Professor Michael Polanyi, D.Sc., F.R.S.
Science: Academic and Industrial
Journal of the Institute of Metals
Vol. 89, 1960-61, 401-406
Let me draw a broad sketch of the historical development which has led up to our present problems. Technology is older than science. It began with the manufacture of tools and it dates back to the emergence of the human race from the primates. In the subsequent thousand centuries it has made continuous progress. The systematic study of nature, which we call science, started only about 400 years ago and got well under way only another century later. The founders of the Royal Society, 300 years ago, drew no sharp distinction between science and technology, but there was actually little interaction between the two. The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and early 19th century was achieved by a series of industrial, agricultural, and commercial improvements which owed little to the progress of science.
Scientific research in the universities was a mere trickle until the middle of the 19th century, when it began rapidly to develop on a larger scale. It was during this time that a clear distinction between pure science and technology arose for the first time. The matter had gained importance from the rise of the electrical and chemical industries. The progress of science was seen greatly to benefit industrial production, but this was not to affect the pursuit of theoretical science in the universities. Admittedly, the teaching of science would have to be expanded to supply personnel for the new scientifically minded industries and new technical universities were to be founded in which the principles of modern technologies would be developed and taught to candidates for the new industries.
But fresh currents of thought spreading in the 1930’s have called in question the division between science and technology. Two main factors contributed to this change of outlook. These were: first, the immense expansion in the technological applications of science, which was to include the decisive weapons of the Second World War; second, a change in the declared purpose of modern society. The State had come to recognize as its prime duty the raising of the standard of living, and the effects of this political theory on the universities was reinforced by the fact that the financial burden of the expanding universities was taken over by the government. Politically and socially sensitive scientists willingly responded to this new climate of opinion. In August 1938 the British Association for the Advancement of Science founded a new Division for the Social and International Relations of Science, which was largely motivated by the desire to offer deliberate social guidance to the progress of science. This programme was given more extreme expression by the Association of Scientific Workers. In January 1943 the Association filled the Caxton Hall in London with a meeting attended by many of the most distinguished scientists of this country, and it decided (in the words of Professor Darlington, officially summing up the conference) that research would no longer be conducted for itself as an end in itself. The meeting made clear throughout that science should henceforth be guided by its usefulness to industry and the public services. Though such demands have since subsided, the fundamental issues they raised remain unsettled. It is still not fully recognized that it is simply impossible to take into account in making a major scientific discovery what its future technical applications may be.
An example will show what I mean by this impossibility. In January 1945 Lord Russell and I were together on the BBC Brains Trust. We were asked about the possible technical uses of Einstein’s theory of relativity, and neither of us could think of any. This was forty years after the publication of the theory and fifty years after the inception by Einstein of the work which led to its discovery. It was 58 years after the Michelson-Morley experiment. But, actually, the technical application of relativity, which neither Russell nor I could think of, was to be revealed within a few months by the explosion of the first atomic bomb. For the energy of the explosion was released at the expense of mass in accordance with the relativistic equation e = mc2, an equation which was soon to be found splashed over the cover of Time magazine, as a token of its supreme practical importance.
Perhaps Russell and I should have done better in foreseeing
these applications of relativity in January 1945, but it is obvious that Einstein could not possibly take these future consequences into account when he started on the problem which led to the discovery of relativity at the turn of the century. For one thing, another dozen or more major discoveries had yet to be made before relativity could be combined with them to yield the technical process which opened the atomic age.
I apologize for labouring what may seem obvious. But, after all, it is not such a very long time since Professor H. Levy, of the Imperial College, spoke as follows at that meeting of distinguished British scientists held in January 1943: “When I hear it argued,” he said, “that many of the most important scientific discoveries have been made by individuals quite unaware of the social importance and possible applications of their work, I cannot but think: ‘Poor mutts, that such clever people should be so ignorant.’” And do we not hear the complaint ever repeated in our own days that British scientific discoveries have not found their first application in the industry of this country - as if any particular advance in pure science should normally be followed on the spot by its application in technology? And above all, does not the appeal for funds in the aid of scientific research invariably emphasize today its use for the increase of wealth and power? Does this not obscure the fundamental fact, which was so clearly recognized in the 19th century, that science can make no progress at all except by the efforts of men and women with a passion for scientific discovery, pursued regardless of the benefits which may or may not flow from it?
