Boulding, Kenneth. "What Went Wrong, If Anything, Since Copernicus?" Bulletin of the

 

Boulding, Kenneth. "What Went Wrong, If Anything, Since Copernicus?" Bulletin of the
Atomic Scientists 30 (January, 1974), pp. 17-33.

This is the Big Picture, the Long View, of Science, presented on the 500th anniversary of
Copernicus' birth. Boulding asks in this paper: What brought science about? What is science
now doing? Where are we going? His answers are stated in ecological terms. Up until
Copernicus, diversity was the major theme and there were numerous ecological systems adaptive
in each world. "The Copernican revolution, however, destroyed the medieval intellectual
synthesis in Europe and, together with the geographical expansion of the New World, destroyed
the previous equilibrium of the intellectual ecosystem." (p. 22) Science's success in creating a
superculture (especially in the period 1860-1920) has changed that. We now live in a world
dominated by the superculture, the success of which has meant the creation, paradoxically, of
only one ecologically significant system. Where that one system now takes us is the question.
One can envision doom (as has the Club of Rome) with growing scarcity of food, a loss of
intellectual curiosity, and a time when science will have provided all the answers of which it is
capable. That is a downbeat theme and Boulding prefers a vision of a relatively static,
scientifically balanced ecological system which is capable of maintaining itself. (To me that
sounds nonadaptive, utopian, and certainly a return to an earlier form of science as pure
speculation.)

"(Science)... developed not so much as an adaptation to external changes, but as a spontaneous
chain reaction in the noosphere - the collective knowledge structure in the nervous system of man
and his artifacts - which was, in part at least, independent of the technological adaptive process
which had gone on in pre-scientific societies. It took several centuries for science to make much
impact on the social system. I have argued earlier that this impact only really began about 1850
and that the great expansion of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries was still
essentially pre-scientific..." (p. 22)