Does science and technology dictate the ethics or is it the other way round?

Ever since the last primate broke the evolutionary trend and embraced the bipedal stance, the primitive man emerged into this otherwise humdrum planet perpetually locked in Sun’s gravitational force, situated at the far end of the milkyway galaxy’s spiral arm amidst 400 billion other stars.

This new species was unique for its quite insatiable hunger for more and more knowledge. With more knowledge came the awakening that it needed to remain in herds so as to escape the ferocious saber tooth tigers or the marauding mammoths or other perils lurking in the forests. Social life came into picture.

But there was something unusual about this social life when compared to the other species. There was an inordinate stress on drowning the aggression towards the same species and individual domination (typically by the large males) was replaced by collective ruling.

This is not seen in any animal societies. This not only reduced the volume of same species’ murder but it also instilled further confidence in the lesser strong individuals about their role and security in the community.

Gradually, as the different sects of the species collated predominantly under different geographical regions, local communities and clans emerged. These clans had mutually exclusive social habits and that remained the cornerstone of their identity. Coupled with the urge of protecting the clan’s exclusive rituals and the need for a uniform decorum for a peaceful co-existence, somewhere rose the first Sun of ethics in the society. The individuals were bound to the clans as long as they would comply with these ethical conducts.

Thus the society learnt the concept of ethics and community laws which later amplified as legalities of the society.

On the other hand, as the society was developing and ethos being worked out, the primitive man had also embarked on the journey of science and technology which would eventually take the man to the space age one day.

This new aid to the human life, the science and technology, added new dimensions to the societal ethics. For instance, during the early days when the man had just learnt to harness the fire, it was extremely important to keep the fire burning. Thus, in many societies keeping the flame alive was an important activity and that gradually gravitated to the basket of work ethics of the man. In the same way, the advancements in garmentation led to the ethics of who wears what and when.

However, the change induced by any science and technological breakthrough was not always music to the ears to all. It meant that existing ethics and laws be viewed under new light and sometimes get discarded; not an easy proposition. This put continuous strain in the social fabric as new ethics would eat up the older ones and at times that would transpire as a potential threat to an existing power group.

When Ptolemy’s principle of geocentric universe was challenged by Gallelio in 17th century, it created a major ruffle in the flanks of the church, which was at that point of time the guardian body of all ethical and religious believes. Galileo’s theory contradicted the erstwhile myopia of the church which believed that the Earth was the centre of all actions of the universe. It took a lot of time and effort and also involved human cost (Galileo’s death) before this basic scientific fact could be assimilated into the contemporary ethics of the society.

Today we might be bewildered as to what made such a simple principle to gain acceptance with so much fuss but the fact remains that almost all major scientific and technological advancements have demanded heavy price from the ‘then existing’ ethics, which many a times the custodians, be it the church or the government or even common masses, find difficult to expend.

The question is, has our civilization reached a state where we can safely conclude that the existing ethics would keep existing? To agree to this proposition would be synonymous to agree with the statement that we would not be introduced to any new path breaking discovery in the future. This is obviously a ridiculous thing to believe. Today the human kind stands at a juncture where from now on the possibilities are immense.

The previous inventions, discoveries and technology augmentations were the basic building blocks and today we stand at a platform where the mankind can truly ride the seat of the creator and achieve feats that till now we thought only the God (if there exists any such God) could.

Let’s take a small case. The ancient Egyptians had invented the first birth control mechanism. The idea was to use a small cotton strip during sexual intercourse which would soak up all the semen and hence we can call it the first crude condom. The idea of using birth control mechanisms were made popular in 20th century, but not before its share of hue and cry. Even today many countries have legal penalties should you be caught using such a measure. The same happened with abortion. As soon as the technology was perfected, it gained its share of popularity and also its share of denouncements. In early days women used to object to having scissorian deliveries as it was ‘against God’.

Nowadays it’s absolutely prevalent to stick to birth control measures, have a scissorian delivery or if certain circumstances demand, an abortion is not a taboo. So, we see that if the technology is available and is viable and that if it can fend of the problems associated with the human life, no matter what amount of denouncement happens, it will finally be used. And since it will be used by a huge population, it will percolate to the ethics. Or is it so?

The technology for cloning is available for a while now. However, human cloning is banned in all countries. So is the technology for embryonic stem cells. Also now we have the biotechnology that can determine whether or not a woman is susceptible to breast cancer, but we are not using this information in determination of life insurance cover or employment fitment. We have issued blanket ban on these technologies as these stand directly in the path of our existing ethics. But the question is for how long this can sustain.

It possible to take the genetic code of a father and plant an embryo in his daughter’s womb. This will create a clone of the father in his own daughter’s womb. The question is will it amount to incest? Won’t the daughter herself be the mother of the father? From technological standpoint, it has no problems, but has profound ethical implications.

