Buying Science

In this week’s reading of Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, we looked at the scientific revolution. Specifically we looked at how it brings about an imagined order different from all previous traditions of knowledge and Why modern science became wedded to imperialism and capitalism. We also got a look at a more modern example in The Commercial Ecology of Scavenger Capitalism: Monsanto, Fossil Fuels, and the Remaking of a Chemical Giant  by Bartow Elmore. Firstly the imagined order that the scientific revolution brought about “ The scientific revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge. It has been above all a revolution of ignorance.” (Harari p.251). The imagined order is that we do not know everything and that we are ignorant which differs from the belief that god told us everything that is worth knowing which was the common belief before. Next we looked at how science is wedded to imperialism and capitalism .  For how it is wed to imperialism we again turn to Harari “the key factor was that the plant-seeking botanist and the colony-seeking naval officer shared a similar mindset. Both scientist and the  conqueror began by admitting ignorance – they both said, ‘ I don’t know what’s out there.’ “ (p. 284). This quote shows that imperialism needed scientists to show them what there was in the world so that they could then expand their empire into these new discoveries.  Next we look at how capitalism and science are intertwined, for this we look to Elmore “Biotechnology offered an attractive means of moving Monsanto beyond oil. Limiting its frontend investments in bulk production of material products, Monsanto planned to sell a microscopic product—a kind of genetic software—that could be inserted in the hardware of plant and animal life…Thus, lab-created biotech products promised to radically reduce Monsanto’s demand for petroleum feedstocks.”(p.171). This shows that in capitalism that science is not done for science’s sake but to produce a gain in profit for a company and in capitalism if the science cannot be profited from it will likely not be researched.  This means that science is at the whim of the all mighty dollar.  This in the end shows how the scientific revolution has been shaped by the world just as much as it shaped the world.

3 thoughts on “Buying Science

  1. I like how you touched on the importance of ignorance in the scientific revolution and how the recognition of ignorance led to a new method of scientific discovery as well as imperialist expansion. There is a certain humility in the recognition of ignorance that I believe is necessary for an effective scientific mind. It’s unfortunate that this humility also encouraged colonialism and imperialism through the recognition that empires could expand to unexplored regions and territories.


  2. I thought that it was interesting how you used the acknowledgement of ignorance as a shifting point from religion and people believing that all knowledge came from religious context. Your saying of “imperialism needs scientists” also resonated with the idea of imagined orders because there is the idea of empires being merged with science as a seemingly nature bounded pursuit to explore, when in reality these imperialist countries were only using science as a catalyst for personal gain. Then there’s how science works into capitalism, and I found it interesting how you were again able to use the catalyst trend for personal gain. While I read this I do feel that it was a little bit consumed by quotes and regurgitating the prompt question, it was well written and had a lot of interesting ideas.


  3. That science is intertwined with politics and money is obvious. What is not so obvious is what the nature of scientific progress would be in a system other than capitalism. How should we define capitalism? For this little thought experiment I’ll define it as an economy that is not centrally planned. That is companies pursue their own profit and the government acts as a referee rather than a leader. How does science look in a centrally planned system? What incentives motivate scientists in such a world. Does the former Soviet Union or China give us any insights? Would science be more or less restricted in finding funding under such a rule? I don’t have answers to all of these, I just think they’re interesting questions.


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