Whither Science?: Three Essays by Danko Antolovic
Danko Antolovic’s Whither Science?: Three Essays is an exploration of scientific inquiry of the past, present, and future. These brief essays provide a thought-provoking examination of the current state of scientific inquiry, and some suggestions for its future. In the first essay, he begins by providing a brief overview of the history of scientific investigation. Antolovic next laments the current state of scientific inquiry, which is dominated by corporations, universities, and governments. This system, modeled on the free market, hinders scientific discovery and exploration, according to Antolovic. Indeed, Antolovic argues that science has not produced any truly groundbreaking advances since the early 20th century. Antolovic proposes solutions to this stagnation that include having the larger scientific community come to some consensus on what areas of research would be most beneficial, and instituting a managerial framework to evaluate the work that results from this research. Antolovic’s next essay explores the creative versus the empirical, noting that science requires “the speculative ‘What if…?’” combined with the “straightjacket of empirical verification,” referring to physicist Richard Feynman’s characterization of scientific inquiry as “imagination in a straightjacket.” What science cannot do, Antolovic acknowledges, is provide us with moral or ethical guidelines. This is the topic of the third essay, in which Antolovic argues that science must now turn inward and begin to explore the human mind. In so doing, he argues, we will discover the cure for our instinctive behaviors, which lead us to “pursuits [that] are frivolous, tawdry and destructive.” Ultimately, he argues, science can provide us with ways to control those impulses that lead to destruction.
Antolovic’s text is intricate and provides the reader with a great deal to consider. The third essay is the most controversial, as it seems to contradict what Antolovic argues in the second essay, that science cannot tell us what is good or bad. This, however, is a tension which scientific inquiry has always faced; one that may never be resolved. This collection of essays is a valuable and important addition to this conversation, and the reader will enjoy this complex, but accessible work.