This is not to sing the glory of scientists, but merely to state the plain fact that the progress of science can be based only on the peculiar attraction exercised on certain people by the beauty of scientific achievement. Nor is this a mere truism. It reveals on closer inspection the remarkable mechanism on which the organization of science is based and gives us an insight both into the clear division between science and technology and into the principles that bridge the gap between these two domains. The main purpose of my lecture is to pursue this insight.
Science, we know, contains observed facts, but most facts we come across in the course of our daily lives are excluded from science as trivial. Nor do facts qualify as parts of science merely by forming a system. The contents of a telephone directory do not, nor does a collection of railway-engine numbers, to the completion of which some people devote a lifetime of effort. The reason is that the systems in question add nothing to our understanding of nature. Facts and systems of facts are of interest to science only if they deepen this understanding.
Sometimes a single new observation, forming no system at all, may be a great discovery. When Tycho Brahe noted in 1572 the formation of a new fixed star, or when Rutherford and Soddy first established the transformation of a radioactive element, they made great discoveries, for they opened up a new insight into the nature of things. Such achievements have the same scientific beauty as we find in the vast generalizations of universal gravitation.
But the nature of scientific beauty is subject also to other, even more important, variations. It relies on different factors in biology from those on which it relies in physics. Physics is the ideal of an exact science. It is based on precisely observable variables which it subjects to a broad system of strict laws, expressed in mathematical equations. Biology deals with plants and animals, which cannot be defined mathematically, and which biologists divide into millions of species by the delicate appreciation of their typical shapes. The major theories of biology have a similar character. Harvey’s theory of the circulation of the blood deals with organs and their functions, both of which are identified by qualitative criteria and are subject to no mathematical laws. Indeed, exact measurements are relevant to biology only insofar as they bear on organs and their functions and on living beings as a whole. This is why the tendency of modern science, predominant since Descartes, to take mathematical physics as the ideal of scientific perfection, induces a sense of inferiority in biologists, as indeed in all the non-physical scientists, and causes them to strive for an impossible degree of exactitude - sometimes losing thereby all relevance to their subject matter.
This tendency must be firmly opposed by recognizing the fact that scientific beauty is a complex quality in which exactitude is only one factor, while another factor, namely the intrinsic interest of the subject matter, is much greater in biology, dealing with living beings, than it is in physics studying inanimate bodies. The fascination that living beings have for us compensates for the lack of exactitude in biology, as, conversely, the beauty of the mathematical theories of physics makes up for the fact that stones, liquids, and gases would, in themselves, not be of much interest.
And this does not exhaust the factors that contribute to the beauty of a scientific discovery. Discovery is appreciated not merely for its beautiful content but as the act which makes such a new and beautiful contribution to science. To qualify as a discovery, this act must be surprising. The mere extension of a survey based on the existing framework of science will not do. There must be a leap which expands this framework, or at least makes some important change in it. This is what we mean by originality. This is the creative quality which makes a discovery exciting and distinguishes the discoverer among men.
To sum up, the value of scientific discovery, the passion for which is the only motive that can induce and guide men in the advancement of science, consists in the combination of a number of qualities. The chief of these is originality, as measured by the sudden expansion or improvement of our scientific framework, opening up a deeper understanding of the nature of things - an understanding which is appreciated for the presence of two rival qualities, namely, exactitude on the one hand and the intrinsic interest of the subject matter on the other. The scientist must strive for achievements assessed in terms of these combined values, and this assessment must be shared - or at least come to be shared - by his competent colleagues on whose opinion he depends for the opportunity of publishing his results and, indeed, for being recognized as a professional scientist.
In pursuing this subject further, we meet with a curious problem upon which I can touch only briefly. How can an effective consensus be established among scientists as to the excellence of scientific discovery - judged by such complex and delicate criteria - in view of the fact that each individual scientist is competent to judge only a very small area of science, adjoining the field of his own special interests? This consensus is established by the incessant mutual criticism of scientists working in neighbouring fields. Scientific opinion is united by overlapping areas of competent judgement. This system functions so effectively that, in selecting candidates for fellowship, the Royal Society of London can regularly undertake to ascertain the same level of scientific achievement over the vast range of sciences extending from astronomy to medicine; and that this grading is usually accepted without protest throughout the scientific world.
