Science, Technology and History:
relations and differences

-by Javier Ordóñez-

translated by D. Ohmans
© copyright 2019

Text imprint Mexico City, Editorial Planeta Mexicana,©2001

                                               I. Science and history

In order to approach the theme of science as culture it is necessary to situate
ourselves philosophically in a position that does not require a radical division 
between two different necessarily estranged cultures: science and every cultural 
expression which is not science. On the contrary, my starting point is not to 
assume that there exists a real divorce between the sciences, on the one hand,
and the humanities, on the other; that in fact both possess common elements that 
bring them together and relate them. I make this proviso before beginning the 
analysis and the commentary upon those links to pronounce a "Pedro Grullo"
truism, for such elementary truths are often so obvious that they are lost from 
sight with extreme facility.
     To speak of sciences and humanities, and to refer to the latter as the 
only product related to the essential destiny of the human being, suggests the 
idea that the sciences, as the counterpart, are not products of the human being.
Thus I am going to start from the tautology that the sciences are as human as 
any other human product.
     Ever since their presence on the planet, human beings have not been 
grabbing the sciences from the trees as if they were mature fruits, yet instead 
have constructed them with their effort, and the same with technological 
products. In the first decades of the 17th century, Francis Bacon considered 
that the Bible legitimated science and technology as ways of understanding the 
world, and interpreted the divine mandate received by Adam and Eve to be and 
become owners of the Earth by means of those forms of knowledge. Though we
may not be partisans of  the baron of Verulam's interpretation, today we 
recognize that the sciences are the result of human activity and should be 
treated as such, as absolutely stemming from a more or less magical or divine 
enchantment that has been communicated or whispered to us by some superior 
being. The sciences are ours and it is our responsibility to treat them as our 
own creations; we cannot be dominated by the sciences and technologies, in the 
same way that we should not be dominated by our ideologies, our arts or our 
aesthetic visions of life.
     This appreciation rendered, I wish to establish as a principle that in 
treating science as culture I intend to highlight its human aspect, of course 
without understanding the human as a counterpoint to the cold, avoiding that 
common position which associates the human with the hot and irrational, and cold
with the rational. No, the sciences are human because they are rational and at 
the same time friendly, with that mix of affect and reason or, if you like, of 
interests and reasons. It will be from this viewpoint that we shall approach the
subject of science and technology as culture and the importance of this 
perception of both while being human products in a cultural context.
     I have divided the exposition into three parts: the first we shall 
dedicate to the historical character of science, to highlight the transcendence 
of the fact that science has a history and how important it becomes to perceive 
it as an historical product; that is, that it carries historicity incorporated 
into its very development for it perceives itself as something not created all 
at once.
     In the second place, we shall put it into relation with technology and 
will explore some aspects asking ourselves whether the relationship between both
is natural; if they have developed in a different manner, like two roads that 
have been traveled in parallel with occasional interactions; or if there truly 
is a family overlap between them, that is to say, whether that theory is true 
which affirms wherever there is science there will be technology, and vice 
     Thirdly we will ruminate on the value of opinions, of the reflections on 
science that are neither compulsive nor obligatory, and shall study their 
meaning for science and even where it is valid to speak of "scientific opinion" 
not only in science, yet also in technology.
     To endow science with cultural depth a fundamental consideration is 
necessary concerning the value of memory. Why do we want to remember events?
Why have histories emerged? What has been the outcome of the tales that tell us 
of the past? It can be said that we live in the past, even that it is difficult 
to do so in the present, for almost always we are making reference to events 
that already have occurred. Somehow we construct our objectivity, our culture, 
with references to the past extending from the personal (all the world wants to 
know who were the members of your family and establish a secure and calming 
family genealogy) to the collective (we all want to know why things are where 
they are, the history of our city, of our province, of our state and currently, 
of our countries, a concept that emerged in the 19th century).
     History is a form of memory which the ancients narrated in an especially 
beautiful fashion: when someone died they crossed the river Lethe, which means 
river of forgetfulness. Thus, to die meant to be forgotten and to forget. The 
relation of mortality with forgetfulness is not just a metaphor, but also a 
description of our own biography. When memory fails us, when we commence having 
bad relations with our biographical past, an insecurity pervades us such that we
feel ill, as if we really were at the point of dying.
     Memory and history have been at once something good and something perverse 
for man. It can even be said that there exists an indissoluble amalgam between 
goodness and badness in the use we make of the past. The passage of time causes 
us to attempt to construct the past and, on occasion, to claim the right to 
have a certain type of past and no other. However, we lack many elements to do 
so, since the proofs for that which we call the past are clearly fragmentary: 
documents, memories, stones, buildings, paintings; it is insufficient.
     In a positive sense it can be said that in some manner we invent the past. 
This does not mean that the result will be an intentionally false narrative, 
but instead the result, on one hand, of not possessing all the elements to know 
what has happened and, on the other, of the need to elaborate stories that 
conclude and satisfy our expectations. When a group tries to reconstruct the 
past, a family for example, discussions will easily arise about whether what one
of the members says is exactly what happened or whether in reality it can be 
interpreted otherwise. There is always an interested dimension to this type of 
reconstructions. The past is the object of discussion, or reconstruction and of 
permanent re-elaboration. It is the space par excellence for narration because, 
on one side, we need to know and, on the other, we can barely grasp it.
     Confronting this reality of compulsive necessity to make reference to 
memory is a knowledge which does not like to present itself as either past nor 
as present, but instead that always seems to look to the future. It concerns 
science and technology. I have always noticed the fact that in very many dailies
and weeklies the news about science is inserted in the section called "future." 
