Thursday, 1 March 2018

What is Science? by George Orwell: simplified Notes and Summary

What is Science? by George Orwell: simplified version.

George begins the essay “what is science?” with  the mention of a letter from Mr Bijoy Stewart to cook which got published in The Tribune. The letter was indeed Cook’s personal opinions and suggestions for avoiding scientific hierarchy. The solution offered by Mr Cook was :
1) to see to it that every member of the general public was scientifically educated and

2) at the same time scientists should be brought out of their isolation and should be encouraged to take a greater part in politics and administration

But Orwell noticed an oddity in his use of the term ‘science’ Orwell undermines the term ‘science’ used by cook, for he  doubts in the  sense  Cook used the term ‘science’ .it is indeed quizzical.When he says that the general public should be scientifically educated, he has not defined ‘science’ at all or  What exactly does he mean by this Scientific education?.
Orwell says that today science is generally taken as
  1. the exact Sciences like chemistry physics etc.,or
  2. a method of thought which obtains verifiable results by reasoning logically from an observed fact
If we ask an educated man the question what is science, we may get an answer similar to 2. But if we ask the same question to an ordinary man,we may get the answer similar to 1. For the common people, the term 'science’ means,  the exact sciences or something that happens in the laboratory that calls for a great visual full of  charts, graphs ,test tubes, burners etc.

Who is a man of science?

Modern tendency seems to be ,that when a biologist or a physicist is called as a man of science , by no means a statesman or a poet or a journalist or  even a politician is addressed by the same title. In this sense those who tell us that the young must be scientifically educated might have  meant that they should be taught more about radioactivity, stars or the physiology of their own bodies ,rather than taught to think more exactly .
According to Orwell this confusion is partly deliberate and this is the result of the false notion held by our  society that those who are trained scientifically are more intelligent . These folk seems to be blind to the fact that science alone doesn't give human beings intelligence. Due to this, a scientist's opinion on sociological questions/ morals / philosophy or arts will be more valuable than that of a common man who is not give scientific education.  So  the world, in  other words ,will be a better place if the scientists were in control of it . And millions of people who do believe that  a scientist's political views are more intelligent than that of an artist or a lawyer, fails to think if a man of science can  view non- scientific problems in an objective way like the other people.
This  is of course a matter to be considered. Now let us take a simple test, let it be the ability to withstand nationalism. Though it is loosely said that science is international , in practice it proves to be false.A  very good example is the fact that the scientific workers of all countries line up behind their own government with fewer scruples than that  are felt by the writers and artists. There is no better example for this than the  German scientific community that made no resistance to Hitler.  . Plenty of gifted man lined up behind Hitler to do necessary research on things like synthetic oil, jet planes, rocket projectiles and atomic bomb.

On the other hand if you take a look at German literature during the Nazi regime we can see that the number of Writers and journalist who were persecuted or who voluntarily exiled themselves were comparatively higher than the number of scientists. While the writers and journalists protested , the scientists stood along with them
Though in  slightly different form, the picture is  same  everywhere; for example, in England you can see that a large number of scientists  support capitalism and for that reason they are often conferred with knighthood  and peerages. But if we take the case of literature you can see that since Lord Tennyson with the exception of Sir Max beerbohm, none has been given a title.

But all this doesn't mean that the general public should not be scientifically educated;  they should be given the right scientific education at the right time but if it simply boils to more physics and more chemistry it is not going to do them any good . Instead they should be  given a judicious quantity of history, literature and arts too. Otherwise it may narrow their range of thought and make him more contemptuous of such knowledge . Also his political reaction would probably be somewhat less intelligent than those of an illiterate peasant, who retains a few historical memories and aesthetic sense.

What is scientific education ?

Clearly speaking, scientific education is supposed to mean the fixing of a rational ,sceptical and experimental habit of mind. In simple terms, it is acquiring a method; a method that can be used to fix any problem that one confronts  with. It is not simply piling  up a lot of facts .So it is now time dispose the  notion that  scientific education means more attention to science .we should replace it  with, a way of thinking or a method.The idea that science is   a way of looking at the world and not simply a body of knowledge is strongly resisted.Orwell thinks it to be executed deliberately out of sheer professional jealousy.
In simple terms if Science is to be considered as a method or an attitude, all  rational human beings could be considered as scientists. And due to this ,the enormous Prestige enjoyed by the so-called wise men are at risk too.
Orwell remembers  Charles Kingsley who described Science as making nasty smell in a laboratory .on the other hand he also recollects  the words of a friend of him, a young industrial chemist who said that he could not see what was the use of poetry .Orwell concludes that it does not seem to him that one is better than the other  and for the time being Science is on the upgrade and for that we hear that the cry: the masses should be scientifically educated.
Anyhow Orwell feels happy that just before writing this, he happened to see a statement made by an American magazine that a number of British and American physicists refused to do research on the atomic bomb being well aware of its use.  He is relieved at this point that we  have at least a few sane people among the world of lunatics. Though their names were kept secret it is for sure that they are the ones who are with some sort of general cultural background or some acquaintance with literary history or  people whose interest were not, in the current sense of the word, purely scientific.

Orwell, George. Evolution of Philosophy of Science: Literary Perspectives.Ane Books Pvt lLt, Kottayam: 2011. Print.

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