Science and Fear

While science has brought about much great advancement in human history, it has also had the potential to be destructive.  In his article Icarus, or The Future of Science, Bertrand Russell argues that humanity would use scientific advances for darker purposes, such as to “…facilitate centralization and propaganda,” and as a result, “…groups become more organized, more disciplined, more group-conscious, and more docile to leaders” (Russell).  He argues that through technological developments, governments are able to have more control over all aspects of peoples’ lives.  These ideas almost predict the practices of Soviet Russia under the rule of Stalin, where the government closely monitored the people and punished those whose ideals did not agree with those of the state.  Russell’s fears are echoed in the film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, in which a mad psychiatrist develops a means for a somnambulist to carry out murders for him.

One of the main themes of both the film and the article was human passion.  When describing his progress with the somnambulist in his journal, Caligari writes that “the irresistible passion of my life is being fulfilled.”  In the conclusion to his essay, Russell discusses the idea that science doesn’t give man passions, but it does give him the means to follow that which is already within him.  What struck me about this focus upon passion however was how both sources described human passion as if it is a terrible thing, focusing only upon evil fixations and how they could be driven out of control.  Usually, a passion is thought of as something good, and advancements in science could be used to turn these passions into realities as well.

Another aspect of Russell’s article that fascinated me was his idealization of a “world government,” a concept  which he glosses over its flaws.  He takes the stance that it would eventually rid the world of all its overarching problems, however I find myself disagreeing with this stance.  Wouldn’t the entire world coming together under one government cause some problems to occur on a larger scale?  His passion about this idea deviates from the cynical tone of the rest of the article.

Discussion Question:  Do you think that the goals of Russell’s hypothetical world government are similar to those of Nazi Germany?

2 thoughts on “Science and Fear

  1. I agree with your analysis about Russell’s definition of passion–he seemed to believe that humans were inherently bad. While there are certainly negative passions, especially when considering eugenics and Nazi Germany, I do not think that all people are prone to such destruction. I do believe that Russell’s argument related to Nazi Germany in the sense that scientific ideals spiraled out of control, and suddenly, mass genocide was justified.

  2. I believe that a world government is a splendid idea to ponder, as Russell has done. However I agree with your analysis that certain overarching problems would inevitable occur, turning this utopian notion into something far less desirable. Managing billions of people with different cultural beliefs, ideals, religions and priorities under one umbrella would be neither feasible nor practical, thus leading to inevitable conflict. I do not believe that the goals of Russell’s hypothetical world government are similar to those of the Nazi’s because the Nazi’s sought to “purify” the world and turn it into a place where the aryan race took its rightful place as the superior race. I believe that Russell did not view things in terms of race, he merely envisioned a world where all races and governments could co-exist as one fluid unit, working for the best possible good of the whole.

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