That is to say, science does not have a present or maybe its present is of no 
interest. Since youth I was a student of physics and upon completing the degree 
they would say to us: "Bueno, ladies and gentlemen, all that which you have 
studied is in the past. If you are lucky, now you can begin to study the 
present, or if not, remain to live forever in that past." Truly "all" that is 
     Actually the expression "everything you know is obsolete" is much used. An 
affirmation that turns positively aggressive because it is as if they were 
sending you directly to the tomb of learning. From all this one deduces that the
good science is the future, that which looks forwards, the science that is going
to create, that which is going to answer questions (whoever solves Fermat's 
enigma will be the best mathematician). Science is thus presented as a set of 
     Yet although no one can live without the past for we always need it as a 
reference, today with respect to our knowledge of nature, of how to rationally
organize the world, we do not need the past because we are living in the future.
And the present? What is it for? For very little, being pure evanescence, 
despite that at the same time we only can live in the present. That is, we are 
no more capable of living in the past than in stories and in the future no more 
than in our desires. We are living in a truly radical present articulated by 
cultural contexts which depend upon the moment when one lives.
     Because of that, when we compare two presents, such as that of a scribe in 
the XII or XIII  dynasties of the Egyptian empires and that of a professor at 
MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) we are capable of recognizing that 
the scribe knew all the mathematics of his time though he only added, subtracted 
and made proportional fractions. Yet we do not see that his knowledge was as 
important as that of an MIT professor. Why? Because for that scribe, in his 
present, it was as difficult, as radical and as exacting to perform the 
proportional fractions as it is for a researcher from MIT to perform her 
calculus. Today we do not see that because the operations of the scribe seem to 
us trivial.
     If we momentarily were to renounce the vertigo that looking at the past 
produces in us, performing an exercise in catharsis and not allowing ourselves 
to be seduced by the enchantment of the future, the present would show us its 
contextual and cultural value permitting us to see that in that context our 
science has the same value as culture, as the rest of learning. Yet in our 
situation it becomes difficult to recognize this due to its enormous explicative
efficacy and to its great utility.
     In the context in which we live, the culture is determined by the 
importance of science. The context of an individual in the 13th century was 
determined by theology. Theological disquisitions about, for example, whether 
transubstantiation in the consecration of the Eucharist during the rite of the 
mass was real or not, determined the importance of other knowledge. In the 
medieval world the context surrounding the understandings that we now gather 
under the name of mathematics, astronomy or biology was validated in a 
completely different way from at present. In our day science is so important, so
influential that we organize a large part of our lives and relationships around 
it, in such a manner that the elision of science, its suppression in the 
cultural background of a person, provokes a certain illiteracy, dislocates it 
from its context; science is too important to leave it isolated. The other 
forms of culture accept history, the past and the commemoration of the past in a
natural manner, but with science it seems impossible that that which we receive 
as certain and radical knowledge (the roots of nature) can come to have a 
     I always recall my perplexity when I had to inquire into the historical 
roots of the notion of number. Numbers experienced an enormously tedious, 
stormy historical development, and exist as we know them today despite so many 
terrible and laborious historical vicissitudes that I was left surprised; it 
did not seem possible to me that something which today seems so perfect might 
have had stages of imperfection. The same can occur when one approaches for the 
first time a scientific theory presented to us in the university as a 
superseded work; it seems false that it did not issue whole, in a single stroke.
     In my opinion it helps to learn that in the sciences history is exactly 
the same as in the rest of culture, with it only lacking to see this, accept 
that it is so and to have a clear idea that even the forms that those sciences 
have acquired are the result of an historical process. Now then, is the 
historical process of a science the same as any other form of culture? The 
response should always be nuanced. I do not attempt to suddenly resolve the 
doubts that have tormented the historians of science for hundreds of years, 
without posing questions and somehow establishing uncertainties, since for this 
you have the remainder of life to reply.
     What is, for science, the means of highlighting its historicity? 
Immediately we might say, to link science with the different contexts in which 
it has been produced and to understand that it was constructed because those 
contexts allowed, impelled and facilitated it. Furthermore, the study of the 
history of some understandings as important for our present as are those of 
science and technology permits us to better understand our present, our context,
our culture, and our scales of values. The sense that it is necessary to study 
history in order to understand the present is encouraging because that is the 
fundamental meaning of studying the history of any culture including, of course,
that of science. To study memory, the past, allows us to clarify and understand 
the present, above all if this, apparently, has no memory.
     When someone omits some aspect of the past it is because they want to hide 
something. So then, science hides its contingency in the past, that is, the 
fact that it is knowledge of a dynamic character, changing and, of course, as 
unstable as any other type of human knowledge, which is not to say it lacks 
reliability. That which seduces in science is precisely its character as 
reliable knowledge: if we know the solution to a differential equation, we 
cannot doubt that knowledge because we already know how to solve an equation of 
this type, or how to perform a partial integration, or how to calculate a 
Carnot cycle, or how we can count the chromosomes in a cell, or how we can 
stain the nerve tissue to study the connections existing between the neurons. It
is reasonable that we consider these understandings as milestones of our history
and believe that knowledge produced this way, as it has actually been 
elaborated, can teach us a great deal concerning our own methods of pursuing 
research and understanding our present. Yet if, furthermore, we come to know 
that alongside of them were as many failures as successes and that often 
progress in the work was the result of choices made without all the 
methodological guarantees which we attribute to science, we shall better 
understand the value of decisions made to admit something as scientific, as well
as relativising science in relation to the rest of the culture.