The consensus of the scientific community which operates here exercises its influence over all the professional work of scientists. While his choice of subject and the actual conduct of his research is entirely the responsibility of the individual scientist, the recognition of his claims to a discovery is subject to the jurisdiction of the opinion of scientists as a body. This authority will recognize at any particular time only a certain range of matters as the proper subjects for scientific enquiry, and no training or posts will be offered outside these fields either for teaching or for research. Journals available for scientific publications will also be restricted to these subjects. Moreover, papers can be published only with the approval of referees representing scientific opinion, who will tend to favour lines of research which they consider more important, at the expense of other lines of which they have a poor opinion. Even greater powers are exercised in this respect by referees advising on scientific appointments, on the allocation of special subsidies, and on the award of distinctions. Advice on these matters is usually sought from a small number of senior scientists universally recognized as eminent in a particular branch. By their advice they can either delay or accelerate the growth of new directions of research. They can provide special subsidies for new lines, and by the award of prizes and of other distinctions they can invest a promising pioneer overnight with a position of authority and independence. New developments can be stimulated also by advising on new appointments. Within a decade a new school of thought can be established by the selection of appropriate candidates for chairs that have fallen vacant during that period. In all these matters the leaders of scientific opinion are obeying a single overriding principle. They are responsible for maintaining approximately uniform standards of value along the whole advancing frontier of science. Guided by these standards, they must keep shifting resources and encouragement to the more successful growing points of science, at the expense of sections that are approaching exhaustion.
These controlling functions of scientific opinion are necessary, not only to maintain a rational distribution of resources, but also to uphold in every branch the authority of science before the general public. Published papers are open to discussion and their results may remain controversial for a while, but scientific controversies are usually settled within a reasonable time. The results then pass over into text-books for universities and schools, and this final process of codification is again under the control of the body of scientific opinion as expressed by reviews, upon whose authority text-books are brought into circulation.
Scientific opinion may sometimes be mistaken and, as a result, unorthodox work of high originality and merit may be discouraged or altogether suppressed for a time. But these risks have to be taken. Only the discipline imposed by an effective scientific opinion can prevent the adulteration of science by cranks and dabblers. In parts of the world where no sound scientific opinion prevails, research stagnates for lack of stimulus, while unsound reputations grow up, based on commonplace achievements or mere empty boasts. Politics and business play havoc with appointments and the granting of subsidies for research. Journals are made unreadable by including too much trash.
Yet it is not the function of scientific opinion to command the undertaking of any particular enquiry. It only imposes a framework of standards within which each individual mature scientist is to pursue his vocation by his own lights. He is entirely free to use the opportunities made available to him by choosing problems which he considers the most promising and by relying on his own personal judgement for redirecting from day to day the course of his enquiry. Indeed, by its high appreciation of scientific discovery the consensus of scientists encourages the independent scientist in following relentlessly his own distinctive ideas, for it awards the highest prizes to discoveries that upset currently accepted views. Moreover, owing to its passionate appreciation of scientific discovery, scientific opinion recognizes the fact that the hidden possibilities of discovery can be revealed only to the original mind of the individual scientist. It establishes thereby the principle by which the pursuit of science is organized within the authoritative framework of scientific opinion. Complete independence must be granted to all mature scientists so that they will distribute themselves over the whole field of possible discoveries, each applying his own special ability to the task that appears most profitable to him. Thus, as many trails as possible will be covered and science will penetrate most rapidly in every direction towards that kind of hidden knowledge which is unsuspected by all but its discoverer - the kind of new knowledge on which the progress of science depends. Scientific opinion may be said to organize scientific activities by upholding the true standards of scientific discovery, so that, by seeking recognition according to these standards - while taking into account the published results of other scientists - each mature scientist will gain the maximum professional success by making the best possible contribution to the progress of science.
