism is old, changes occur with a rapidity which is psychologically difficult. Consider what has happened during my life-time. When I was a child telephones were new and very rare. During my first visit to America I did not see a single motor-car. I was 39 when I first saw an aeroplane. Broadcasting and the cinema have made the life of the young profoundly different from what it was during my own youth. As for public life, when I first became politically conscious Gladstone and Disraeli still confronted each other amid Victorian solidities, the British Empire seemed eternal, a threat to British naval supremacy was unthinkable, the country was aristocratic and rich and growing richer, and Socialism was regarded as the fad of a few disgruntled and disreputable foreigners.
For an old man, with such a background, it is difficult to feel at home in a world of atomic bombs, communism, and American supremacy. Experience, formerly a help in the acquisition of political sagacity, is now a positive hindrance, because it was acquired in such different conditions. It is now scarcely possible for a man to acquire slowly the sort of wisdom which in former times caused ‘elders’ to be respected, because the lessons of experience become out of date as fast as they are learnt. Science, while it has enormously accelerated outward change, has not yet found any way of hastening psychological change, especially where the unconscious and subconscious are concerned. Few men’s unconscious feels at home except in conditions very similar to those which prevailed when they were children.”

Have you read ‘The Impact of Science on Society‘ by Bertrand Russell? What do you think about it? Which is your favourite Russell book?

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