     Despite everything said, we cannot claim that throughout history we have 
not tried to historicize science. At first it might seem that it is an actual 
discovery, that all of a sudden we have noticed that science is a culture, as if
we had discovered a nebula or an extragalactic object. The good scientists, 
those who dedicate themselves to the science of truth, have always known and 
been conscious of its terrible and troubling fallibility, of how difficult it 
really is not only to build science, but also to re-build it. What we attempt in
the university, as educators, is precisely to realize that labor of 
reconstruction and get people to follow, in summary fashion, the itineraries 
followed in the past by other persons in order to reach the level and degree of 
knowledge that we wish to communicate.
     We can say that simply reconstruction of the methodological itineraries 
followed in order to find theories, the logical steps that were taken to 
construct them, is one form of creating history. That is, it is a type of 
approximation that can serve as a strategy with which the student reconstructs
the past and understands how it led, for example, to Maxwell's electromagnetic
theory. Yet if we remain in that and seek a shortcut saying to the student, "We 
are going to take from you all the ingredients other than the construction of 
the theory, all the biographical, contextual, social, political, aesthetic, 
religious aspects, and give you a sort of essence of the electromagnetic theory"
putting Coulomb on one side and Maxwell on the other, and the itinerary will be 
so elementary that we might ask ourselves, "Why was this not done before if it 
was so simple? The path from Coulomb to Maxwell is truly a street of roses." Or 
indeed we can say: "We are going to give some indication concerning what the 
problems were and that itself will put us on the trail to what sort of context 
engendered them and what sort of solutions were possible, plausible or 
misbegotten for that specific context."
     What advantage is in all this? If one opts for the shortcut, the listener 
shall never become aware of the problems that these personages presented 
historically and which led them to fight against many difficulties and obstacles
to attain their discoveries. Instead, if we have some historical perspective, 
one becomes conscious of how difficult the change was and shall ultimately 
think: "Well that which is truly surprising is that anyone might resolve the 
     I am going to be tendentious in this regard, wishing to take sides; in the 
first of the instances is is very possible they forget everything everything 
once they have heard it; in the second, the memory of the difficulty will 
remain, since this always leaves a greater impression than success. In this 
fashion they access knowledge incorporating in it the notion of difficulty, and 
not only the personal, but also of the collective. For example, everyone 
considered species to evolve, yet nobody offered an explanation with a truly 
omni-comprehensive telling of that that then was thought evident. Thus, sir 
Charles Darwin was not an individual who simply found the problem and the 
solution in his head. The former was already implanted and that, in a very timid
manner, almost without wishing to do so, advances a solution thanks to which now
we can say: Darwin's Origin of Species was the grand solution. Very well,
yet in saying that we are emphasizing the solution whereas what is important is 
the problem, given that it causes one to think, unlike the solution. The 
solution always ends: who can think of a problem to which we know the solution? 
We imagine that we study the history of a problem sustaining the fiction that we
do not know the solution. If we do that we can much better understand the 
sensation of provisionality which confronted the scientists when they probed 
their possible solutions, and reconstruct the story in a less simplifying way, 
without thinking that everything is evident and that science has done no more 
than follow inevitable paths of discovery.
     This reaffirms that the relationship of history with science is absolutely 
nothing new or that we might now have invented: the need to establish the past 
in science appears with science itself, even with more intensity at the 
beginning, during its foundational periods, when general knowledge was really 
more scarce, had less capacity to solve problems and science had less presence 
in the culture. For a long time history, and especially that of science, was 
conceived as a biographical repertory: one had to know who had performed a 
certain work tending to a certain obsession with memory referring to persons. 
That tendency to reduce the history of science to a set of biographies has 
continued to the present, despite its being quite misleading. Let us see an 
eloquent example.
     Who has not heard of Pythagoras and his theorem? I think anyone, although 
they may know nothing else about mathematics. So then, from time to time when 
one speaks in the press of the "future" (though rummaging in the past) news 
appears such as this: "The Pythagorean theorem was not by Pythagoras. A Chinese 
from the 10th century before our era already was familiar with it." This 
observation reflects an absolutely extreme journalistic intelligence because, 
in reality, certain applications of Pythagoras' theory were already known many 
centuries before the Pythagorean school was founded. Previously to Hellenism it 
was known that a sequence of segments of length three, four, five, as measures 
of the sides of a triangle, form a rectangle. A property that was used by the 
Egyptians for the construction of edifices, interpreted by the Babylonians in a 
mystical fashion and known by the Hindus; one can even say there were Chinese 
mathematicians who gave that understanding a certain generality, and that is 
precisely what draws interest to the theorem of Pythagoras.
     Thus, when the context in which one spoke of Pythagoras is studied one 
arrives at the following conclusion: the problem of the Pythagorean theorem is 
not whether it is due or not to a specific Pythagoras. Probably Pythagoras did 
not exist just as subsequent narrations have wanted to depict him, but instead 
is a legend constructed afterwards. This does not mean that there was not a 
person, or many, who were named Pythagoras. Yet one might doubt the existence of
a mathematician Pythagoras just as subsequent historians of mathematics have 
often described him out of pure convenience, since it is always easier to speak 
of a hypothetical Pythagoras of the 6th century before our era, than to try to 
describe a context when ancient mathematical traditions are cited with a new 
Hellenic form of seeing mathematics. Nonetheless, it must be said that these 
ways of presenting history reflect a marvelous capacity for invention. In 
reality, the first account which takes note of Pythagoras in detail comes from 
the second or third centuries of our era and are found in the books of Diogenes 
Laërtius. In them Pythagoras is presented as an individual who 
theoretically lived in the 6th century B. C., that is to say, there are no less 
than 900 years of difference between the moment Laërtius situates 
Pythagoras and his own time. I believe that the tradition warehoused in those 
texts gathers information contained in many lost books and in some possibly very
powerful oral traditions. Yet 900 years transmitting items about Pythagoras 
makes us suspect that the Pythagoras of the 2d century of our era has nothing to
do with that of the 6th century before our era.