These are the principles of organization under which the unprecedented advancement of science has been achieved in the 20th century. It is easy to find flaws in the operation of these principles, yet they remain, in my opinion, the only principles by which this vast domain of collective creativity can be effectively promoted and coordinated. The claims of other methods applied in the Soviet Union turn out on closer inspection to be unfounded. Society must cultivate science on its own terms and for its own purposes, if science is to make any progress at all.
Nor does this mean that society is asked to subsidize the private pleasures of scientists. It is true that the beauty of a particular discovery can be fully enjoyed only by the expert. But the widest possible responses can be evoked by the purely scientific beauties of discovery. Great popular interest, overflowing into the daily press, was aroused in recent years by the astronomical observations and theories of Hoyle and Lovell and more recently of Ryle, and this interest was not essentially different from that which these advances had for scientists themselves. Indeed, for the last three hundred years the progress of science has increasingly controlled the outlook of man on the universe and has profoundly modified (for better and for worse) the accepted meaning of human existence. Its purely theoretical influence was pervasive. Those who think that the public is interested in science only as a source of wealth and power are gravely misjudging the public. There is no reason to suppose that an electorate would be less inclined to support science for the purpose of exploring the nature of things, than were the private benefactors who previously supported the universities.
The universities should have the courage to appeal to the electorate on these grounds. Honesty, at least, should demand this. For the only justification for the pursuit of scientific research in universities lies in the fact that they provide an intimate communion for the formation of scientific opinion, free from corrupting intrusions and distractions. We should openly recognize this and reassert the position of academic science as it was acknowledged in the 19th Century. The more so, since science continues, in fact, to be conducted
in the universities in exactly the same way as was done before the movement for the social guidance of science had started.
And now, having rebuttressed the old ivory tower of pure science, let me pass on to the opposite end of the city, where the great smoke stacks imperiously call on scientists to increase the wealth and power of the people. Is it really so difficult, so artificial, to distinguish this task from that of cultivating science for its own sake?
The fundamental difference between science and technology will come out most readily if I first point out the similarity between the two. Both rely on observed facts and on the understanding of the nature of things. The advances of science and technology both require a high degree of ingenuity. Originality is in fact very strictly assessed in technology. The courts will award a patent for a technological improvement only if it can be shown to be no mere extension of the previous knowledge of the art. They demand that it should be a leap across a logical gap, causing the same kind of surprise and exhilaration which scientists feel at the sight of a new discovery. Only such exciting technical improvements can claim protection by a patent. Only they may rank as genuine inventions.
The basic disparity between science and technology consists in the fact that discoveries and inventions are, in general, quite different achievements. The law grants patents for inventions but not for discoveries. Science relies on observations, old and new, for advancing towards further observations which offer a deeper understanding of nature. Technology also relies on observations, old and new, but with a different purpose, namely to improve the art of producing more valuable objects from less valuable materials. Value, the relative practical value of things, lies at the very core of a technical achievement. To simplify my illustration of this fact, I shall concentrate for the moment on the technology of commercial products, but the result will be readily applicable with slight changes to the technology of arms production, road building, or any other services of public authorities.
When we say that a factory is a centre of production, we mean that it turns out goods that are more valuable than the resources used up, and again, normally, this will mean that the money received by the sale of these goods will exceed the sums laid out for the resources. In other words, a process normally forms part of technology only if it is commercially profitable. And this conception can be expanded to all technology if we include non-commercial profitability, such as is achieved by building a good road, or satisfying other collective needs at a reasonable cost.
Economists call the combination of resources currently used at any particular productive centre its production function. From this point of view, existing technology is an aggregate of production functions which apply more or less generally to similar processes at different centres. Inventions could be regarded as ingenious and effective improvements of existing production functions - with the small proviso that they often lead to the manufacture of altogether new articles or at least improved forms of old ones. This formulation shows strictly that the achievements of technology are always subject to economic criteria. They need not be commercially profitable, but they must always be economic. A technology claiming acceptance irrespective of economic considerations is meaningless. Indeed, any invention can be rendered worthless and altogether farcical by a radical change in the values of the means used up and the ends produced by it. If the price of all fuels went up a hundredfold, all steam engines, gas turbines, motor cars, and aeroplanes would have to be thrown on the junk heap. Strictly speaking, a technical process is valid, therefore, only within the valuations prevailing at one particular moment and at one particular time. It can prove more widely applicable only on account of the flexibility of its management. But there is always a danger that when the most advanced technology of countries such as Britain and the United States is transferred to primitive countries, where (for example) the ratio between wages and the prices of manufactured goods is totally different, the result will be a destruction rather than a production of values - at least in the sense that the potential gains which could have been obtained by industrial processes more adapted to local conditions, will be lost.
