Written by Australian biologist Jeremy Griffith, 2011
What is science? Coming from the Latin word scientia, meaning ‘knowledge’, science is humanity’s vehicle for the pursuit of knowledge, with the ultimate knowledge we needed being self-knowledge–the reconciling biological explanation of our ‘good-and-evil’-afflicted, seemingly-highly-imperfect, so-called HUMAN CONDITION!
While it’s undeniable that we humans are capable of great love, we also have an unspeakable history of brutality, rape, torture, murder and war–and the eternal question has been ‘why?’ How are we to explain our species’ seemingly extremely flawed state or condition? Even in our everyday behaviour, why, when the ideals of life are so clearly to be cooperative, , are we humans competitive, selfish and aggressive–in fact, so ruthlessly competitive, selfish and brutal that human life has become all but unbearable and we have nearly destroyed our own planet? The famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung was forever saying, ‘wholeness for humans depends on the ability to own their own shadow’, because he recognised that only finding understanding of our dark side could end our underlying psychological insecurity about our fundamental goodness and worth as humans and, in so doing, make us ‘whole’. The pre-eminent philosopher Sir Laurens van der Post was making the same point when he said, ‘True love is love of the difficult and unlovable’ (Journey Into Russia, 1964, p.145) and ‘Only by understanding how we were all a part of the same contemporary pattern [of wars, cruelty, greed and indifference] could we defeat those dark forces with a true understanding of their nature and origin’ (Jung and the Story of Our Time, 1976, p.24).
Yes, the real frontier for the human race–and most particularly for its designated vehicle for enquiry, science–was never outer space but inner space, the search for this makes-us-‘whole’, ‘good-and-evil’-reconciling, psychologically-rehabilitating, human-race-transforming-and-thus-human-race-saving understanding of the human condition! In terms then of the question ‘what is science?’, the is science was established to solve the human condition–that was its all-important objective. In 1982 the author Marilyn Ferguson wrote these words about humanity’s long dreamed-of liberation from our seemingly-horribly-flawed condition: ‘Maybe [the scientist-philosopher] Teilhard de Chardin was right; maybe we are moving toward an omega point [a final unification of our split selves]–Maybe we can finally resolve the planet’s inner conflict between its neurotic self and its real self. Our real self knows how to commune, how to create…From everything I’ve seen people really urgently want the kind of new beginning…[that I am] talking about [where humans will live in] cooperation instead of competition’ (New Age mag. Aug. 1982).
The immense frustration and danger for humankind is that these words were written over 30 years ago and yet the ‘urgently’ needed ‘resol[ution]’ of the ‘inner conflict’ of our condition still hadn’t arrived–which is in truth the deeper reason for the public’s great disillusionment with science today. In the case of the Australian public, for example, a 2011 Australian Academy of Science report found a ‘staggering’ decline in the number of Australian year 11 and 12 (senior-equivalent) students studying the different branches of science, from 94 percent 20 years ago to just 51 percent today (Sydney Morning Herald, 21 Dec. 2011).
So the fundamental reason people are asking ‘what is science?’ is because they want to know ‘what’s wrong with science’–what is science if it can’t fulfil its principal task of finding the reconciling understanding of our ‘fallen’ or corrupted condition?!
but, most wonderfully, just when we had become exasperated with its failings, science is now finally able to provide the dreamed-of, ‘’-reconciling, ‘burden-of-guilt’-lifting, ‘inner conflict’-‘resolv[ing]’, human-race-transforming explanation of the human condition! So to the question ‘what is science?’, we can now say that it is the saviour of the human race, as it was always intended to be. (And, as I will elaborate upon shortly, this explanation of our species’ deeply psychologically troubled condition is not the psychosis-avoiding, trivialising, dishonest account of it that the biologist E.O. Wilson has put forward in his theory of Eusociality, but the psychosis-addressing-and-solving, real explanation of it.)
Before presenting this fabulous, human-race-liberating, ultimate scientific breakthrough of the real explanation of our species’ seemingly-highly-imperfect condition, the issue of the human condition itself, and how science has been coping with it, needs to be explained.