     What is it then that leads to accepting the importance of biographies as 
the motor of history? In principle, the need to hypothesize a story, to convert 
science into knowledge with a definite author, of precise paternity. In this 
manner, it is necessary for Pythagoras to exist because it is easier for 
everything to be deduced from a single personality. This form of creating the 
history of science omits many things from those it explains, but it puts us on 
the trail of other forms of understanding science historically which we shall 
see later.
     But, why is the case of Pythagoras especially important? For what I 
mentioned before about the surprise mathematics produces, when it is considered 
as completed, formed knowledge, of which no one can imagine it was not created 
all at once. From this viewpoint, the history of science as biography was used 
in a defensive manner by science itself, that is, as persuasive rhetoric to 
convince one that mathematics had so much coherence because it had come from the
mine of one, or of a few.
     Beginning with the Renaissance the histories given for science start to 
change character. Who does not know Galileo, Newton or even Kepler, persons who 
in some way were assigned biographically to scientific laws? We might think that
the biographies of these scientists are the same as that of Pythagoras, that of 
Archimedes or any other genius of antiquity. However something changes in the 
tone in which their stories are told. In the 16th century scientific knowledge, 
that until then had developed in a very marginal and dispersed fashion, began to
articulate itself around new institutions--whose goal was the development and 
activation of science in a completely new way--called academies. The academies 
founded in the 16th century come to have a certain degree of stability in the 
17th, as is the case with academies and scientific societies which persist 
today, among which are found the Royal Society of London, the Academy of 
Sciences of Paris or the Academy of Experiment of Florence. One of the 
characteristics of all these institutions is that they were near to the 
political power.
     If we study the geography of that era, we would see that the universities 
were not within the city, but in the countryside instead, in very small and 
isolated nuclei of population. That is to say, the university sought the 
cloister, separation from the city. On the contrary, the new institutions, the 
academies and scientific societies were inserted in the city such that knowledge
began to be considered urban, a bourgeois knowledge proper to those who live in 
the centers of politics and commerce; that is, a form of civil and not clerical 
learning is born. That new knowledge which appears in the Renaissance clothes 
itself in political power: the kings and the very powerful of the epoch support 
it. Science, which today seems to us omni-comprehensive and exceedingly 
powerful, is born, constituted and developed along paths and scenarios that are 
now not necessarily the universities, but instead protected spaces for political
patronage. Therefore, to say that science and politics are only united through 
the political ambition of certain scientists, or to claim that the former is 
knowledge absolutely independent of the latter in actuality, when we are 
completely contaminated by the political, producing an alliance between 
them, becomes a totally indefensible affirmation. Science is born in and with 
politics, associated in some manner with the courts of its time, as proved by 
the lives of Galileo, Kepler or Newton, who separate from the universities and 
emigrate to the courts of Florence, Prague or London. That science is born in 
the cities, in the new institutions and in the midst of contexts which have an 
enormous political dimension.
     Yet not as solely a matter that the scientists sought patronage among the 
political powers of the epoch because they felt insecure and restricted in the 
university institutions, but also because, furthermore, political power likes 
to have scientists in its service due not so much that they consider science 
useful learning, but instead to a question of prestige. The result of all that 
starting in the 1600's is, science attains the same historical dimension which 
politics had, namely, science is as influenced by political power as the rest of
the areas of the cultural context. This does not mean that the experts of that 
era did not do science in their own way or that they wrote at the dictate of 
the politicians, but instead that their scientific production was framed for 
their political patrons in the courts. As a consequence history began to be 
written in a completely different form.
     At this point it is necessary to perform a recapitulation of the sciences 
of the Baroque era in order to understand what type of knowledge we are talking 
about. On one hand, mathematics is found in a great process of expansion due to 
the development of the first calculi, that later shall give way to what 
today we know as infinitesimal calculus. Together with that mathematics one
would have to situate optics and mechanics. Furthermore, one could speak of a 
cosmography which encompasses astronomy as much as geography and cartography.   
Finally one would find experimental philosophy, which would include pneumatics, 
chemistry and, in part, the phenomena associated with electricity, magnetism 
and heat that today we include under the moniker of "physics."
     The question that we might now ask ourselves would be: why did political 
power protect this new knowledge which later would be called "science"? Many 
answers have been given to this question and they have all depended upon the 
historical moment in which they were formulated. Today one prefers the reply 
that places the emphasis on the fact that science provided a certain prestige to
those politicians. It seems, in general, quite a convincing explanation that 
being surrounded by experts is always good, exploiting the idea, a little 
cinematographic, that politicians are wont to be, and usually are, very crude 
and needing someone to serve as their mirror and database. It becomes easy to 
imagine the king of France asking his cosmographer about the exact dates of Lent
in order to satisfy his appetite for fawn meat just before the period were to 
begin. Yet independently of the anecdotalism of this example, political life in 
the 1600's and 1700's sought out the new science not solely out of a need for 
prestige or comfort, but also for efficiency and for the analysis of a world 
which was changing. Science viewed itself as historical knowledge associated 
with political power because the latter had problems that such power could help 
to resolve.
     For instance, for two centuries the determination of longitude was a great 
problem of state in Europe. Spain, France and England competed for the solution 
and great personages such as Galileo, Bradley and Newton participated in that. 
