Thursday, October 01, 2009
Many will recall the classic science fiction movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” released in 1968. The movie predicted a manned mission to Jupiter in 2001.
In reality, it is now 2009 and no man has travelled past the moon. In fact, the last manned flight beyond low Earth orbit was in 1972. At this point it seems questionable whether manned space flight will even continue at all. The pace of scientific progress is obviously considerably slower than what had been expected forty years ago.
This is making me wonder if the era of scientific advancement, which began perhaps with the publication in 1687 of Newton’s Principia Mathematica, is slowing to a halt.
The most recent great scientific “miracles” I am aware of are the development of the polio vaccine and the silicon transistor, both about 1955. (The most important scientific discovery of the past 50 years has probably been the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation in 1964.)
The average American home of 2009 is not that much different from the average home of 1959. The average life expectancy has increased from 70 to 78 in the US during that period.
During the sixty years prior to 1959, however, there was a huge change. Conditions in 1900 were very primitive by modern standards and the average life expectancy was under 50. In other words, my grandparents apparently saw a far greater leap forward in their lifetimes than I have in mine. I am not sure if my children will see much change at all, or if they may even witness a decline in the level of technology.
I think this makes even more questionable the belief of some atheists that science will inevitably “replace religion”. It raises the question of whether science is actually hitting a wall which represents the limits of the human ability to understand nature.
Einstein in 1936 said "The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible". Frankly, this seems like silly arrogance. I see no reason to assume that the world is entirely comprehensible to the human mind any more than it is to the mind of a clam or a house fly.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 5:17 PM