Every year, Edge.org asks its gigantic constellation of thinkers, intellectuals, scientists and world thought-leaders — among them Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Jared Diamond, Rebecca Goldstein and many others — a question and publishes their answers. Bellingham’s own George Dyson is an annual participant in the Annual Question. George is the author of Turing’s Cathedral, Darwin Among the Machines and many other books and essays, and the owner of Dyson Baidarka & Company. He will also present at TED 2014: The Next Chapter in Vancouver, which starts on March 17th. Herewith his answer to “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?”
Science *and* Technology
The phrase “science and technology” presumes an inseparability that may not be as secure as we think. There can be science without technology, and there can be technology without science.
Pure mathematics is one example — from the Pythagoreans to Japanese temple geometry — of a science flourishing without technology. Imperial China developed sophisticated technologies while neglecting science, and it is all too easy to imagine a society that embraces technology but represses science, until only technology remains. Or, one particular species of technology might achieve such dominance that it halts the advance of science in order to preserve itself.
That science has brought us technology does not mean that technology will always bring us science. Science could go into retirement at any time. Retiring the assumption that as long as technology flourishes, so will science, might help us avoid this mistake.