The “Useless Use” of Science and Technology

  The usefulness of scientific and technological research is not just now beginning to be called into question. For a long time, people have been used to thinking that entrepreneurs have created greater wealth and value for society, thinking that the size of the economic benefits created is the criterion for measuring “useful” contributions to society. In 1975, Gates, who was only 17 years old, left Harvard University and founded a computer software company – Microsoft. In just a dozen years, Microsoft has brought rapid changes to people’s lives.
  In the eyes of most people, the measure of the usefulness of something is simply how much material benefit it can bring. Since most researchers of science and technology theory are far from achieving the achievements of Bill Gates, in many cases scientists are considered to be far less than entrepreneurs in directly promoting social progress. In the eyes of ordinary people, most of the country’s investment in scientific research projects is irrelevant and dispensable, except for a few scientific research projects that have undoubtedly made significant contributions to social progress and development, such as the hybrid rice invented by Yuan Longping and artificial insulin. Most scientific and technological research is just doing useless repetitive work. According to this concept, instead of investing heavily in scientific research, the country should save government financial funds and support the development of enterprises; instead of cramming students with scientific theories in education, it should teach students more practical employment skills.
  The uselessness of science and technology is not groundless. First of all, the discussion of usefulness involves the trade-off between future, potential value and current, realistic interests. People who think that science and technology are useless are more inclined to the latter position. Secondly, on the issue of scientific demarcation, there is indeed a kind of “pseudoscience”, which is not aimed at seeking truth, but for seeking self-interest. The Lysenko incident in the former Soviet Union is a typical example of pseudoscience. In addition, there is also an academic authority that makes the so-called scientific research a “behind the scenes” movement that is divorced from reality. In the process of Ptolemy’s celestial theory, phlogiston theory, and Newton’s classical mechanics being gradually exposed and replaced by new theories, there are still batches of academic authorities who focus on defending outdated theories. This kind of work is like the design movement of the first type of perpetual motion machine that swept Europe in the 17th century, and it was just a useless effort in the end.
  People who think that science and technology are useless, and even oppose the progress of science and technology, are mainly represented by the British Luddites (mainly craftsmen) in the 19th century. In their view, machinery is not only useless, but it crowds out workers’ jobs and wages, so they oppose any machine-based modernization. This concept is obviously short-sighted. What we should see is that the emergence of machines has a huge impact on society. It liberated slaves more fundamentally than any abolitionist preacher, and the development of productive forces is more generous than any utopian communist. Laborers are given longer holidays and higher real wages and material wealth. Although in “Modern Times” starring Chaplin, the machine is described as a material force that alienates human beings, but we should see its contribution to human society, although at the time, its value was not obvious even negative.
  The futility of science and technology
  In the author’s opinion, the significance of Chang’e’s landing on the moon is not only to prove the development of China’s aviation industry and the economic value it brings, but more to the potential value it brings to other fields. Some people believe that there is a “too fast and overheated” thinking in China that the aerospace industry surpasses the Soviet Union and the United States, so that it is dismissed as a “face project”, but in terms of its own value and significance, this is not an image project that cannot make ends meet. Take the American Apollo program as an example. By studying the lunar rock samples collected by astronauts, scientists can study the material composition of the moon in detail, which is of great significance for the origin of the solar system and the origin of the earth and the moon. Astronauts conducted detailed research and exploration on the surface morphology, gravity, magnetic field, and moonquakes of the moon, and gained valuable direct experience in understanding the universe. This is only the “tip of the iceberg” of the achievements of the Apollo program. In fact, this incident has promoted the exploration of the entire space and the development of many disciplines in the United States, and has immeasurable potential value. Although some people think that the United States did not have a follow-up moon landing plan after the completion of the Apollo program, thus inferring that China’s moon landing plan is redundant, but in fact, the United States has never given up on space exploration after the successful moon landing. China’s technology Progress won’t benefit much from the Apollo program for centuries. Therefore, the independent exploration of space is the only way for China to boost science and technology, and it is also an important driving force for the realization of national strength and people’s prosperity.
  Quoting a famous saying from “Zhuangzi” more than 2,000 years ago: “The use of useless is for great use.” The function of science and technology also has a process of “creating something out of nothing”. Hou Jianguo, President of the University of Science and Technology of China, believes that basic research seems to be far away from real life, but it is actually the primary factor in the chain of “science-technology-productivity”. First-class universities should have scientific research and innovation strategies in line with their development orientation. The purpose of basic research is to understand the laws of the objective world and expand the boundaries of human knowledge. The research on many problems seems to be far away from people’s real life, and it is difficult to transform into productivity in a short period of time, so people begin to ignore their importance. Scientific research innovation requires a deep understanding of the “uselessness” of basic research, and attaches great importance to the “creation out of nothing” of industrial breakthroughs.
  In Descartes’ view, knowledge is like a towering tree, with philosophy and metaphysics as its foundation, mathematics, physics and chemistry as its trunk, and applied disciplines such as medicine, biology and economics as its branches. According to Descartes’ logic, the applied science advocated by utilitarianism is nothing but the fruit of this towering tree. The reason why applied science can bring such rich fruits to mankind is because of the vigorous growth of this tree. Descartes’ metaphor well explains the value of technological theory and philosophy, in other words, their essence is “useless”. It is this tradition of philosophy of science that has made the western scientific community not dismiss basic scientific researches such as mathematics and philosophy as miraculous skills for a long time, but regard them as the source of human wisdom. This is also an important reason why modern western developed countries were able to take the lead in the field of science and technology.
  In the course of human history, more than 400 years after the invention of the telescope, it was widely used in military and other fields, opened a new era of astronomy, and greatly improved human understanding of the universe. However, in China at that time, the telescope was considered heresy and refused to be introduced.
  The discovery of tungsten filament lamp undoubtedly promoted the progress of human society, but people underestimated the cost of success. In the eyes of most people, Edison’s more than a thousand failures in inventing the light bulb are insignificant compared to its social and economic benefits, but in-depth inspection of the theory that the light bulb can be manufactured, in fact, as early as several centuries before, people have already With the corresponding discussion, it was not until Faraday invented the generator in the true sense, Ohm and other scientists proved that the mutual conversion of electric energy and light energy can be realized by the current passing through the resistance, and the appearance of the electric light became possible. Without the support of these theories and devices, no matter how talented and hard-working Edison was, it was impossible to invent the tungsten filament lamp. In comparison, Edison’s more than a thousand failed attempts are nothing but “tasteless” leaves on the branches of science. Direction” exploration and development.

