On the evening of October 22, 2019, the first lecture of "Science and Civilization" Academic Lecture Series was held in the B101 lecture hall of Peking University Second Gymnasium. Professor Han Qide, Founding Dean of the Department of History of Science, Technology and Medicine of Peking University, brought a wonderful report to the audience on "Questions of Science and Civilization". The lecture was chaired by Professor Deng Xiaonan, Dean of the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Prior to the start of Professor Han's report, Professor Deng Xiaonan gave a brief introduction to the "Science and Civilization" Lecture Series. This event series is co-planned and organized by the Department of History of Science, Technology and Medicine and the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences of Peking University, aiming to establish a dialogue platform for natural sciences and humanities, confront some fundamental problems facing human society today, and activate the classic dialogue of “scientific civilization”. The exploration of the essence of modern science and modern civilization is a fundamental issue related to the development of the contemporary era. It is hoped that through this series of lectures, we can understand the significance of science in the perspective of civilization, realize the cultivation of civilization on the basis of science, and inject novel ideological vitality into the development of Chinese science and Chinese civilization.
Professor Han Qide also explained the organizational background and future plans of the "Science and Civilization" Lecture Series.
Currently, the global landscape is undergoing major changes, and socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era. As the primary productive force and an important influencing factor of national strength, science and technology have comprehensive impact on economy, politics, culture, society, ecology, etc. The development of science and technology is inseparable from its soil and environment, namely, the culture of science. Due to factors such as historical reasons, the soil of China's scientific culture is relatively poor. Many of the unsatisfactory things nowadays, if traced back, could often stem from problems on the spiritual and cultural levels. If China intends to further hold its due position in the world's scientific and technological structure, the development of scientific culture is undoubtedly significant. In view of these considerations, with the support of China Association for Science and Technology (CAST) and Peking University (PKU), the CAST-PKU Joint Research Institute of Science and Culture (hereinafter referred to as "CAST-PKU Research Institute") was established in November 2018; in February this year, Peking University's Department of History of Science, Technology and Medicine (hereinafter, "Department of History of Science") was officially listed. Over the past year, the CAST-PKU Research Institute and the Department of History of Science have completed the work of "Six Ones", built a team of science history, science philosophy, science society and communication, launched a research project on the history of science at Peking University, organized annual Scientific Culture Forum, hosted an English periodical on science and culture (Cultures of Science), published a set of books on cultures of science, and established a national network for the development of history of science.
Starting from this lecture, the Lecture Series is an important event jointly organized by the Department of History of Science and the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences. The purpose is to build a platform that allows domestic and foreign colleagues engaged in research of scientific culture to sufficiently communicate, have in-depth discussion on important issues, and promote the development of domestic disciplines such as science history, science philosophy, scientific sociology, etc. The Lecture Series is hosted by Peking University and receives support from counterparts across the country. Five lectures are planned to be held before the end of this year, with themes and timelines all finalized; 10-12 lectures are planned for next year.
Today marked the first lecture in this "Science and Civilization" Lecture Series, led by Professor Han Qide. He raised twelve questions around the three aspects of science and civilization, covering topics that the forum will discuss in the future. He threw "targets" and waited for everyone to launch "bullets", hoping to give rise to everyone's participation in the discussion.
The first aspect is"what is science". Professor Han believes that this is a fundamental problem. If there is no agreement on the understanding of science, then discussions on other scientific problems will easily lead to a "chickens talking with ducks (having a dialogue with the deaf)" situation. Focusing on what science is, Professor Han raised four more specific and in-depth questions.
