SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND ETHICS: Ancient Perspectives and Modern Challenges
One-day Conference/ The Science Center, Harvard University/ Cambridge Massachusetts
The “Science, Technology and Ethics” one-day conference, which was organized by the Onassis Foundation in collaboration with the Department of the Classics of Harvard University, was successfully completed in the Science Center Hall of Harvard University on Saturday, November the 3rd 2012. This event is part of the Athens Dialogues project, in the context of which academic events are organized in Greece and abroad on issues that occupy the contemporary world and which are examined through challenging perspectives of ancient Greek thought.
The President of the Organizing Committee, Professor George Babiniotis, welcomed the participants in his introductory speech and underlined the following: “Technology is sometimes viewed as a force that diminishes the creative possibilities of human life and enhances material prosperity. Science, on the other hand, is regarded as mere knowledge, as a vast amount of information, which usually contradicts any sense of ethics. Such real or constructed conflicts could possibly be resolved under the perspective of ancient Greek interpretation of the concept of wisdom, which marks the transition from knowledge, as mere information, to the combination of knowledge, ethos and therefore, ethics. Concepts such as ethos and wisdom bridge the gap and help us overcome the conflicts that we have already mentioned.
In Greece, which faces a painful economic crisis today- a crisis that tends to become international many intellectuals and scientists are convinced that, in order to overcome the economic crisis and to create an optimistic option for the future, it is necessary- among other things- to define today’s problems and to find a way to resolve them. An inspiring, challenging, international and interdisciplinary dialogue on such issues as those that our event deals with can prove to be quite constructive in our days. Besides, dialogue and dialectical thinking are both a diachronic Greek proposal”.
On Harvard’s part, convener Mark Schiefsky, Chair of the Department of the Classics at Harvard University, emphasized the importance of revisiting Greek thought through a modern perspective, as well as the importance of examining the various forms of art that embrace knowledge, craft and technology.
Prominent scientists, intellectuals and artists who have been preoccupied with science, technology and ethics in relation to art, participated in this event. During the first session, “Science, Technology and Society”, Michael Herzfeld, Professor of Social Sciences in Harvard University, examined the various perspectives of social consciousness in Greece. Constantinos Daskalakis, Associate Professor of Computer Science at MIT, examined the possibility of creating models similar to those used in computer science that could play a decisive role if applied in economy and society in general. In the session that was dedicated to philosophy, Sean Kelly, Professor of Philosophy in Harvard University, approached technology as a form of art using platonic and aristotelian references while Albert Borgmann, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Montana, extracted his material from ancient philosophy in order to discuss modern issues that relate to science and ethics. In the “Ethics and Medicine” session, issues that relate to medical humanities were discussed. The two speakers examined various issues such as, the importance of narrating a disease as it is recorded in the medical records, which reveals the complexity of human nature as well as the quality of life in the modern cultural environment. Finally, in the fourth session, which was dedicated to art, the MIT Museum Director, Professor John Durant, talked about the way art can become a means of understanding science while he indicated the artistic value of some research experiments through examples from the MIT Museum. Suzanne Anker, visual artist and theorist, indicated how scientific evidence can inspire artistic creativity and trigger the production of contemporary art, if combined with a rich theoretical background.
The speakers had the chance to share their views with each other as well as with the public as an interdisciplinary dialogue was encouraged and achieved. The discussion continues on the Athens Dialogues official website (www.athensdialogues.org) and the electronic journal, which is edited by the Center for Hellenic Studies of Harvard University (CHS).