By contrast, no part of science can lose its validity by a change in the current relative value of things. If diamonds became as cheap as salt is today, and salt as precious as diamonds are now, this might affect the interest attaching to their study, but it would not invalidate any part of the physics and chemistry of diamonds or of salt. The achievements of science are appraised by the standards of scientific value which correspond primarily to the deepening of our understanding of nature - an aim to which the technologist is in principle indifferent.
So we may regard technology as that part of industrial management which relies on a knowledge of nature supplemented by experiments. It can, therefore, be intimately known, or effectively improved, only by minds attuned to the aims, and well versed in the conditions, of industrial production. The industrial scientist must be able to assess the value of potential resources and the urgency of potential demands as against any alternative resources and demands. The director of an industrial research laboratory will have to bear all these value relations in mind in deciding between rival projects. In the last resort he will have to defer in this respect to the commercial policy of the general manager or, if he is attached to a public enterprise, to the decisions of the superior officer in charge of the service. This is what I mean by calling technology an industrial science. It means that its true home is not in academic research controlled by the communion of scientific opinion, but in and around the centres of industrial production controlled by the world-wide network of economic relations or by the specific demands of some public service. Solitary inventors are admittedly also to be found outside industrial enterprises, some even in universities, and their role may be important. But all these must seek their opportunity for realizing their ideas in industrial enterprises, whether already in existence or yet to be founded.
The sharp division between science and technology is not affected by the fact that occasionally each can take over the task of the other. Some scientific discoveries may immediately contribute to the solution of a technical problem; while experiments made for a purely technical purpose may throw up observations which turn out to be of considerable interest to science. But such cases only lend further precision to the division of the two domains, by showing that a result which is accidental to one, turns out to be essential to the other. No rational pursuit can be guided by its wholly accidental results. However close the symbiosis of science and technology may be, each forms a separate organism for which its own vital interest must serve as its guide.
The distinctive principles of science and technology can also account for the existence and peculiar character of the important fields of knowledge which lie between these two domains.
I have said that technology, like science, is based on natural
facts supplemented by experiments. But much of this knowledge is not scientific. The ancient crafts, which until fairly recently have formed the major part of industries - such as the spinning of yarn, the weaving and dyeing of cloth, the brewing of beer, or the smelting of ore - were based on what is usually called a purely empirical technology, lacking altogether the scientific understanding of the processes being applied. Much of industrial research, particularly that of the great research associations, has been directed during the last decades towards discovering the scientific basis for the technical processes used in ancient industries. Such scientific analysis has assisted the rational improvement of these traditional crafts. The great Carlsberg laboratories, which under Sorenson and Lindström-Lang contributed so much to science, have owed their income from the beginning to a number of breweries donated to them at their foundation. By applying themselves to the scientific analysis of brewing, these laboratories have produced the famous Carlsberg beer which is suitable for export to all parts of the world and have thus greatly increased their endowment. Such investigations have as a rule not much scientific interest, and the directors of technical research laboratories should not be expected to carry them beyond the point at which their practical usefulness is exhausted. The interest of this analytic technology will always depend ultimately on the economic framework within which the industry in question operates. It should find its true home in the vicinity of the industry, the interests of which must be its predominant concern.
But there are other industries which, though they may have originally been founded empirically, have now achieved a vast development based entirely on a few well-known physical laws. These are usually described as engineering and they comprise such processes as the construction of engines, the production and transmission of electricity, the manufacture of electronic devices, the building of ships and airplanes, of roads and bridges. Such work offers wide scope to speculations employing elaborate mathematical tools. Most of aerodynamics, of hydrodynamics, and of the theory of elasticity may be regarded as speculative extensions of engineering. They resemble the exact sciences in offering a mathematical elucidation of mechanical or electrical systems, and they possess an intellectual beauty which is akin to that of the exact sciences. Yet there is an important difference between the two. Compare, for example, aerodynamics and theoretical astronomy. The problems of aerodynamics are mostly man-made, whereas those of astronomy are concerned with the course of nature untouched by man. Hence, the theoretical branches of engineering can contribute little to our understanding of nature, and they derive their fascination mainly from their bearing on problems of engineering.