1. How to define science?
Many experts and scholars have conducted quite a lot of discussions on the definition of science, but up to now there is no clear and well-accepted answer. There are four general understandings in regards to the definition of science: science is a system of knowledge; science is a paradigm for producing knowledge; science is an activity organized socially to search for natural laws; science is a historical category. The fourth point focuses more on the evolution of science. In effect, from "episteme" in Greek to "scientia" in Latin, to the appearance of the word "science" in English in the 17th century, the term "science" itself reflects historical changes. In the 19th century, the Japanese accepted the word "science" in English and translated it into "subject knowledge" (knowledge by subjects) in Japanese. This translation mentality was also adopted in Chinese. Therefore, the "science" we use today comes from the word "science" in the 19th century English, which refers to the modern science since the 19th century. To understand the meaning of the Chinese word "science", it is very important to understand from the category of historical evolution. Based on the historical evolution of the term "science", Professor Han combined the four perspectives on science to form a more comprehensive understanding of science: inheriting the rational tradition of ancient Greeks and formed after the European Scientific Revolution in the 16th-17th century, science is the thought system combining logical reasoning, mathematical description and experimental testing, as well as the knowledge production process and the corresponding social institution. It is also suggested that in this Lecture Series, unless otherwise specified, the "science" mentioned shall refer to modern mathematics and experimental science represented by Newton, that is, the modern science that has been exposed after the scientific revolution. The different meanings of "science" in other contexts need to be specifically explained.
2.How much power does the internal drive for scientific development play today?
Internal motivation refers to human curiosity, aspiration to knowledge, and the developmental inertia of science itself; external motivation refers to social needs, national interests, policy drives, etc. As Engels said, once society has a technical need, this need will push science forward to an extent more than ten universities do. With the development of science and technology today, what role does its internal motivation still play? Many scholars believe that current scientific research is mainly based on the needs, while less and less stems from the nature of scientists themselves as well as the inertia of science. However, Professor Han agrees with the views of some other scholars that internal motivation is always very important, and there are still many important achievements driven by internal motivation, such as the cases of Perelman-Poincaré conjecture, Chinese mathematician Zhang Yitang, many Nobel Prize winners and so on. Professor Han hereby raises a question: is the scientist's sense of responsibility internal or external? The characteristic of "responsibility" is very prominent in many Chinese scientists. They are engaged in scientific research, not entirely out of personal interest and curiosity, nor entirely for the sake of profit, but to save the country and strengthen the country by science, which they believe is the responsibility of Chinese intellectuals. This sense of responsibility comes from within, but it is also affected by the external environment. Taking this as an example, many factors are difficult to distinguish with absolute internal motivation or external motivation.
3. Is science neutral?
Scientific Neutrality refers to the fact that science is not constrained by value and has nothing to do with value. Specifically, scientific purpose is not affected by social values; the process of scientific cognition does not require value judgment; scientific achievements are neutral, and only the application of technology is divided into good and evil. Yet, some insightful people put forward different views. For example, during the astronomical revolution, many scientists' research was purely out of curiosity, so its purpose can be regarded as neutral, but in effect the purpose is difficult to separate from value. Bacon once said that the truly legitimate purpose of science is to kindly provide new discoveries and new power to human life. If we say that modern science is the separation of man and nature, then this is a value in itself. When we experiment with animals, we have firstly confirmed that the value of human is higher than "non-human". People have begun to consider many sciences' values when they have not been applied at all. This can be understood in Merton ’s words: the dominant values, thoughts and feelings belong to the cultural variables that will always influence the development of science. Is science neutral? This is a question worth discussing, as it will affect the understanding of science, the relationship between science and technology, and the understanding of ethical issues.
4. Is science currently in a period of breakthrough?
The "breakthrough period" refers to cases like the post-16th century, where the creation of modern science impacted the development of the entire science. In the 16th century, the paradigm established by Newton became modern science. Will this paradigm change in the near future? Nowadays there seem to be some signs of a "breakthrough period", such as the integrated development of science, technology and engineering, the development of quantum science and technology, the confirmation of dark matter and dark energy, the development of Artificial Intelligence, and the maturity of gene editing technology. Many paradigms recognized by modern science have been challenged: modern science pursues certainty, while quantum is considered indeterminate; the reductionism paradigm of modern science will find that the simple model of reductionism cannot solve the problems of complex systems; the deductive method originated from the Greek period is considered as the main scientific method, but now many discoveries have returned to the inductive method; there are still many problems that cannot be confirmed experimentally. Will science make a great breakthrough in a certain period? This is difficult to predict and can only be understood from the angle of science evolution. We need to figure out where science comes from so as to determine where science is going and predict whether science will die out. Although the breakthrough period is difficult to predict, the evolution of science can be traced historically to determine what is considered a "breakthrough period". Professor Han believes that a breakthrough in science can be recognized if science changes the picture of the entire world and fundamentally alters people's understanding of the world.
