“[S]cience on its own has not and cannot ensure our progress or future survival,” writes Nikola Danaylov.
In our last post, we introduced Nikola Danaylov, futurist author and speaker. Danaylov is currently in the middle of an online series about the story of humanity and how science and technology fit into that story in our past, present, and future.
Danaylov begins his series with his main thesis: “[O]ur future is indeed determined. But not by some unbreakable and deterministic law of nature. No. Our future is determined by a story that we have created.”
In other words, the way we narrate our own lives matters because it determines how we will act in the future.
The Power of Story
Danaylov spends the first several chapters of his online series discussing the power and importance of story. He argues that storytelling is our greatest technology, dating back tens of thousands of years in the early days of the Homo Sapiens species.
According to Danaylov, we have reached a point in history in which the story needs to change – much like it has changed through time:
The human story has been written and rewritten several times already. The last time was somewhere between the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution when we dethroned God as the central authority in the Universe and took his place instead. Since then our story has spread the myth of the supremacy and centrality of the human being…Nikola Danaylov, “Chapter 6: The Biology of Story” at Singularity Weblog
This story is beginning to crumble, says Danaylov, and a rewriting is necessary. But that comes with a warning:
“…we ought to be very careful in rewriting our story. Because if we end up destroying it without offering a better alternative we can end up destroying our civilization.”
The Science Story
In Chapter 8, Danaylov discusses “The Science Story” – what is the role of science in human life? what is the role of science in humanity’s future? how should we think about science in a way that promotes the best possible future?
Danaylov’s main argument in this section is that science is intrinsically limited. To hear a futurist acknowledge science’s limitations is a breath of fresh air, and one of the greatest strengths of this series. Let’s take a look at the first three of his seven points:
1. Science is unable to set its agenda and priorities…
2. Science is equally unable to decide what to do with its discoveries because it does not deal with purposes and has no morality of its own…
3. …the real goal of modern science is not truth but power…Nikola Danaylov, “Chapter 8: The Science Story” at Singularity Weblog
Danaylov is rightly warning against a blind embrace of science. Science is a tool, a means by which we can arrive at greater truths. But like a tool, it can be wielded for good or for ill. It is not good in and of itself.
Danaylov explains in his seventh point:
[S]cience and reason can tell us how to act in accordance with our values. But they can’t tell us why we should act in the first place, what is the source of our values, and if or when we should and shouldn’t use science and reason. In other words, you can’t get an ought from an is.Nikola Danaylov, “Chapter 8: The Science Story” at Singularity Weblog
In other words, science is not supreme. The problem here is that Danaylov fails to tell us what is supreme. What should set our agenda and priorities? What is it that should guide scientific discovery? And how do we wrest the control of science out of the hands of the power-hungry and restore it to the hands of those who pursue truth?
What he does say is that science needs a theory – a story – in order to be properly oriented. Acknowledging science’s own limitations is a good start to this rewritten story.
Next time, we will explore his take on the story of technology.
You may also wish to read:
Peering Into the Future with Nikola Danaylov. In a new online series, futurist Danaylov shares both wisdom and folly about future expectations for science and technology. As a futurist, Toronto-based Danaylov is optimistic about the future of technology and for the possibility of an age of post-humanism. (Caitlin Bassett)