All attempted to solve the problem of longitude because it was related to 
navigation, cartography and, therefore, with politics. To resolve it meant to 
be able to say: "These lands are mine," which necessarily implied knowing where 
"these lands" were. "If I do not know where 'these lands' were, they are not 
mine." If a sailor landed saying that he had discovered an island in the 
Pacific, he should be able to locate it exactly on a map that in turn should 
have been reliable because the Pacific is excessively large and it could happen 
that when one tried to return to the island, they would not find it and it 
would belong not to that king but to another. Otherwise it was very possible 
that when any king's ships were to return to the supposedly indicated spot they 
would encounter not only the difficulty of having to find it, but also that of 
running aground on some reefs thought to be elsewhere and finally drowning, as 
often occurred to the armadas which navigated between the 16th and 17th 
     That was a problem of state, but it also was a theoretical problem in which
astronomers participated, for one, and watch makers and the creators of great 
stellar atlases, as well. So, it suffices to indicate that the court had a not 
exclusively theoretical or purely prestige interest in the scientific problems, 
but instead thought that science was knowledge somehow related to everyday life.
Thus, to understand the infinitesimal calculus and promote its development was 
not only a question of basic mathematics, but also furthermore were related to 
problems of celestial mechanics which in turn were linked with problems of 
navigation related, for their part, to important political problems of 
     In reality, any study that refers us to the past confronts a science very 
similar to that of the present; there will be genuine elements in it an others 
anchored in that which was not transmitted to ourselves. Yet the search for this
past is not sterile, for it permits us to understand why science today is how 
it is, not only from a theoretical, internal, methodological viewpoint, as a 
means to resolve problems, but instead as knowledge assigned to contexts, 
referred to political and not only economic situations, which is what should 
always be highlighted; this knowledge is framed in much more complicated 
contextual social relations.
     We can ask ourselves, then: if science is born endowed with an historical 
sense, when does its historicity begin to dim? When does it begin to skip over 
us as a form of culture? One can imagine that we find some political 
characteristics for the functioning of current science in the past, it is yet a 
fact that when the scientists of today work they try not to speak of history 
and to re-construct their discipline they do so ahistorically. This leads us to 
our questions: does the same occur with past history? Has there been a moment 
when science has even begun to feel so important that it has been able to detach
from history? The response to that question is perhaps one of the most 
interesting aspects in the history of science, of the context of science as 
     Obviously one cannot hide that this is precisely one of the permanent 
objects of discussion among historians of science and scientists. Therefore I do
not pretend with my words to lift the Veil of Tanit and cause a most dangerous 
reality to appear, yet instead simply to expound upon what is happening at that 
moment and upon which aspects are indicated so as to reply to that question. As 
always, the responses of average plausibility are complex. Often the problems 
are very easy to pose and very difficult to address and, furthermore, they must 
always be considered in a provisional manner. For example, one can imagine that 
starting with the French revolution there was a notorious change of tone in the 
relation between science and society. One can gather that the French revolution
seems to be the mother of all later battles, because starting then everything 
     Why the French revolution? Today it becomes necessary to provide and 
argument or a persuasive discourse to focus us upon that deed. I am not going 
to present an apodictic problem, but instead simply insinuate arguments. The 
reason is very simple, although the explanation may be very complicated. During 
the French revolution for the first time scientists appeared exercising 
political power. In effect, there did exist scientists with power before that 
period; one cannot forget the power of a Newton or of a Turgot, to mention two 
of the most well-known, but in the case of the French revolution it could even 
be said that the scientists assumed power. Habitually, when one hears about the 
French revolution she always thinks of spectacular things, because we have quite
a Hollywood version of it: the masses in Paris attacking the Bastille, the 
assault on the Tuilleries and the Swiss Guard dying before the Tri-color 
     The French revolution was something more than the Terror. One usually has 
the image that the guillotine terminated the monarchy and chopped off part of 
science. Today we know that that conception is only true insofar as it refers to
the former, yet is not exact with regard to the latter. It is true that the 
great chemist Antoine Lavoisier died guillotined. Yet it is also so that he was 
not taken to the scaffold for being a chemist, but instead for belonging to the 
Ferme Générale, an institution dedicated to collecting taxes 
for the crown. All the fermiers were guillotined because the committees 
of public health, headed by Robespierre, did not make exceptions, given that 
they had a very Puritanical idea of what democracy is. Together with these 
revolutionary excesses, the politicians of the Terror tried to bring the 
sciences to the new citizens and thus founded the revolutionary schools
--predecessors of the normal schools--and told the experts in the academy to 
include the different sciences in the first study plans of the contemporary 
     Yet, additionally, if we analyze activities throughout this period (from 
1789 to 1815) which covers the Convention, the republic and the Napoleonic 
empire, we note that a series of scientists occupied key positions in politics 
and by reason of that acquired great visibility and power. This is the case with
Gaspard Monge, the founder of descriptive geometry; with Lazare Carnot, one of 
the great analysts at the end of the 18th century and the father of Sadi 
Carnot, who would be the initiator of classical thermodynamics; or with Laplace,
who worked at the head of a group of brilliant scientists like Berthollet, 
Poisson, Biot, Savart, Aragó, and Malus, among others. These scientists, 
who were enmeshed in politics, had the ability to persuade Napoleon that he was 
a great mathematician, exploiting at once his vanity and his undoubted political
intelligence to the point of getting him to support the demise of the 
mathematicians and other so that they might become the best protected species in
the empire. And what did these scientists do when beginning to acquire 
visibility? Well then, they took a page of extraordinary importance out of the 
nation's political reality, which was and continues to be education.