All the beautiful sciences usually called applied mathematics can be justly described therefore by the name of theoretical technology or theoretical engineering. Since their aims are theoretical, these sciences will best be cultivated on academic soil, within a community that can fully appreciate their intellectual beauty. But we may doubt whether their extensive cultivation would continue, if their practical use ceased altogether. If shipping became obsolete, much of hydrodynamics would fall into oblivion. Even though the highly theoretical sciences of engineering are not concerned with the particular problems of the day with which the industrial engineer has to contend on the spot, and though their theoretical validity would not be impaired by the obsolescence of any particular part of engineering, their interest does depend on the continued flowering of the various branches of engineering on which they bear. In this respect they differ not only from the natural sciences, but also from pure mathematics, the interest of which lies wholly within itself.
This brings us to a third kind of scientific enquiry situated between pure science and technology. I have described how the beauty of a scientific discovery and the value of any part of science depends on the combination of a number of factors each of which may compensate for the shortcomings of the other, and how, in particular, the fascination which living things have for us makes up for the lesser exactitude of biology as compared with that of physics. We may expect therefore that the technical interest of certain materials will contribute to the scientific value of their study and will cause the extension of such enquiries beyond what would otherwise seem justifiable. An example of this which seems appropriate to the occasion of this lecture is the study of metals. I suppose many of the interests pursued by the members of the Institute of Metals lie in the fields which I have described as analytic technology and theoretical engineering. But the last thirty years have seen a considerable extension of the physics of metals which was not unmindful of the technical interest of these materials. The mysteries of plastic flow, of hardening, of fatigue, of annealing and recrystallization, were among the chief preoccupations of this enquiry. The results have attracted the attention and appreciation of physicists, as they have deepened our understanding of the solid state, but the main response came from people concerned with the working and use of metals. I think, indeed, that most of the results of these investigations would soon be forgotten if one day the use of metals were to be reduced to an insignificant fraction of its present extent.
Studies such as those of wool, of cotton, or of the migration of fishes owe, like the study of metals, much of their interest to the practical aspects of their subject matter. They have the structure of academic studies and should find their home mainly in the universities or technical universities, their position in this respect being similar to that of theoretical engineering, from which they differ only in the fact that their theoretical interest lies not in mathematical beauty, but in the understanding of nature. Since the present extent of these studies is due to the practical interest of their subject matter, we may call them technically justified sciences. And by the same token, it would seem proper that the cultivation in the universities of these technically justified sciences should be subsidized - as a sign of their interest - by the industries on which they bear. This should apply also, for the same reason, to the study of theoretical engineering in the universities.
We have now seen that three kinds of scientific study - the analysis of technology, the theoretical principles of engineering, and the technically justified natural sciences - lie in between the main bodies of science and technology, the first more closely attached to industrial centres, the last two to be cultivated mainly on academic soil. But apart from these intermediate areas, there are certain fields in which science and technology actually overlap. The most frequently discussed case of this is medicine, though I think surgery should be exempted here, since its progress contributes only incidentally to our understanding of nature. The classic instance of overlapping is pharmacology. The observation of the effects of a drug is indeed a fact of nature, while the prescription of the drug for producing this effect fulfils a practical purpose. It is undeniable that we can identify here, up to a point, a scientific observation with an act of medication. But their overlapping does not eliminate the duality of these two aspects. New drugs are developed by people whose purpose is not the treatment of any particular patient, while a doctor called in to treat a patient
should not be affected primarily by the desire to discover the yet-unknown effects of some drug, but must attend to many aspects of his case of which the pharmacologist knows nothing. Again, the scientific interest of a drug would hardly be impaired if it turned out to be so rare, unstable, or expensive as to be virtually not available in practice, although it would cease thereby to be a drug for the treatment of patients.
