Τhoughts that have defined the key directions for our subject matter
by Alexandros Mamalis, Publisher
The attitude that we have developed in our days towards the natural sciences, both physical and biological, is strange and in many ways ambivalent. On the one hand, we expect the natural sciences to be able to penetrate, understand and elucidate the most complex mysteries of the real world. Most people are deeply convinced not only that a scientific explanation for everything around us is possible, but that such an explanation already exists, as do the «specialists» who possess it. Although these very people do not know much about the natural sciences, and probably are not interested in learning more, they rest assured in the thought that scientists «are here»: these are the people who think that scientific progress comes almost automatically and can be taken for granted.
On the other hand, science is there to take the blame for a never-ending number of plagues which has befallen the modern world. Science has invented weapons of mass-destruction; by intervening with our genes, it is capable of manufacturing monsters like a modern-day Dr Frankenstein; it promotes artificial intelligence with the aim to substitute human intellect; in short, science is trying to alter our very nature. It is cold, inhuman and arrogant. Of course, one could argue that no other form of knowledge has exercised such a revolutionary and crucial influence on the way people live as natural sciences have; and that the study of the structure of our Universe and of its history, from the time matter was formed to the time it acquired self-consciousness, constitutes the most important cultural achievement of mankind.
Thus, regardless of whether people worship science or are terrified by it, the most widespread perceptions of it are evidently based on a disappointing ignorance of its history, of the problems that it is trying to address and, of course, of its methodology. The perception of science by the average «man-in-the-street» does not go beyond the individualism of ancient Greeks; in the best of cases, it coincides with the mechanistic perceptions of the 18th century. And all this in a state of superstitious awe for all kinds of obscure miracle-working, of Satanism, astrology and parapsychology —which, although claiming to free human thought from the chains of rational science, in reality they rapidly reduce it back to its original nebulous pre-scientific state.
The century which saw the tremendous developments in transport, microelectronics, information technology and petrochemistry, the revolutionising of communications, the broadening of our experiences of outer space, the taming of the titanic forces contained within the atom, and the rapid development of medical sciences and biotechnology, begins to fade in the mists of time. Now, in the mid of the first decade of the 21st century, most people do not know what quarks are, have no idea about the evolutionary process of species and are unaware of the Second Law of thermodynamics...
It is for these reasons that it is so important to disseminate, in a manner accessible to the general public, the main lines of modern scientific thinking. Not only in order to satisfy the curiosity of those not wishing to come to terms with living in a technological world about which they have only rudimentary knowledge; but also because, as citizens of today’s democracies, we are faced every day with dilemmas that might be political in nature, but whose underlying foundations are scientific. Regardless of whether such dilemmas concern nuclear energy, genetic interferences, alterations to the environment etc., they require access to widely available information and knowledge, so that we may avoid being mystified by technocrats and swept away by demagogues. The words of Albert Einstein are today as significant as ever: «It is very important to provide people with the opportunity to acquire the experience made available through the efforts of scientific research. For each one of us, turning to the few experts in each scientific field is not enough. When we restrict knowledge to a small group of people, we lead the philosophical intellect of our people to stagnation, and these results in intellectual starvation.»
These are the very thoughts that have defined the key directions for the subject matter of Katoptro Publications throughout the two decades of their active presence. The present list contains a few samples of their effort to establish a channel for communication between prominent scientists and an intellectually alert public. You are the one’s who will judge the result.