     The founding of the École Polytechnique Superieur was the result of 
the action of a group of scientists who attempted to technologically form, in a 
rigorous manner from the viewpoint of science, the French elites who later would
take command of the country. In this way, science was converted into an 
extraordinary tool of power. And never more would it be an exclusively courtly 
or academic knowledge restricted to very few people, and now would be converted 
into a most important form of social intervention, for the successive 
generations of Polytechnicians comprise seeds of the great scientists who
shall dominate French economic and political life. Throughout the 19th century 
the French example was extended and teaching of the sciences was considered 
basic to the formation of the citizens.
     Yet there is another fundamental aspect associated with what was just 
mentioned: the beginning of the organization of the sciences as independent 
disciplines. During the 19th century sciences appeared, which were surprising 
it might be said for a person of those times. Today it is thought that physics, 
such as we now understand it, is a very ancient science, but the truly ancient 
is mechanics, or physics understood as medicine (mechanics?!), because the 
physics department of the Paris Academy of sciences, which was a primary 
institution in Europe and America, was founded in 1785. This is to say that 
physics as a discipline is only a few decades older than a country like 
México emerging into independence.
     I speak of physics as a discipline, we understand. It is something other 
that before this period electrical or magnetic phenomena were studied, or that 
mechanics was a science of great prestige. Yet thermodynamics, electromagnetism,
physical optics, spectroscopy, belong to the 19th century. The physicists 
worked in laboratories and in industry, offered classes in the universities and 
polytechnics, organized themselves into societies, and convened congresses, 
yet all that occurred slowly, over the course of a century. At the end of this 
process they constituted one of the most powerful groups of scientists of all 
time. This happened, endorsed by the heritage from the end of the 18th century, 
when besides an increase in political power and social influence, the scientists
acquired public visibility and the public began to see them, first, as saviors 
before possible external reactionary aggressions against the republic and, 
later, as a shelter from the emergent nations. In a practically simultaneous 
fashion, the scientific theories commenced unfolding in a precise, 
methodologically potent manner with a very ambitious explanatory vocation. A
curious mechanism then emerges: science is produced and at the same time that 
science starts to be reconstructed and compiled. Why? Because it is necessary 
for education.
     For instance, the professors at the École Polytechnique had the duty 
of writing a manual that would constitute the reconstruction of knowledge of 
the moment. Not reconstructions like Euler--which is a way of attempting to 
found a new science--or a monograph like Newton--that tries to solve problems 
within the general context of mechanics, the Principia--but instead 
manuals with an educational value for reproducing and transmitting knowledge.
Explaining the great number of science books written beginning with the French
     One begins to reconstruct and the reconstruction habitually overlooks 
history. There can be very entertaining reconstructions, such as those where a 
chapter of general history was included, like in certain old histories that 
amuse me greatly when they speak of a "history of humanity," and begin with Adam
in order to end in the 16th century with the final king, whoever paid for the 
book. These historical presentations of science become gratuitous for they 
refer to very ancient things, and almost mythical happenings, as might be the 
case with Pythagoras, and the three lines describing 18 centuries and in the 
following paragraphs the last three years. The same thing occurs in reality when
a scientific article is written that on the first line says: "We follow this 
mister and that master," which is the argument from authority, and then the 
article develops.
     Well then, that increase of the political power of science, on one hand, 
and the increase in cognitive weight--indeed they knew much more and possessed 
the capacity and the mechanisms to produce, reconstruct and utilize knowledge 
in education--are some of the causes by which science begins to become 
ahistorical in its transmission, depriving itself of the capacity to reconstruct
itself and of seeing how it has managed to resolve problems.
     Stephen Brush, who is a magnificent historian of science, calls the period 
extending from the French revolution to our times the "second revolution." Over 
that period, as the number of persons dedicated to science augments and more 
people are trained in it, ahistorical knowledge grows vertiginously. Yet 
additionally, after a process begins that is not solely one of acceleration or 
magnification of that ahistoricity, but instead another parallel process appears
by which science starts to be converted into the hegemonic culture (one would 
have to question when that conversion commences) and by doing so tries to 
establish itself as the only valid culture, the only one that imparts valid 
knowledge. And this is interesting indeed to track in the past, because from 
being a very important culture to being the only there is one step, a step which
indubitably has been made. In our time, for many persons a description of 
reality must be purely scientific, and that that is not lacks value. This is a 
very exotic situation, because alongside these so scientific exigencies 
religious or aesthetic beliefs are held without the slightest problem. Thus, it 
becomes curious how one defends science as being so important that only it is 
capable of providing us with valid explanations, or better that it has no social
context or is neutral and thereby they lack responsibility.
     I wish to recall that I warned I would not be resolving problems, yet 
instead simply to indicate these that are what they are and those which one must
propose. In this fashion we shall discover that science is not solely a 
hegemonic culture, but also an exclusive, monopolistic and dictatorial culture, 
and all this not as the result of a conspiracy on the part of science itself, 
but instead because of our deficiencies as educators, by eliminating any type of
values other than those methodologically articulated around science. And this is
not a triviality, because science is not neutral. When it is truly science, the 
scientists construct knowledge, which acquires an ethical and social dimension 
and responsibility.


I think it is necessary to begin this discussion with an observation: when I 
affirm that science is a form of culture I do not mean that I consider it equal 
to any other culture. No form of culture is similar to another. Science has an 
explicative efficiency that has caused it to become a dominant culture in our 
times. In addition to reasons of an historical character that have brought this 
fact about, when I say that science is a culture, as much as it being a 
literary product or a musical work, I do not mean that an identical disposition 
is required to write Quixote as to develop the theory of relativity. It 
is much more difficult or much easier to write a novel than to elaborate a 
scientific theory, depending on whom, but the difficulties have a different 
character. To say that science is culture signifies that it is a human product 
which influences and is influenced by the social context. This affirmation does 
not pretend to establish, however, a sort of axiological monotony in which one 
form of culture is seen as exactly equal to another.