Regarding "what is science", Professor Han raised the aforementioned four questions, analyzed and distinguished them. He believes that these issues are more controversial, but they are very interesting and closely related to reality.
When we have a more consistent understanding of "science", we will be able to discuss“what is the relationship between science and civilization”. This is the second theme of Professor Han's questions. As we did when discussing the first aspect, firstly we need to clarify the definition of civilization.
5. What is civilization?
Professor Han vividly explains the meaning of "civilization" with a common slogan "one small step forward, one giant leap forward for civilization". The "toilet revolution" defeated the genome project, elimination of some infectious diseases and other achievements to be rated as the event with the greatest impact on human civilization, especially human health, in the past 100 years. It has the greatest benefit to human health and represents the greatest progress of human civilization. Taking this as an intro, civilization should be considered as a positive result in human culture, marking the progress and civilized state of society, and manifested as a good lifestyle and fashion. The characteristics of the development of civilization are diverse, unbalanced, and can be divided into historical stages. Therefore, the so-called various civilizations divided by different regions and different historical periods have emerged, such as the four ancient civilizations, the axis civilization, the seven major contemporary civilizations proposed by Huntington, the Western civilization and the Eastern civilization, various religious civilizations, etc. The conflict of civilizations is understandable owing to civilizations' characteristics of diversity and imbalance.
6. Whether following science must follow western civilization?
Science originated from the West and greatly promoted the development of Western civilization. It is undoubtedly the main source and characteristics of Western civilization. Therefore, there is a view that "science is labeled with Western civilization". The development of civilization has now been inseparable from science. Modernization featuring Western civilization is an irresistible world trend. Thus, marks of Western civilization have been left in all other civilizations in various countries and regions. Nevertheless, science and Western civilization should not be equated, because the progress of Western civilization depends not only on science, and the progress of non-Western civilization is also not entirely dependent on science. Science has played a large role in the progress of civilization, but there are many other relevant factors. Therefore, the development of civilization in today's world depends on science, yet it does not mean that it depends on Western civilization. Modern science is the confluence of scientific knowledge in many different civilizations, and it contains elements of different civilizations. Joseph Needham once described the central meaning of "History of Chinese Science and Technology" as:
"An ancient stream of science from different civilizations is running like a river to the vast ocean of modern science. Modern science actually includes progresses of all the nations in the old world. The contributions of various nationalities are continuously injected, either from ancient Greece, Rome, or from the Arab world, or from China and India."
There is a lot of controversy around this view, yet it is also worth discussing. Professor Han says that he appreciates Professor Fei Xiaotong's famous saying: "Every beauty has its uniqueness, precious is to appreciate other forms of beauty with openness. If beauty represents itself with diversity and integrity, the world will be blessed with harmony and unity." Due to the complexity of civilization, it is necessary to make more sufficient basis for discussion and exchange when paying attention to the issues of science and civilization.
7. Whether science can affect civilization only through technology?
In the historical process of modern science’ occurrence and evolvement, science promoted the development of productive forces through technology, promoted three technological revolutions, and pushed the human society to enter the steam age, electrical age and information age. However, without turning into technology, science will also have an impact on civilization, as science has a fundamental influence on people's world views, values and ways of thinking. Science has wisdom beyond function and value beyond skill. Professor Han cites several specific examples, including: the emergence of humanism and modern philosophy; the great influence of "Mr. Sai (science)" on Chinese civilization in the 20th century, which is manifested through not only the progress of productivity, but also the fact that it fundamentally changed the Chinese world view; the change of educational core from pure humanities to a simultaneous emphasis on modern science. Therefore, science can directly create a huge impact on human civilization.
8. Can human society control the direction of scientific development?
Some people describe that once modern science is born, it is like opening the Pandora's Box. Its direction is not shifted by human will. Professor Han takes genetic research as an example. The discovery of the double helix model clarified the material basis of genes, and then molecular biology flourished. By the 1970s, humans were already able to change and recombine DNA. At that time, many politicians and scientists raised objections, thinking that the research on recombinant DNA would eventually change humans themselves. The voice of opposition did not control the progress of the research; on the contrary, genetic research has made explosive progress: not only has the human genome map been drawn, but also gene editing is now possible. Once developed, it is difficult to be controlled. Could the loss of control over science lead to the regression of human civilization and even accelerate the demise of humanity? Nowadays, when Artificial Intelligence has been combined with the Internet and big data, it is time to consider this issue.
