Impact of Science on Society

38415 words 154 pages
James Burke Jules Bergman Isaac Asimov


James Burke Jules Bergman Isaac Asimov

Prepared by Langley Research Center

Scientific and Technical Information Branch


National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Washington, DC

Library of Congress Cataloging in PublicationData
Burke, James, 1936The impact of science on society. (NASA SP ; 482) Series of lectures given at a public lecture series sponsored by NASA and the College of William and Mary in 1983. 1 . Science-Social aspects-Addresses, essays, lectures. I. Bergman, Jules. 11. Asimov, Isaac, 1920. 111. United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. IV.College of William and Mary. V.
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How does society live with perpetual innovation that, in changing the shape of its environment, also transforms its attitudes, morals, values? If the prime effect of change i s more change, is there a limit beyond which we will not be able t o go without anarchy, or have we adaptive abilities, as yet only minimally activated, which wall make of our future a place very different f r o m anything we have ever experienced before?

Somebody once apparently said to the philosopher Wittgenstein, “What a bunch of no-knows we medieval Europeans must have been! back in the days before Copernicus, t o have looked up at the sky and thought that what we saw up there was the Sun going round the Earth, when, as everybody knows, the Earth goes round the Sun, and it doesn’t take too many brains t o understand that!” Wittgenstein replied, “Yes, but I wonder what it would have looked like if the Sun had been going round the Earth.” The point is that it would, of course, have looked exactly the same. What he was saying was that you see what you want to see. Consider also the medieval Londoner or eighteenth-century American who, when asked what he thought of the prospect that


T h e Impact of Science o n Society

one day everybody would have his own individual form of personal transportation, laughed at the idea of the metropolis at a standstill when the streets became, as they surely would, 14 feet deep in horse manure. The concept of any other form of transportation was outside his


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