How Science can determine Human values

This article derives inspiration from the book, “The Moral Landscape: How science can determine human values”, written by neuroscientist Dr. Sam Harris. Quoting his general thesis” I am not suggesting that science can give us an evolutionary or neurobiological account of what people do in the name of “morality.” Nor am I merely saying that science can help us get what we want out of life. . . . Rather I am arguing that science can, in principle, help us understand what we should do and should want — and, therefore, what other people should do and should want in order to live the best lives possible” 

And his claim being; “There are right and wrong answers to moral questions, just as there are right and wrong answers to questions of physics, and such answers may one day fall within reach of the maturing sciences of mind”.

Another strong case in point in favor science can take us many steps closer to equality, as made by Steven Pinker in “Enlightenment Now”, as quoted below:

” A quantitative mindset, despite its nerdy aura, is, in fact, the morally enlightened one, because it treats every human life as having equal value rather than privileging the people who are closest to us or most photogenic. And it holds out the hope that we might identify the causes of suffering and thereby know which measures are most likely to reduce it”

Herein furthering the case for seeing science as a philosophical propeller for the pursuit of human and general ecological well being. 

Science seems to be commonly seen and taught as a practical tool for making our lives less miserable in a very “material” sense. Although science has played a central role over time in shaping the civilization’s structure and functions, it has for most of the part been seen and treated as a servant of some other underlying pursuit, mostly for the spreading of kingdoms, nations, religion, and accumulation of wealth by private enterprises. 

Ain’t no doubt that science is getting more and more attention and making unprecedented progress with every passing second. Still, there seems to be a formidable boundary, a boundary that blocks science from entering into the discussion of morality and human well being, reducing it to a heartless mechanical “mind”. 

But science has 2 hearts. Health and Well Being. 

Herein we may imagine them as various heights of individual health and water-bearing deep wells of collective well-being. 

One of the hearts that is science’s remarkable success in helping cure diseases and prolonging human life and reducing pain. Its the pursuit of health for sustaining a better life for the individual conscious being. In this, we have to group in the fitness factors and synergy between different organs of the body. 

Another heart would be the pursuit of collective well being where there’s collaborative research for maximizing the well being of all human beings, as many as possible. 

When we pursue collective well being as a natural goal, then we would love to pursue a future where children born on any part of the world get a fairly good amount of well-being wells filled and heights of health reached, and hopefully not face natural (in terms of access to natural resources like water, land, and proximity to toxic environment) and social discrimination based on class, race, gender, religion, caste etc.

Instead of dividing over points of disagreements between different religions or secular philosophies, there is ample scope to find areas of synergy (Ecological conservation and pollution control being very obvious ones) and spending ample time and resource on promoting a scientific pursuit of overall human well being, and generate taller peaks and deeper wells in the moral landscape for all in the current and future generations.

Nikhilesh Iyer

Nikhilesh Iyer, (Founder of; works in Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai)


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