This raises another question: can science solve its own problems? Taking current problem as an example, the more information technology develops, the greater the challenge of information security could be. Some people think that these problems exist because science is not yet developed enough, so there is no more powerful ability to control science, but there will always be solutions; some people think that science cannot find all solutions to the problems it brings. If science cannot solve its own problems, then the humanities' control over science is particularly important. As a result, the issues of science and humanities have received more and more attention.
Regarding the last theme of the questions concerning science and civilization, Professor Han put his attention on China. What are the peculiarities of science and civilization in China? In this regard, he also raised four specific questions.
9. Is there science in ancient China?
There has been a long-standing debate about whether there is science in ancient China. In 1915, Ren Hongjun, a pioneer who was educated in the West and returned home, published "The Reason Why China Has No Science" in the first issue of "Science". The reason came down to the question of what role Chinese philosophy plays. In 1945, Zhu Kezhen published an article "Why did not ancient China produce natural science". This article is not to discuss whether there is natural science, but to study why it did not occur at all.
Yet Joseph Needham’s point of view is different from theirs. He believed that ancient China was scientific, and expressed this point clearly in “Science and Civilisation in China” and “The Grand Titration”. Professor Han expresses his admiration for Joseph Needham. Needham does not understand Chinese, but since he had been interested in the history of Chinese science, he has mastered a large number of ancient Chinese science-related stories and summed up the theory exploring whether China has science. He illustrated why Chinese civilization was the world leader before modern times, but did not produce modern science.
In the discussion of this issue, scholars supporting the existence of ancient Chinese science have the following reasons: Western science is not the only science; China has its own unique scientific system; Chinese ancient mathematics is a mature discipline with its own system; ancient Chinese astronomy belongs to a scientific category; metallurgy and ceramics in ancient China contain experimental elements. Opponents respond to these one by one: the ancient Chinese way of seeking knowledge relies on induction and lacks deduction; the Chinese knowledge system does not pursue certainty, lacks logic and combing traditions; ancient Chinese mathematics is an example of calculations, not mathematical science. As Professor Wu Guosheng also said, ancient Chinese mathematics is an algebraic system rather than a geometric system; ancient Chinese astronomy belongs to the category of “li (ritual studies)”, which is organized by officials and serves political purposes, so it cannot be seen as science; lastly, sporadic achievements in metallurgy and ceramics cannot represent a scientific tradition.
However, as we said at the beginning of the lecture, from the source of the word "science", we now use "science" to only refer to modern science that originated in the West. In this sense, China has no science. This leads to the next question, why hasn't modern science emerged from China's traditional culture.
10. Is Chinese traditional culture not conducive to the occurrence and development of science?
There are some disadvantages in traditional Chinese culture that hinder the emergence of modern science. First and foremost, an independent world of nature does not exist in the Chinese world view of harmony between man and nature, which impedes active pursuit and exploration of nature. Secondly, the traditional way of thinking is not conducive to producing precise and rigorous logic methodology. Chinese traditional thoughts are in a pattern of summary, which is not helpful to the generation of modern science, but is beneficial to the generation of other wisdom, such as traditional Chinese medicine. Thirdly, the non-hereditary civil service system and the imperial examination system are not conducive to attracting talents to engage in science. Fourthly, the hierarchy of identity is not conducive to a free and equal academic atmosphere. Not only are the administrative levels and social classes different, but even the family is divided into young and old. This rigid hierarchy has many adverse effects on academic freedom.
However, does traditional Chinese culture only adversely affect the development of science? Not necessarily true. Especially nowadays, under the development trend of inseparable science and technology, there are also beneficial effects. Firstly, Chinese traditional "organic materialism" rather than "mechanical materialism" may be beneficial to future scientific development. Secondly, in the case of the joint development of science and technology, especially when technology in turn promotes science, a strong governmental function and collectivism have certain beneficial effects on the implementation of "big science". Thirdly, the most important point is that Chinese intellectuals’ “home-country (patriotic) bond” feelings play a tangible role in the development of Chinese science and technology. Since the Opium War, the difference between generations of Chinese intellectuals as well as scientists and their counterparts in other countries of the world can be observed through cases like the Westernization Movement and the New Cultural Movement.