     One could say that science is an especially insidious form of culture, for 
once it puts an idea into circulation, that becomes public. It would hardly be 
possible for humanity to forget how to make a weapon or an atomic bomb. We can 
impede its manufacture, but for other motives, not forgetfulness, given that 
science provides knowledge of an inter-subjective character. Evidently, atomic 
physics is a form of inevitable culture, not being erasable from our history or 
from our memory. To do away with it would end in failure for all our culture.
     Another relevant consideration refers to there being no agreement between 
what the historians of science think, on the one hand, and the philosophers of 
science, on the other, but instead there exists permanent discussion between 
them. Furthermore, it is necessary to call attention to the fact that complete 
agreement does not exist concerning what should be the objective of the study of
the history of science; that is, concerning which should be the type of problems
that might give is a more thorough idea of what science is. Some historians 
prefer to study the development of theories; others center upon the analysis of 
the experimentation; others prefer to perform a history of the scientific 
institutions; others consider the relationship of science with politics; and 
some dedicate themselves to studying the relation of science to education. A 
canonical body of doctrine around the history of science does not exist, but 
instead many options and variants.

You situate the crowning moment of the alliance between scientific knowledge 
and political power in the 17th century, yet I think it is previous, from the 
16th century, with the scientific knowledge that was obtained by means of 
navigations, which is the example you used. In effect, the navigation and the 
discoveries were intimately linked to power which had an interest in publicizing
the tales of travelers and discoverers, as well as a large quantity of 
navigational charts. Spain, for instance, does not isolate the knowledge, but 
instead it is diffused throughout Europe, and Ramusio and Alvarado, who are 
part of the power and also have scientific knowledge as cosmographers, 
cartographers, geographers publish, from 1520 to 1550, Spain's discoveries from 
the power of the Venetian court.

Certainly, referring to cosmography, in determinate countries power supports 
those scientific enterprises, yet not as such, but instead as enterprises of 
conquest and of cartography. When we wrote the second volume of Teorías
del universo we dedicated a chapter to cosmography and I had the same 
opinion that you mentioned, yet after studying the cartography that Spain 
published, I became aware that I should put that opinion in parentheses, because
often the navigational charts that were divulged from Madrid were deliberately 
erroneous so that persons from other nations could not easily arrive on the 
coasts of Spanish dominion. That led me to suspect that there was not a perfect 
relation between knowledge, its encouragement and power, yet instead a political
objective in instrumentalizing knowledge and power, which not only occurred in 
the 16th century, but instead since the 15th, absolutely, and even much 
previously if we consider the way knowledge was treated in Alexandria when its 
museum and library were founded. There are many indices of the relation between 
politics and power: Plato's Academy itself or Aristotle's Lyceum.
     Why have I located it in the 17th? Because that century is differentiated 
from any other moment. There is, of course, the cartography in Spain and in 
Venice; furthermore, institutions are consolidated that emerge in the 16th 
century, like the Accademia del Linccei in Rome. Already in the 17th century a 
will begins to emerge to create spaces that will be beside the crown, though 
being somehow independent of it, like the Royal Society, founded by the 
"fellows" of London. When Colbert persuades Louis XIV of the convenience of 
founding the Academy of sciences and afterwards to Observatory, courtesans are 
not used to fill these institutions, as is the case with the cosmographers in 
Madrid, but instead they attempt to create a community of sages sponsored by 
that institution, being that which represents the relationship among powers. In 
my opinion, that of the 16th century is controversial.
     I have written a contribution referring to astronomy for the catalog of 
the exposition about Carlos V that is exhibited in Mexico City. Evidently, 
Carlos V was a great promoter of science, but not how we now understand it, 
because he was not an institutionalist. That is the big difference between the 
16th century and the 17th. During the baroque revolution science is produced 
under the auspices of institutions. Carlos V's court was not an institution for 
science, but instead a place where power exists and in which there is a doctor, 
as there has always been, or a botanist, a pharmacist, or whoever one might 
like. Carlos V protects astronomy--fundamentally astrology because he wanted to 
know the future--yet did not institutionalize anything. He protects a 
cosmographer, who also creates books full of little drawings of elementary
apparatuses to calculate the positions of the stars and the sort of things which
the emperor understands, because one knows now that sir Carlos V had not much of
an idea of astronomy. That is to say, work is done to the measure of or 
according to the needs of navigation, everything understood politically. Such as
maps that trace badly on purpose, as I said and which is a proven thing, to 
books of the court that offer an idea concerning scientific understandings in 
general. A good example is that of Giambattista della Porta.
     I speak of the 17th century for the Medici sponsor Galileo and found the 
Accademia del Cimento and with it change the relations between science and 
power, with the novelty of the existence of an institution around which a 
completely different scientific development is stimulated. Previously individual
work had become very meritorious. For example, Tycho Brahe founds an observatory
at the behest of the king of Denmark and performs the best measurements of his 
era. When his disciple Kepler, now working for Rudolph II, applies those 
measurements to the study of the movement of the planets, he does science, 
agreed, yet the moment when everything begins to become effervescent, such 
that it becomes fertile, is when those individuals find a domain adequate for 
communicating, and that occurs upon founding the academies and scientific 
societies in the 17th. Therefore I establish that border. Others can be sought, 
but more explanations would have to be given that now would become more 
     In previous ages we encounter fascinating characters who possess singular 
and attractive knowledge, like the "itinerants," characters who pertain to no 
institution but also to no court, Paracelsus for instance.