So which is the dominant force? The technology? Or the ethics?
Historical evidence suggests that technology would finally have the last laugh. The 12 kilo tonne Uranium bomb dropped in Hiroshima killed 130 thousand people. It was not that the scientists were ignorant of its destruction capability, still the technology prevailed over ethics and the collateral damage was 130 thousand lives and many more due to the radioactivity. However one can argue that after one stint of madness, no one has used the nuclear arsenal on humanity, so the ethics seem to be winning. But will they eventually?

A century back there were a lot of issues that were considered unethical which we have taken in our stride nowadays. Who knows, tomorrow we might even be into a worlds where active human cloning could be done to save lives, genetic architects would decide what color you baby’s eyes would have, insurance companies would get your complete genetic profile and decide whether or not you could be medically insured, biotechnological wombs would replace the need of child carrying in womenfolk……

All these could then be perfectly ethical and the beings of those days could very well look down upon us for considering these technologies as unethical, quite the same way we do to the 17th century church for not accrediting Galileo……….

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2 Responses to “Does science and technology dictate the ethics or is it the other way round?”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Hi somu,Truely speaking, reading both your write ups were more than just reading them.So well read,sensible, thoughtful and serious with the words so beautifully placed.I am impressed.But still I would like to comment as a critique of your writing pieces since I feel a lot for beauty(as you feel a lot for rationality) which I feel is in originality and completeness.and I feel a good critique doesnt believe in denying or criticising the whole version but appreciating the beauty of the write up and completing where it is lacking.So here I am as a critique…..Somu I feel both rationality and spirituality are very essential to human beings, as one expresses the beauty of mind whereas other means the beauty of heart.Rationality as I feel believes in freeing the mind from superstitions, fears, illusions and dogmas whereas spirituality is the beauty of heart which only knows simple, pure and love.Rationality and scientific thoughts are the perceptions of mind which have limits whereas spirituality is the expression of simple mind which has no perception and so which knows no limits.If its important to know right its equally important to feel right.I have great respect for scientists for I think they are very serious, dedicated, and honest human beings who love truth and have shown the torch of freedom and knowledge to the human civilization by sacrificing their own lives(in the period of relegious dominations).But then spirituality is something which has no connection with those foolish,irrational and arrogant pundits or priests. They are diffirent class of people who can be better called buisnessmen.A buisnessman(except some exceptions) generally doesnt work with rationality or spirituality but they have just one interest and that is their profit even at the cost of human life.Its their shrewedness that they manipulate pure ideas and pure feelings and present their distorted picture in the attractive packagings to the human society for their own gains.They only have the cunningness to play with the human pshyce.It can happen with the relegion as well as science.True relegion is certainly not about the dogmas and those brutal buisnessmen who kill noble and dedicated people and make people hysterical for their own benefits as true science is certainly not about capturing human mind with the loads of manipulated scientific informations by the similar kinds of people. Since its a deep and serious issue and rightnow I have some engagements,I am sorry that I have to discontinue here. But I would like to join you later.Till then,bye and take care with this line,“You need a scientific and rational mind to understand the properties of diffirent colurs in the rainbow,but need simple mind to feel and enjoy the beauty of it.Religion is all about this simplicity which can feel love, freedom and beauty of the nature and hence knows no boundary.”love and good wishes to somu-mausami.tanu

  2. vasudha rashmi Says:

    Hi somu last one was for relegion and superstions-brothers in arms. and this time , its for this text.As I already mentioned you, that problem is not perhaps with the spiritual expression or scietific investigation for if one expresses the beauty of heart,the other defines the beauty of mind.True relegion is perhaps not about killing the genuine, truth loving and dedicated scientists neither about stopping their inquisitive and rational mind in searching and showing lights to the mankind,rather its about our spiritual feeling which believes in the aura of love, beauty and creativity of our simple mind.Its about the simplicity of our expressions which is free from all evils and darkness and so enjoys the beauty of the true nature in that freedom and which knows no boundaries, no perceptions of this world.When a child smiles, perhaps we all feel the same.I am quite aware of the progresses of science and its purpose too which is so genuine, and thats why I know that there is no point that science and relegion should fight with each other for they both are two diffirent things and they both are very essential for the survival of a better civilization. No point coming each other’s way.Thats true that with the tireless efforts of the scientists, we have immense opportunities today, but dont you think that misutilisation or excess dependence on these so many possibilities has somewhere led us loosing the beautiful fabrics of being a human being.we are becoming more easy going, profit and comfort seeking and perhaps keep the cold eye on our own planetmets.The history of science and society both narrates that its not the easy going attitudes but the continuous, tireless and noble efforts of our early primates and ancesstors that we are today what we are.Bearing pains and still struggling for the survival with the true meaning makes us a better person. It may be possible that one day the biotechnological wombs can replace the need of child carrying in womenfolk but then we will no more have the loving and sweet memories of our moms and they will just be like any other persons on the earth for us, but we all know what makes our moms so diffirent and perhaps the most beautiful person on this earth, its the pains that they bear for us and the incomparable sacrifice, the undying love that they do for our lives.love,your tanu di.

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