Professor Han believes that Chinese scientists have their own unique characteristics. Starting from the last century, Chinese scientists can be roughly divided into four generations. The first generation of scientists was born around 1890. Representatives include Ding Wenjiang, Zhu Kezhen, Ye Qisun, Su Buqing and others. At that time, China had not established a perfect university educational system. These pioneers went to Europe and the United States to study abroad, then returned to China to establish universities and develop scientific research institutions, becoming the originator of Chinese science. The second generation of scientists was born in the 1910s and 1920s, represented by Hua Luogeng, Qian Xuesen, Lu Jiaxi, and Ye Duzheng. At that time, there were already conditions to receive university education in China, plus they stayed abroad longer due to the reasons for the war, not only receiving university undergraduate education, but also scientific research training. After this group of scientists returned to China, they laid the foundation for contemporary Chinese science under the leadership of the first generation of scientists. The third generation of scientists was born in the 1930s and 1940s, represented by Yuan Longping, Tu Youyou, Liu Yongtan, and Zhao Zhongxian. When they became young scientists, they ushered in the establishment of the new China, and they led Chinese science to catch up with the world. The fourth generation of scientists was born in the 1950s and 1960s, represented by Pan Jianwei, Shi Yigong, Rao Yi and others. They have mastered advanced technology abroad, and strived to build China into a world power of science and technology.
Although each generation of scientists has different tasks and different characteristics, the spiritual connotation of Chinese scientists can still be summarized. Professor Han quotes the summarization of Chinese scientists' spirit in "Opinions on Further Promoting the Spirit of Scientists, Strengthening the Construction of Ideological Style and Study Style":
"Patriotic spirit of bearing the motherland in mind and serving the people;
Innovative spirit of bravely climbing the peak and daring to take the lead;
Truth-seeking spirit of pursuing truth and rigorous scholarship;
Devotion spirit of being dedicated to research, and indifferent to fame and fortune;
Collaborative spirit of gathering intelligence, uniting and cooperating with others;
Educational spirit of offering shoulders and rewarding later generations."
Professor Han says that this is not only the spirit of Chinese scientists, but also the spirit of science and scientists representing advanced human civilization. Chinese scientists have their own characteristics in six aspects, but the most outstanding thing is still the "home-country (patriotic) bond". This close integration of the country and the individual, naturally merging in the spirit and blood of the scientists, is a characteristic not quite available to researchers in other countries. It is precisely this feeling of home-country bond that shows the style and state of Chinese scientists in all historical periods.
11. What is the current level and status of Chinese science and technology in the world?
China's technology has been "catching up" with the West, but the status of China's technology in the world has now become an issue worth discussing, which is an affirmation of China's technological development.
For the evaluation of Chinese science and technology, there are often two voices, one is "so awesome my country is", and the other is "neck-stuck" and "head-stuck"; the evaluation always fluctuates between the two voices. Professor Han believes that both extremes are undesirable, and that specific analysis is required in specific conditions. Secondly, on the issue of "latecomer advantage", Professor Han believes that technology indeed facilitates latecomer advantage, but science basically has no latecomer advantage. If we do not have a successful technology, it belongs to the "known unknown"; as long as we work hard to tackle the problem, we can catch up or even surpass. Yet if we got lagged behind scientifically, we can only lay a solid foundation, catch up honestly, and find the cause of the restriction, so it is difficult to have a latecomer advantage. Thirdly, with regard to the "xx years behind the West" sayings, there are too many influencing factors, and it is difficult to measure and obtain accurate quantities. Therefore, this statement is not scientific, but it can be used to motivate scientists themselves to catch up with the frontier. Fourthly, the evaluation of "soft power" should indeed be studied. "Soft" aspects like culture, institution, legislation and environment are where we are the most backward. In this special transition period, is there a better way to change? This requires urgent study and solution.
In regards to the series of questions triggered by "the current level and status of Chinese science and technology in the world", no matter what arguments we have, it is generally agreed that a comprehensive strategic analysis is urgently needed. It should not be a big one, but should be tackled as a special strategic project. It is quite significant to understand what level and position China is in.