  Basic scientific research may seem useless, but its potential is enormous. The economics of the United States once conducted a systematic analysis of the economic value of basic research, and the results showed that 50% of the economic growth of the United States in the past 25 years was attributed to the research and development driven by basic research. Although brilliant entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Jobs were born in the United States, they have made remarkable contributions to the growth of the U.S. economy, but their success in the electronic product market cannot be separated from basic scientific research. The emergence of related equipment has created the conditions for their success. Let us recall the first computer “Eniac” born at the University of Pennsylvania in 1946. It was a huge costly monster: it weighed 30 tons, covered an area of ​​150 square meters, and contained 18,800 electronic tubes in its belly. Uses are limited. Today, only by looking back at this “useless” invention can we discover and understand the value and significance it contained at that time. In fact, with it as a symbol, human beings have entered a new page in the electrical age.
  There are many similar cases, and they all proved that many seemingly inconspicuous and worthless research and discoveries at the time had a profound impact on the application field. Let us briefly recall the story of the discovery of X-rays. In 1895, the physicist Roentgen discovered that a piece of cyanide in a shielded instrument was glowing during the cathode ray experiment. After seven weeks of in-depth research, Roentgen pointed out that To understand the principle of the projectile glowing, this effect is not caused by the cathode ray itself, but the projection produced by a very penetrating ray, so this ray is named X-ray. The impact of this research achievement on many fields, especially clinical medicine, was applied to medical imaging only a few months after Roentgen discovered X-rays, and X-rays were widely used in subsequent practice Good results have been achieved in various fields. However, at least one researcher had seen this glow before, but attributed it to experimental error, thinking that it was only due to the deviation caused by the cathode ray itself, and did not carry out in-depth research, so he later regretted it .
  In the field of scientific research, the three scientific awards of the Nobel Prize – Physiology or Medicine, Physics, and Chemistry are recognized as the world’s highest basic science awards. Many winners in this field are “useless for great use”. Take the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry as an example. The winners are Japanese scientist Osamu Shimomura, American scientist Martin Shalfi, and Chinese-American scientist Qian Yongjian for their contributions to the discovery and research of green fluorescent protein. It is worth mentioning that Osamu Shimomura, a Japanese scientist in his 80s and one of the Nobel Prize winners, was very interested in jellyfish and conducted tireless research. In 1962, he discovered fluorescent protein from a jellyfish. At that time, some people thought that his fluorescent protein research was useless to science, and it was not taken seriously for a long time. Later, Martin Shalfi continued to study and found that green fluorescent protein itself can emit light, and Qian Yongjian was in it again. A number of achievements have been made in the research and transformation of green fluorescent protein. Today, green fluorescent protein “has become one of the most important tools of modern biological science.” With its help, researchers are able to see previously unseen new worlds, including how nerve cells in the brain develop and how cancer cells spread.
  In today’s highly developed industrial civilization, science and technology are full of vitality and have brought great changes to people’s lives. However, as scientific and technological research has been subdivided into many narrow specialized fields, basic scientific and technological research seems to be gradually far away from people. daily life. In this regard, although the calculus theory proposed by Leibniz has brought a subversive revolution to mathematics and other disciplines, in most people’s daily life, calculus is not useful at all. Chinese accounting seems to be more practical than calculus, so accounting is also more valued. However, basic science has been integrated into every corner of industrialized social life. The structural design of buildings, automobiles and other industrial products in our daily life is inseparable from the application of seemingly boring calculus.
  The uselessness of science is also reflected in the fact that it is not a kind of knowledge that everyone must master, nor can it be mastered by everyone, and it is difficult for people to realize that the development of society and economy is fundamentally driven by science and technology. The role of science and technology is usually hidden and latent, often ignored by ordinary people.
  The role and function of science and technology are potential, hidden and unclear. It seems like a useless small tree with a crooked neck. The branches may not bear sweet fruits, and the trunk cannot be made into a boat. It will not be suitable for use as a wooden pier, but its function cannot be simply regarded as useless. The science and technology that is truly combined with practice is, as the primary productive force, imperceptibly promoting the development of society, the country and individuals. The utility brought by science and technology cannot be achieved overnight, it requires a process of integration into the application field. Therefore, for a long period of time, it may be “tasteless to eat, but a pity to discard” like chicken ribs. However, in the history of human science in the past few hundred years, there are countless classic cases of “useless use” of science and technology. Although many seemingly inconspicuous inventions did not bring practical utility at the time, they brought great benefits to society decades later. brought considerable wealth. Moreover, the purpose of scientific and technological research itself is not for economic interests, but to seek truth. Newton discovered universal gravitation, established the principles of Newtonian mechanics, and Einstein created the theory of relativity. These theories are not for economic interests but for the pursuit of knowledge. Therefore, we should not demand quick success and instant benefits from scientific research that can quickly bring huge benefits, but should see the potential functions of basic scientific research, and wait for its “useless use” to break through the horizon of “useless” in the long river of time. Sweet “useful” fruit.

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