Origins of VR Technoogy

This Monday, The Tribune publishes a large exclusive interview with Etienne Klein. This physicist is head of the laboratory of research on material sciences at the CEA (atomic energy commission) in Saclay. He makes an almost philosophical analysis of our relationship with science, which questions man when this decade will be dominated by technological advances.

In an age where technology is everywhere, are we moving towards a world dominated by science?

In the Western world, where so-called modern science appeared with Galileo, the answer to your question can only be ambivalent, because we are at a crossroads. On the one hand, I want to say to you: yes, science dominates us, because as ideality it is the official foundation of our society, supposed to replace the old religious foundation. I do not mean that we would be governed by science – if that were the case, it would be reflected in the composition of the government… – but that we are governed by something that has to do with science. This is how, in all spheres of our life, we are now subject to a multitude of evaluations, which are not pronounced by religious preachers or enlightened ideologues : they are now presented as simple judgments of”experts”, that is to say they are supposed to be made in the name of knowledge and competences of a scientific type.

Look at what is written on cigarette packages: if in the 18th century, we had wanted to launch an anti-smoking campaign, we would not have put “smoking kills” but “smoking jeopardizes the salvation of your soul “or” smoking displeases God”! The salvation of the soul, the object par excellence of theological discourse, has thus gradually disappeared in favor of the health of the body, which is the object of scientific concern. But at the same time – and this is what makes the situation all ambiguous-science, in its practical reality, is questioned in our country as never before, contested, challenged, and even marginalized.

Is the disaffection of students for Science an illustration of this?

Certainly. In almost all developed countries, students are becoming less and less involved in scientific studies. In 2005, the OECD published a report on the subject, which shows that the decline is almost everywhere the same: it is, therefore, a massive trend. I am not sure that the word “disaffection” is the most appropriate one because is it a matter of affect? I don’t get the impression that my students care less about science than they did twenty years ago, or that they like it less. Simply, they are less willing to commit themselves to it. But I note that this trend is by no means observable in countries such as India or China, on the contrary : India and China train a considerable and growing number of engineers and researchers every year.

Does this mean that we are witnessing a shift in interest in science from the West to the East?

I think the word tilt is too strong, but Asia is indeed experiencing a spectacular scientific development. In previous centuries, science and technology had advanced far more in western Europe, which led to scientific and industrial revolutions, than in the Middle East, India, and China. The historian David Cosandey put it nicely: “the world has long belonged to those who rise in the West.”This aphorism has, Of course, lost its truth, but that does not mean that Europe does not have cards in its hand. Europe invented and promoted a way of doing research that emphasized the value of knowledge for itself. By this” ethic of knowledge, ” any discovery was considered to be intrinsically valuable, and therefore could not be valued solely by the profits it would generate.

But here, too, things are changing: science and technology have become the main engine of all forms of power, and this fundamental movement profoundly modifies the exercise and purposes of scientific activity. From now on, the aim is either to show that the research carried out will lead to useful results or to promise that these will one day be useful. In this way, the idea that the value of newly acquired knowledge can be measured in terms of its possible practical impact is gradually gaining ground within Europe itself.