Why modern science is largely a disappointment

People seem to be disillusioned with many things, including love, religion, spectator sports and cinema, but not science. If asked what pursuit humans have excelled in, they might all say “science.” Even other areas of outstanding human achievement, such as athletics, are attributed to the “progress” of science.

At first glance, the science is impressive. It shows us spectacular images of galaxies; he claims to have photographed a black hole and claims to know the origin of mass and has proof that gravity is a wave. And it is now very difficult for the sick to die because there is some magic drug or miraculous medical procedure. The word “scholar” continues to evoke awe and gratitude. They just add “quantum” to something and we recognize that it must be important. And they just have to put “neuro” in front of their profession and they can say anything about the mind as if they know what they’re talking about.

For all this brilliance, the science is a disappointment. It was a disappointment in its contribution to our quality of life, to our understanding of the nature of physical reality and consciousness. The healthier you are, the more frustrating it is.

This is not an easy argument. When I say science is “disappointing”, what does it mean? Science has done extremely well compared to many other professions. Take two of mine – journalism and literary fiction. Both have deteriorated. They have lost prestige and relevance. Mid-level fiction has survived thanks to streaming, which is a technological evolution, not an artistic one. Yes, science in 2022 isn’t as exciting as science fiction predicts, but we shouldn’t hold science responsible for writers’ fantasies. In any case, good-natured science fantasy was more prophetic than political dystopian fiction like The Handmaid’s Tale or the works of George Orwell, who got almost everything wrong, driven, as he probably was, by a tuberculosis-induced gloom that generations of depressed intellectuals have misunderstood it as political analysis.

So science is disappointing compared to what? Science is disappointing compared to its own reputation.

Consider knee replacement surgery. The knee is a simple joint. When bones wear out, as happens in old people, some parts are replaced with plastic or metal ones. Hospitals give the impression that people who undergo this procedure are getting new knees. But the fact is that they just limp less after the switch. It’s not like adults can suddenly start running after they’ve “replaced” their knees. Even in fixing a simple joint like the knee, the field of medicine falls far short of mimicking the strength of the natural human body.

Modern medicine does not rejuvenate. Does not extend life; prolongs death. It may seem that science has helped people live longer; but the fact is people just die later. Most old people have a poor quality of life for decades before they are finally allowed to go. I don’t know about you, but none of this is good enough for me. According to modern science, my knees only have three more decades of running left. After that, I am expected to put up with the poor quality life of an elderly person and a generally meaningless existence. You could argue that within three decades a wonderful innovation will help me run forever, but the science is so bad at actual rejuvenation that I’m very worried.

In addition, science is unable to clearly answer very simple questions. For example, is it good or bad to fast when you have a viral injection? Science doesn’t know the answer to almost every reasonable question about fitness. The search for clarity would be a journey through camps and cartels, all of which claim different conclusions based on the “scientific process.”

Moreover, our understanding of the nature of reality has not changed significantly in the last hundred years since the Copenhagen Interpretation formalized the ideas of quantum mechanics, despite the investment of billions of dollars in large hadron colliders and the apparent discovery of many particles. Many exotic things said in science are more speculative than people realize. Our understanding of the universe, dimensions and time has also not changed significantly in decades. There is a hint of this in popular science.

Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” talks about the same sweet sexy science that is mentioned in Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” published in 1980, in Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” published in 1988. It would be absurd to it is said that there has been no progress in the last 50 years and I do not suggest it at all. But I say that the progress made is quite modest. For example, the James Webb Telescope, launched last year, captured clearer images of galaxies than Hubble, which was launched in 1990, but the Webb Telescope is not the transformative machine that Hubble was, even though it appeared three decades later. Commercial air transport hasn’t gotten any faster in the last 60 years either. In fact, if we consider the death of Concorde, air travel is getting slower for the rich.

You could argue that Concorde’s failure suggests that it’s not that we haven’t made progress in science; it’s just that these breakthroughs have yet to make commercial sense. In addition, the modern technology industry has products that it cannot bring to market for ethical reasons – such as some forms of genetic engineering. But transformative technologies that have been held back for commercial or ethical reasons are few and far between. In general, we don’t have some things because we don’t know how to make them.

Manu Joseph is a journalist, writer and creator of the Netflix series Torn

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