12. What is the most critical step currently in terms of promoting China's scientific development?
This is the last question: what is the most critical link currently in terms of promoting China's scientific development?
Is it an increase in funding? In 2018, China's investment in science and technology was about 2 trillion yuan, ranking second in the world. Professor Han believes that we currently have a lot of investment in technology, but efficiency is a more urgent problem to be solved. Funding should be increased, especially for basic research, but if efficiency is not improved, it will cause greater waste. We need to consider whether the funds are invested in the areas that need to be resolved the most.
Is there something wrong with the policy? The Eighteenth National Congress of the Party has clearly stated that technological innovation must be placed at the core of the country ’s overall development, and that an “innovation-driven development strategy" should be implemented. The continuous introduction of national policies and relevant systems have greatly promoted scientific development, but the implementation of the documents still needs to be improved.
Last but not least, Professor Han believes that promoting the cultivation of scientific culture is more important than the previous two aspects. From the perspective of history and culture, the cultivation soil of modern science in China is not fertile, and the views of many scholars have also been reviewed. If we do not advance the cultivation of scientific culture, promote the spirit of science and improve national scientific literacy, it is difficult to produce more scientific innovations or even breakthrough results. Many people currently recognize the importance of this problem, but where is the solution? It is difficult to solve this problem, but it is not necessarily impossible. As long as it is conducted, even if it cannot be completely resolved, it is still possible to do better than the current status. This is also the original aspiration of Professor Han, who devoted himself to the cultivation of China's culture of science after he stepped down from the CAST. He hopes that under his own initiative, the soil of Chinese scientific culture will slowly grow fertile.
Lastly, Professor Han put forward some of his ideas and suggestions for the "Science and Civilization" Lecture Series. He believes that to succeed in this series of activities, it is necessary to rely on as well as mobilize the domestic and international resources, and to carefully organize the lecture/forum report. This is not just an activity of Peking University; it is necessary to invite experts and scholars from all the first-level disciplines of science history across the country to this platform to select the best report topics for the lectures. Secondly, the content of the forum should be properly concentrated, because the relationship between science and civilization covers too much of a range, and it is difficult to discuss all aspects thoroughly in a dozens of reports per year. If the topics are relatively concentrated, everyone can then focus on answering some really meaningful questions during the discussion. Thirdly, when organizing the lectures/forums, we must not only connect with reality, but also advocate academics. We must think deeply, take high stance, and see far. We must promote the controversy of hundreds of schools: we can have different views, but we must criticize and reason rationally; it is not only about seeking common ground while reserving differences, but more importantly, it is about harmony in diversity. We shall seek truth from facts, connecting to the reality. Confronting unsolvable problems, it is possible to proceed from reality and get a consensus more easily. Finally, he hopes that this series of activities can focus on communication, letting more people know what we are doing, and expanding the influence. The report should not only be published on the Internet, but also extend the achievements, adapting the long-term accumulation of the experts' report content to various forms of achievements, so as to make it play greater roles.
In the end, Professor Han Qide concluded that hosting the "Science and Civilization" forum series could be a very difficult task, but he is also very optimistic: with tonight's support of the audiences and media friends who care about science and culture, we can surely host the "Science and Civilization" Forum well!
After Professor Han Qide's speech, Professor Deng Xiaonan shared her feelings. Professor Deng stated that Professor Han's report today was a model of "seeking truth from facts" and "harmony in diversity". As a first-class scientist, Professor Han's wise inquiries and deep humanistic feelings are believed to have left a deep impression on everyone. Although science is often said to be "academic", it is also concerned about "ethics". Science influences our values and world view with a kind of wisdom beyond specific functions. As Professor Han said, the spiritual connotation of scientists is actually a vivid expression of advanced civilization. Professor Deng believes that on one hand today's lecture on "Questions of Science and Civilization" is for contemporary issues; on the other hand, Professor Han takes macro perspective and views the classic proposition of "science and civilization" from different aspects, providing insightful and deep thoughts. The issues Professor Han mentioned in the summary section concerning how to conduct a comprehensive strategic analysis, how to grasp the key links of science, and how to promote the cultivation of scientific culture are all quite important, requiring conscious awareness and persistent exploration.
Finally, the lecture ended with warm questions and discussions.