The current body of scientific knowledge exists primarily in the minds of the active participants. It is much like the current information held in RAM on your computer; both are invisible. You might think that knowledge is stored in books and reports, and it is, but the archived knowledge is only a fragment of the active knowledge stored in the memory banks of individuals. And like the programs currently operational in RAM, they are different from the version stored on the hard drive in that they have interacted with other programs, the operating system and the user to produce a unique synergy of accumulated data and its organizational structure. Just like the information stored in RAM, the active version of knowledge is dynamic, invisible and subject to rapid reorganization.
It has taken centuries for millions of participants to build the current body of active knowledge. The very structure that holds that block of collective consciousness together was built from a human centric, ego based, point of view. That’s not bad, just limited. Because of this structure, the system of science reacts as one, defending its collective view of reality. For example…
A bunch of revolutionary thinkers in science come up with a new class of theories with a common thread. All of these theories involve taking a holistic approach to understanding the world around us. They agree that we need to look more closely at the “wholes” instead of being so caught up in the details. Another commonality is that these theories apply to all types of organization; mechanical, biological and social. They therefore apply to the organization of science itself.
There was a lot of excitement during the 1970s when it was assumed that this overall perspective would put us on the threshold of a grand new understanding of life. Many of us thought there would be a new “interdisciplinary” approach that would unite many diverse fields of study and produce a much better understanding of what makes the Universe go. If these new fields of study would unite with existing disciplines, a true scientific revolution would take place. It didn’t happen.
Instead, the bureaucracy of science immediately moved in the opposite direction. The holistic view, the cornerstone of the new theories, was ignored. Instead of uniting the new theories, or forming some new truly interdisciplinary department that would take a broader view, they immediately fragmented the existing groups. Since the late 1940s, when the basic concepts underpinning these new theories started to take hold, science has divided these four, (system theory, cybernetics, information theory and Gaia theory) up into dozens of sub-disciplines. Instead of embracing this new concept, science has swept it under the rug and continues to break everything into smaller and smaller parts, while ignoring the larger picture. They call it interdisciplinary when ANY collaboration is done.
The Structure of Scientific Bureaucracy
If we apply these system concepts to the bureaucracy of science, we can see that it doesn’t function very efficiently as a system. Each discipline works in relative isolation, functioning more like a separate unit than part of the same system. The information flows up and down hierarchically organized departments with little or no horizontal exchange.
In all of science there is no one discipline that attempts to integrate the many other disciplines into a meaningful whole. Instead science continues inventing new disciplines. Each of these disciplines has its own jargon and methods that often make little sense to scientists from other disciplines, let alone to the rest of the world. Science is so compartmentalized that important discoveries in one discipline are often unknown to researchers in other fields.
From a systems standpoint you could say that the scientific bureaucracy is organized in such a way as to facilitate control and management of results. Its design and structure work to impede the free flow of information, while making it easy for a few well placed individuals to manage research and therefore, control the output. The output of science being ideas and concepts that impact society. In a perfect world, all the ideas and concepts brought forth by science would lead to a better understanding of the Natural World and our place within it. However, in the real world, the discoveries of science are geared primarily towards maximum profit for industry.
The internet is slowly tearing down some of the barriers created by the scientific bureaucracy, as well as letting the rest of us in on the discussion. Eventually, this will lead to a common language that more accurately describes reality. The interconnected structure of the internet and the way it distributes information is undermining the old pyramid structure that supports our university system. Universities essentially make their living by holding information hostage and charging big bucks to run students through a giant maze where the gems of knowledge are secreted. Today it is easy for anyone to log on and search for the gems on their own.
Global warming is evidence that our present day science has had a poor understanding of the Natural World and how human beings fit into it. It wasn’t the ignorance and superstition of uneducated masses that brought us to this uneasy situation, but industry turning scientific discoveries into profit. We were led into the industrial revolution and its attendant degradation of the environment by science. It is science our culture depends on to warn us when we are on a dangerous course. In this regard, science has failed us. Environmentalists, indigenous peoples and old hippies have been warning us for years that disregard for the system that supports us would lead to trouble.
The ideas coming from science today on how to deal with Global Warming show that they still don’t have a clue on how to “belong” to our environment. Most of the solutions presented so far, involve escalating the war on the environment already under way.
You know the war i mean, the one where we exercise our dominion over the Natural world; the one that has brought us to this critical crossroads. Instead of retreat and an admission that the aggression against our environment is unwarranted, ill-advised and dangerous, science goes on the attack with bigger and better weapons. They think they are bound to come up with some new technology that will supposedly bring Nature to heel, but will only create a new set of problems that require a new round of inappropriate technologies, producing still more profit for the companies that created the problems in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, i’m not blaming “Science” for our current problems, just telling it like i see it. Science has done part of its job well; they’ve gotten us to this point of discovery. However, there comes a time when the old ways of perceiving are no longer adequate to explain new discoveries, and change is inevitable.
The Status Quo
One of the repeated patterns we can see in adaptive complex systems is that there exists be a bias towards established behavior. This gives a solid baseline from which to introduce change. The challenge is for the system to maintain stability, while at the same time retain the ability to adapt rapidly to environmental variation.
Resistance to new ideas is not bad, it helps protect the status quo. In a System where everything is infinitely adjustable, it can’t be too easy to make adjustments, especially in areas fundamental to homeostasis. Since it is all interconnected, even minor adjustments in one area can affect all others. The status quo has to have a strong bias to maintain systemic stability. Any adaptive system relies on what has been successful in the past as a baseline to plan the future.
The inertia of established order is hard enough to overcome, but when the new ideas threaten the very economic foundation of our society, they are hard to sell. Don’t count on contemporary science and their corporate sponsors to bail us out of this one. They will continue to profit from their exploitation of the environment, for as long as they can get away with it.
Although the industrial revolution could be blamed for our dilemma, it all boils down human behavior. That should make it easy. After all, our behavior is really the only thing that you and i have the power to change.