Sunday, December 25, 2022

The Motives of Scientists

Science and technology provide the most important examples of surrogate activities. Science is a surrogate activity because scientists work mainly for the fulfillment, they get out of the work itself. 

Yet, of course, it’s not that simple. Other motives do play a role for many scientists. Some scientists claim that they are motivated by “curiosity” or by a desire to “benefit humanity.” But it is easy to see that neither of these can be the principal motive of most scientists.

As for “curiosity,” that notion is simply absurd. Most scientists work on highly specialized problems that are not the object of any normal curiosity. For example, is an astronomer, a mathematician, or an entomologist curious about the properties of isopropyl trimethyl methane? Of course not. 

Only a chemist is curious about such a thing, and he/she is curious about it only because chemistry is his surrogate activity. Is the chemist curious about the appropriate classification of a new species of beetle? No. That question is of interest only to the entomologist, and he is interested in it only because entomology is his surrogate activity. 

If the chemist and the entomologist had to exert themselves seriously to obtain the physical necessities, and if that effort exercised their abilities in an interesting way but in some non-scientific pursuit, then they wouldn’t care about isopropyl trimethyl methane or the classification of beetles. 

Suppose that lack of funds for postgraduate education had led the chemist to become an insurance broker instead of a chemist. In that case, he would have been very interested in insurance matters but would have cared nothing about isopropyl trimethyl methane. 

In any case, it is not normal to put into the satisfaction of mere curiosity the amount of time and effort that scientists put into their work. 

The “curiosity” explanation for the scientists’ motive just doesn’t stand up. 

The “benefit of humanity” explanation doesn’t work any better. Some scientific work has no conceivable relation to the welfare of humanity most archaeology or comparative linguistics for example. Some other areas of science present obviously dangerous possibilities. 

Yet scientists in these areas are just as enthusiastic about their work as those who develop vaccines or study air pollution. Science and technology constitute a power mass movement, and many scientists gratify their need for power through identification with this mass movement. 

In my view then, conceivably, science marches on blindly, without regard to the real welfare of humanity or to any other standard, obedient only to the psychological needs of the scientists and of the government officials and corporation executives who provide the funds for research and then profits from said research.

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Thanks for your thoughts, comments and opinions, will be in touch. Peter Clarke