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The Scientific Devolution

The Scientific Revolution brought great technological strides, and with it many new experiences. But was all of this progress positive? Or are there underlying  setbacks? In The Scientific Revolution Steven Shapin says to “…obtain experience yourself” (Shapin 80). But he follows this advice with a set of questions: “What kind of experience?” How should so spoken experience “be attained?” and how would one “infer from experience to generalizations?” (81). Basically: What counts as experience, and why does it matter? I second his curiosity, and wonder if we are at risk of losing its value.

Over time, the qualifications and uses for experience seem to have changed drastically. It is no longer simply “what every competent person knows” (81). Experience needs to have context. For example, I have experience playing basketball. Why does this matter? It does not, unless in context. If I list myself as a free agent in the intramural league, I may get drafted to a better team. I have experience with sending matchbox cars along looping racetracks. Why, or perhaps more accurately, when does this matter? It matters later on, in physics class when learning about centripetal forces. It does not matter to mom or dad when they slip on so mentioned matchbox car. The value of experience varies based on relevance, and so it varies situationally.

When referring to the scientific revolution 500 years ago, much of the most trusted experience has lost value. This is due to new technology enabling more specific, and more relevant experiences outdating the old ones. Now I am in no way taking away from the importance of initial scientific discoveries, nor the necessity for them to build into new findings. I am simply stating that many are outdated, or since improved upon.

In addition to improvements on previously observed situations, new technology, that began in the scientific revolution  enabled people to  experience things that previously could not be. The barometer, for example, made the “weight of air…easily sensible, even visible” (85). But does this really count as experience? Does this technological representation actually enable people to experience the weight of air?

This question is what leads me to wonder about how much–or little–people are truly experiencing now. 500 years later, our society if full of technology that enables people to experience things that were once unimaginable. Now, when technology takes astronauts to the moon, they experience going to space. They experience low gravity. Their experiences are real and tangible. Conversely, as addressed by Dr. Fleming, Google Sky allows people to look at the stars anywhere. You can go out on a foggy night and using your phone point to where the Big Dipper is. You can learn all of the constellations and how to identify them without feeling the brisk night wind. Is this really experience? I would argue no.

New technology from the Scientific Revolution and today does create opportunities for people to experience things that are literally out of this world. It also creates opportunities for people to opt out of the effort that goes into having experiences. I could go online and research the effect of global warming in Antarctica. I could look at pictures of starving and stranded polar bears. I could say “awe, how sad.” And I would be able to a write a paper based on online research and other people’s discoveries without needing to feel the (less) harsh cold. But I would have experienced none of it. I would not have been drafted to a better basketball team if my experience was in watching college basketball and playing NBA on the PS4. But would I have a better understanding of physics after playing Roller Coaster Tycoon 2? Cameras, the internet, and other methods of sharing information enable easy access to information, but they are also enablers for avoiding what it takes to truly experience things. There is a thin line between witnessing, and experiencing things. Ultimately, as new technology arises, we must be careful to take advantage of the opportunities it creates, and not the ease it enables for. Without this caution we are at risk of disengaging from the world we work so hard to understand.

1 Comment

  1. Caroline Epstein

    Dear Ali,

    This blog post was comprehensive and I liked how you incorporated your personal experience into it. I agree with your idea that initial discoveries are important and that value should not be taken away from them because those ideas allowed for scientists to prove more theories. Also, I think that your point about how there is a fine line between witnessing and experiencing things is very true.

    It might be a little awkward to have the first sentence include a quote, potentially consider adding another sentence or two to lead into that quote.


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