Tags

, ,

In my wanderings through words, a bit of poignant verbiage popped into my mind, because it encapsulated in a few words one of my core beliefs.

In the nineteenth century, scientific expeditions, whose core concepts and activities involved collecting, measuring, mapping and traveling, and whose ultimate goal was to write the natural history of the globe with exhaustive comprehensiveness and precision, originated in part from a view of geography and nature coupled with European expansion and from an assumption of the right of “objective” European scientists to travel and observe other continents of the world. This conviction of a right to know, a right that was ideally not restrained by human boundaries—particularly, the boundaries drawn by the natives against European scientific researchers—derived its authority partly from a belief in the universal validity of factual knowledge.

Thus one of the major components of scientific imperialism was the ideology and practice of collecting information and producing—knowledge that claimed to be factual, objective, scientific and definitive—about other parts of the world.

British naturalists in Qing China: science, empire, and cultural encounter. p. 89 By Fa-ti Fan.

Here is the essence for me: the universal validity of factual knowledge. Behind the challenged tone of the quote and the people it refers to is the respect for collecting accurate data, and the realization that functional behavior based on a generalized theory cannot work well if the facts themselves are not accurate. I believe wisdom to be a higher order in this progression, which is dependent upon understanding when to apply known information to present problems; but, it all begins with accurate factual knowledge. Without accurate information the wisest person in the world cannot make informed decisions about what needs to be done. In social affairs, especially those of state, the falsifying of information to the perceptions of the competitors is the key to success.

The modern world has founded its success on accurate knowledge discovered by the processes of scientific inquiry publishing how nature works; and the human population has expanded from a world of 1 billion farmers, in 1625, to a world of 7 billion people most of which are doing things other than farming. In the mean time the cunning of politics probably hasn’t advanced much since Machiavelli, wrote his book  The Prince in 1513 and the politicos progress probably hasn’t added much to human population. I choose population as the ultimate measure of human success, although I have argued elsewhere that we are presently in a condition of over-exploiting what can be sustained in the long run.

The real progress of humanity has been linked to the collection and understanding of the natural world.

Advertisements