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Tormented nature

Project discusses the dangers of the merchandizing of science

On coining the phrase ‘tormented nature’, at the beginning of the 17th century, in a reference to the object of scientific knowledge, Sir Francis Bacon could not have imagined that this idea would go on, into the 21st century, to torment philosophers and scientists. The ‘torment’ of the natural world, for him, meant knowing it, not by disinterested wisdom, but in order to dominate, transform and then to use this universe more efficiently. And in a precise form. The elected instrument for this task was given by another thinker of that time, Galileo, who assured that they would be the qualities of natural objects reducible to mathematics and mechanics. The cradle of modern science brought the structure so that the idea of the control of nature could be realized. Before the Italian had come the Church with its superstitions and obscure ideas, and shortly afterwards it was necessary to separate fact, the privilege of scientific thinking, from the values linked to authority and social standards. The newly born would be impartial, neutral and autonomous.

“Science needs to assume that it also has its engaging side, since, in spite of it being declared destitute of values, it brings within itself the idea of the control of nature, which in itself is a value. Nothing against, since this desire makes up an intricate part of being human. However, one must always take into account that, at times, there is a problem: how to control whoever controls nature”, says Pablo Ruben Mariconda, the coordinator of the thematic project entitled, Philosophy studies and the history of science, funded by FAPESP, a berth place for discussion and analysis, both historical and philosophical, of the pathways taken by science, from its first tentative steps in the 17th century until the present moment.

The project has resulted in a magazine entitled, Scientia Studia (on-line version at:, which brings together critical and analytical texts from various researchers and also historical scientific works (letters, speeches, etc.), translated and commented upon. Besides historical focus, the research leans towards the so-called polemic situation of technoscience, the union of science and technology. “Technoscience, at times, unites the super evaluation of the applied aspect of knowledge with the devaluation of pure research as an end in itself”, says Mariconda. The principle of the diffusion through all society of theoretical and intellectual products can, in some cases, give way to an intensive privatization of wisdom in exchange for profit.

“Today, in various sectors, it’s almost impossible to separate scientific research of interests and the values of impartiality and general benefit, the natural attributes of science, are no longer implemented “, says Mariconda. “This state of mercantilism can put at risk science as we understand it and wish it.” It was, nevertheless, a slow process. The idea of the domination of nature was born during the 17th century, but wouldn’t have come about if it hadn’t been for the generation of the concept of useful science. It was the resolution of an impasse initiated in reborn Humanism, which proclaimed the power of mankind in knowing and dominating reality. There were then two forms of thinking about the value of science. One understood scientific theory as the search for knowledge through knowledge, by the expansion of knowing the unknown, without this implying any practical application of any discoveries. The other said that is was utilitarianism, which defended the valuing of science as a function of the quantity of practical applications that one given discovery could permit. Time cannot be lost, since order was needed to be given to the world and practical control imposed. The most correct decision among various possible choices in an experiment would be that with the greatest likelihood to guarantee a pragmatic finality. In the 17th century, the judgment of Galileo was a neuralgic point of this change since, fact and value were at last dissociated. In the tribunal, on the one hand there was a man of reason who saw his thinking being confronted by faith. Therefore, at that moment it was necessary that the incipient science was totally devoid of the so-called social values in order to distance it to the maximum from that which was not rational, cognitive thought.

Science affiliated to mathematics, but the realization of the control paradigm would only take place in the 19th century, with the coming forward of the necessary social and economic conditions. The First Industrial Revolution brought together, for the first time, the production of knowledge and the production of goods. Starting from then, this relationship between science and technique was naturally becoming more intimate. The end of World War II further marked the confluence between science and technology that, in more recent times, has blossomed out into the so-called technoscience.

The reaction, says Mariconda, was excessive, to the point of inspiring radical critics, post modernist, who condemned science and patents in their totality, without rationalization. Mariconda’s project does not go in the sense of this total refusal, but, within the best scientific spirit, defends the validity of scientific research, preferring only to warn about the danger of excessive valuation of the control of nature concerning other forms of relationship with natural objects. In this context, modern science would be an occurrence, possible among so many others, without the radicalization of the elements of neutrality and autonomy, preserving its impartiality.

But, the researcher recognizes, it is more and more complicated that this amplification of a spectrum of choices, in the manner in which, in a growing form, research has migrated from the universities to economic corporations, which also apply resources in the development of new knowledge. The number of patents reveal the disproportion: in the world in total, only 3% of those are conceded to researchers linked to an academic institution. “This question is a neuralgic point, since it restricts the access of biological procedures to a group of people who own the patent. In the long term, this could bring about the laceration of the scientific field into an innumerable number of patents, which would make it impossible to have universal knowledge. This would be limited by the areas regulated by patents and it would be difficult to carry out independent research”, says Mariconda. “We need to become conscious to the fact that not only applied research has to be done.” Happily, alerts Mariconda, Brazil is one of the few Latin American countries that did not stop carrying out basic research.

“We have  many institutions that, although give emphasis to applied research, channel efforts in the search for scientific knowledge that provides solutions to fundamental problems within Brazilian society”, the researcher praises, and who underlinea the value of the work of the research development foundations, such as FAPESP, the Research Support Foundation of Rio de Janeiro (Faperj), the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and the Commission for the Perfecting of Tertiary Teaching (Capes), among others. One new piece of data to be analyzed is verified in the polemic situation of the breaking of patents, especially of the drugs used in the treatment of AIDS. “The government has its reasons for doing so, but only in extreme cases such as this, since one is dealing with a situation in which the products are expensive and they should be at the benefit of all. In cases of life and death, profit can’t impose itself over the needs of the population”, he defendes. “Diffuse, public and collective ownership, associated to the knowledge of peoples and of communities in general and even to the scientific community in particular, is beginning to compete in a dangerous manner with private ownership, associated with advanced technological knowledge, whose development would depend more and more on major investments that would only exist with a guarantee of an even larger return”, the researcher evaluated.

For Mariconda, in the environment of science, one can, at the limit, establish that there is a cultural and intellectual impoverishment: contemporary technoscience, if predatory, leads public knowledge, the essence of modern science, to turn itself into private knowledge. “When we’re defending the impartiality of scientific research, as is done in the foundations and universities, we speak in favor of knowledge free of external interference, which come masked as humanists and progressives in order to impose an ideology that is directed against man and inhibit the freedom of thinking”, the researcher evaluated. In the end, advocates researcher Mariconda, the presence of values do not impede science from attaining objective and impartial knowledge.

“To have the chance of knowing phenomena in-depth and, in this way, controlling nature in itself, is not an evil. The problem is the strict materialistic use of this conquest. The same knowledge can be used in various forms”, he evaluates.

But to control scientists is a delicate question. “Many insist upon the thesis of neutrality and in the idea that the poor use of their discoveries is the responsibility of capitalism and the State, and not theirs. This isn’t a healthy attitude. Always when we produce knowledge we’re responsible for the collateral effects of this creation”, the author says. Mariconda recalls the example of Einstein, who, in spite of being aware of the consequences of his discoveries, did not stop with his research. And this did not stop the use of his own public standing in order to propagate pacifism. In the end, on the day of judgment, in spite of the violence with which he was threatened, Galileo did not let it get to him. The eppur se muove (yet it turns) was totally true.

The Project
Philosophy studies and the history of science
Thematic Project
Pablo Ruben Mariconda – USP
R$ 116,332.00 (FAPESP)