Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Great Question of Social Science

Can we apply the same method to social problems? If we can, will we be able to gain as much understanding, prediction, and control in fields like government,   economics, and education as we have gained in physics, chemistry, and biology?  It is a fascinating question because, if we could ever attain as much control over social problems as we have already attained over medical problems, for example, we might no longer have to fear world wars, wide­spread poverty, or large-scale crime. Indeed, some would be inclined to put the question in a much sharper form: If we do not manage to attain enough social understanding, prediction, and control to pre­vent world wars, how are we going to have any future at all on this planet?

This question is particularly grave, of course, be­cause of the recent development of atomic weapons, and their constant "improvement" in destructiveness. In this connection, it is curious to reflect that it was 5 the very progress of the physical sciences that en­abled us to harness the energy of the atom, and thus to produce the bomb. Now it may well be that fur­ther scientific progress, in social fields, will help to solve international problems peacefully. Then, per- w haps, war can be eliminated as effectively as yellow fever, and atom bombs can be looked upon as histori­cal monstrosities to be exhibited in museums, like the skeleton of a dinosaur or a saber-toothed tiger.

Of course, there is a moral problem involved here, is too.   Sometimes people who know how to do the right thing still won't do it.   But knowledge always helps, and in many cases the right thing is not done because there is not sufficient knowledge of how the right thing could be done. While there is no substitute for 20 good will and good intentions, science can strengthen them and open up more effective ways of putting them into practice.

From "The Way of Science" by Wakao Honda.

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