1 have mentioned before that the increasing need for scientific personnel in industry, which became marked since the end of the 19th Century, has led - perhaps in the first place in Germany - to an increase in the number of students taking science in the universities, as well as to the foundation of separate technical universities which offer a scientific training combined with a teaching of technology. But effective practical training can be given only in such branches of practice as are actually carried on within the university. Such is the training of doctors in the teaching hospitals of the universities. But it is not possible to incorporate teaching factories covering all branches of industry in a university. It follows that while universities will be able to give excellent instruction in theoretical engineering and in the technically justified branches of science, they will have to concentrate, in respect of the main body of technology, on scientifically analysed technical processes and be satisfied with giving a rather pale and sometimes out-of-date description of the vast range of skilful practices which form the main substance - the actual “know-how” - of living contemporary technology. Thus, the essential difference between academic and industrial science reappears in the difficulty of teaching technology effectively on academic soil.
The fact that the state has taken over the financing of the universities in this country and that it tends now to consider material welfare and military security as its first priorities, cannot change the logical necessities flowing from the essential distinction between science and technology. Yet I can respect the tide of social sentiment which rebels against this logic; but I cease to do so when some of its protagonists try to arouse the resentment of technologists against academic scientists by accusing them of snobbishly keeping the universities to themselves in order to indulge their personal predilections.
Such resentment will appear particularly unfounded, when it is realized that my analysis classes the subject matter of technology with the main body of human culture; for the main body of our culture lies outside the universities. The position of technology is akin in this respect to the study of the humanities in the Faculties of Arts. The humanities are concerned with language, literature, law, history, religion, economic and social life, which are all man-made things, like the products of industry. The cultivation of the humanities in the universities is therefore at a similar disadvantage as the cultivation of technology, by comparison with the natural sciences.
Nature is given to man ready-made; we may try to elucidate it, but we cannot improve it. But language, literature, history, politics, law, and religion, as well as economic and social life, are constantly on the move, and they are advanced by poets, playwrights, novelists, politicians, preachers, journalists, and all kinds of other, non-scholarly, writers. These are the primary initiators of cultural changes, rather than the Faculties of Arts which contribute to the advancement of culture mainly at second-hand, by studying language, literature, history, law, religion, and so on, as produced outside the universities. Hence, academic science has an advantage over the humanities similar to that it holds over technology.
We should remember this when we deplore, with Sir Charles Snow, the gap between the now proverbial “two cultures “. Schools and universities can do little about this gap, for the reshaping of our cultural heritage from generation to generation lies, except in science itself, predominantly outside the schools and universities.
The academic pursuit of science has yet another advantage over that of the arts. I have described how science is advanced by the self-coordination of the independent contributions made by individual mature scientists; and how, owing to the profoundly systematic character of science, the problems arising at various points stimulate the systematic growth of science as a whole. Of course, while some discoveries may open up whole new areas, others will be of interest in the first place only to certain specialists; but eventually all fragmentary additions which have been deemed worthy of publication will be found to compose a new systematic understanding of nature. The text-books, or at least the larger handbooks of science, will fit them all together into a coherent pattern representing the major principles of science in a new light. Fragmentary enquiries do not so readily integrate themselves to major advances in the humanities. In fact, the kind of detailed and meticulously documented studies of literature and history that only the universities can provide, will rarely effect major changes in our literary and historical consciousness. Sometimes a single fragment of new knowledge, like the deciphering of the Mycenean linear B script, has thrown new light on a whole great cultural period of the past, but usually a major development in the humanities is achieved only by the monumental work of a single great scholar. The minutely detailed investigations, suitable for doctoral dissertations, tend indeed to frighten both their writers and readers away from any attempt to form ampler perspectives, which few scholars - if any - can hope to establish with similar precision. The supreme virtues of academic scholarship may thus make the average worker in the humanities forget altogether the larger questions on which the cultural importance of his subject depends. The academic pursuit of natural science is free from such pitfalls.
We may conclude that the profound distinction between science and technology is but an instance of the difference between the study of nature on the one hand and the study of human activities and the products of human activities, on the other. The universities cannot be the main source of progress either in humanistic or in material culture, as they are in the natural sciences.
The calm recognition of this logically necessary division of labour should form the solid foundation for dealing with the numberless difficult problems that still remain to be faced when these foundations are recognized.