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H.G. Wells vs George Orwell: Can science save us?

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From Richard Gunderman at The Conversation:

Wells, one of the founders of science fiction, was a staunch believer in science’s potential. Orwell, on the other hand, cast a much more skeptical eye on science, pointing to its limitations as a guide to human affairs.

Wells’ enthusiasm for science had political implications. Having contemplated in his novels the self-destruction of mankind, Wells believed that humanity’s best hope lay in the creation of a single world government overseen by scientists and engineers. Human beings, he argued, need to set aside religion and nationalism and put their faith in the power of scientifically trained, rational experts.

Orwell was not bashful about criticizing the scientific and political views of his friend Wells. In “What is Science?” he described Wells’ enthusiasm for scientific education as misplaced, in part because it rested on the assumption that the young should be taught more about radioactivity or the stars, rather than how to “think more exactly.”

Orwell also rejected Wells’ notion that scientific training rendered a person’s approach to all subjects more intelligent than someone who lacked it. Such widely held views, Orwell argued, led naturally to the assumption that the world would be a better place, if only “the scientists were in control of it,” a notion he roundly rejected. More.

Neither of them lived to see the scandals engulfing science today, in terms of the corruption of peer review, for example. A better question now would be Can science save itself?

See also: Can the rot of naturalism be stopped? Relating information to matter and energy might help

8 Replies to “H.G. Wells vs George Orwell: Can science save us?

  1. 1
    tribune7 says:

    Wells had faith in science. Faith in science is the ultimate expression of irony.

  2. 2
    JSmith says:

    A government run by scientists is a terrible idea. Science should be used to inform government decisions, not dictate them.

    This being said, Much of society already acts in a Darwinian fashion. Capitalism is Darwinism, pure and simple. The source of variation is innovation and the consumer is the selecting force. For example, before the 80s, typewriters were ubiquitous throughout the business world. Then came the innovation of small computers. Typewriters wen the way of the dinosaur. But a vestige of the typewriter remains in the Qwerty keyboard, which was designed to minimize jamming of the typewriter strike arms. I still miss my typewriter. Using it was therapeutic.

  3. 3
    ET says:

    Capitalism is Darwinism,

    Nonsense. Capitalism is driven by intelligent agencies whereas Darwinism relies on chance and contingent serendipity.

    A society that acts in a Darwinian fashion would allow murder, thieves and rape.

  4. 4
    tribune7 says:

    Capitalism is Darwinism, pure and simple.

    If capitalism evolves into socialism wouldn’t that make socialism Darwinism?

    The market is but a superior communication tool than central planning.

    Freedom is good. Greed is bad. Make the dichotomy work.

  5. 5
    asauber says:

    G.K. on H.G.

    “He is still slightly affected with the great scientific fallacy; I mean the habit of beginning not with the human soul, which is the first thing a man learns about, but with some such thing as protoplasm, which is about the last.”

    http://www.pagebypagebooks.com.....ts_p4.html

    Andrew

  6. 6
    JSmith says:

    ET

    Nonsense. Capitalism is driven by intelligent agencies…

    Fair enough. I shouldn’t have said “purely” Darwinian. I should have said a process similar to Darwinian. Variation being created by innovation and selection being driven by consumers. Closer to artificial selection.

  7. 7

    Historically, Orwell wrote 1984 as a criticism of statism and communism. If you recall, communism believes that smart people can run a country from the top-down, especially since dumb people don’t know what is good for them. Scientists tend to be attracted to communism because it flatters them. Scientism is just another flavor of communism.

    Wells, on the other hand, was a talented but scientifically uneducated writer who loved science. He was the pom-pom cheerleader for scientism. At one point, his wife was a well-known Russian Communist spy. The man was as gullible as the Chinese politician who bought a square running track.

    It goes together, actually, cleverness and gullibility, the con-man being conned, the scientist who buys worthless charms because they were advertised as “scientific”. My greatest pity was for Orwell, who after rejecting the scams, could not find the one worthy investment of his life.

  8. 8
    Barry Arrington says:

    Readers will doubtless remember this gobsmackingly stupid tweet from Neil deGrasse Tyson a couple of years ago:

    Earth needs a virtual country: #Rationalia, with a one-line Constitution: All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence.

    Tyson appears to have been channeling Wells.

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