     The court enters the scene when it founds institutions and then it indeed 
distinguishes itself as a center promoting public wisdom. The 17th century is 
the moment when in a sufficiently clear manner the urban culture foments that 
sort of courtesan institution which can be totally financed by the crown, as 
occurred with the Academy of sciences in Paris, whose academics enjoyed an 
independence and a capacity for communication with the rest of the unknown 
European scientists up to then, whereas the work of cosmographer of the 16th 
century, at root, is in general a secret, a labor of power of one who should be 
very careful with what he says, for as the tongue goes he can anger the 
navigators and, of course, the king.

If science is not neutral, but instead resides within a social and political 
context, then ideology is always present. How much does ideology itself 
condition the generation of science and how much is it possible to identify in 
massive products of science, in important social blocks, the presence of 
ideology? On another subject, I believe that science in the first world is not 
the same as in the developing nations, and indeed it seems that a greater 
presence of science in the culture is lacking. How to encourage a greater 
culture of science? Sometimes it seems that we study science, yet in reality 
scientific thought is neither developed nor promoted, even in the universities 
where everything seems so scientific.

"Culture" is a deliquescent, complicated word; we all know what it means yet 
nobody easily defines it, and culture requires much explanation. I have used 
"culture" as the Latin geometricians utilized the word "postulates"; meaning 
that I postulate, request, that you accept this diffuse knowledge, this term, 
this type of vague referent because we all more or less understand it. Although 
if we commence to deepen the question we are led into very serious discussions. 
Were we in a congress, instead of in a discussion that attempts to stimulate 
what are considered not purely methodological nor reconstructive facets of 
science, there would be much to speak about. If instead of referring to culture 
one speaks of ideology, the problem is multiplied in an exponential manner 
because, as becomes evident, everything will depend on who is speaking of 
ideology. Kepler, for example, a personage who seems famous as a mathematician, 
was a mystic completely convinced--because he had a very religious education--
that God had deposited information about himself in the world; thus, the 
astronomer's activity was theological. Of course we cannot affirm that Kepler 
was not determined by the ideologies of his time. And in the case of the sages 
of the French revolution we should ask ourselves why they developed some 
sciences more than others. It was due to questions not of necessity but instead 
of interest. When we will discuss technology we shall see that one of the best-
argued lies of many historians of technology is that all inventions have been 
produced through necessity. The history of technology is the clearest test of 
this assertion: "The fact that things may be useful does not mean that they are 
produced out of necessity. Necessity is not the mother of invention. More 
nearly invention is the mother of necessity." For the economists this 
affirmation is a boutade that we own to Kranzberg, an acute historian of
     But if it is not necessity, since the true necessity is ideology, then 
what is it? Is a forward motor or a back motor what pushes the development of a 
science? During the French revolution ideological components intervened in that 
development. The sages of that epoch studied optical phenomena because they 
were interested in finding certain relationships between Newton's atomism and 
the current optical theories, since atomism had been an "ideology," in the 
positive sense of the term, practically throughout all human history up to the 
past century.
     Is there something that atomism  has brought to science? Yes, very many 
things, yet it was not capable of providing even one single observation of what 
an atom was, although everything would function magnificently is one assumed 
the atoms existed. Yet the same would occur if one assumed that they did not 
exist, and thus there were scientists who were very irritated. The polemic 
between Boltzmann and Mann about whether or not it is legitimate to use atoms 
to describe nature was fierce and only ended with the suicide of the former 
(not because of the polemic, though we might say that this did not make his 
life very agreeable either).
     Ideology is the set of underlying ideas that cause a researcher to fix her 
attention upon certain problems and not on others. The focus of her studies is 
not solely the product of a sort of pristine logical deduction. Science divides 
society and the world into two parts: the emitters and the receivers. Today 
studies are performed on the reception of science, for example, about how the 
theory of universal gravitation was received in Latin America or how those who 
did not produce the maps got them. Distinguished mathematicians like Arboleda 
have devoted much time to this because of their interest in knowing how ideas 
arrive, not only how they are emitted. David Headrik, who is a prestigious 
United States historian of technology, consider that this and science are a 
tool of domination, and Headrik is quite a reasonable man.
     When someone wishes to dominate, they attempt to substitute the culture of 
another for one's own in the most elemental and ancient manner. One can think 
that this is done is a more or less subtle fashion: "I pay you to study 
mathematics, so that we can propagate our culture." This never has occurred put 
in this way, yet has been in other more subtle ways: "Let us go to China to 
found western institutions where Chinese are trained," as the Germans did in the
1800's; "Let us found Calcutta and transform that city into a pole of British 
culture in India. The same should be studied there as in England"; in this form 
there begins to occur what is called cultural transference of knowledge. 
Something which has had success not only in the university context, but also in 
the financial transference within industry.
     Meanwhile, there is an enormous tendency for everything to be explained in 
a "scientific" manner and that a representation of reality will only be 
respectable if considered from a scientific and technological viewpoint. Thus 
science provokes an enormous cultural (and ideological) monotony in large part
due to its success.

Why are the exact sciences separate from the mystical sciences, if in the 
Middle Ages knowledge such as astrology, in addition to sorcery and magic, 
involved somehow the study of the physical and chemical properties of natural 

This separation process is not absolutely clear nor discriminated. For instance,
the cosmographers like Kepler had the mission of providing astral maps for the 
crown and the courts. Since the 16th century, and probably before, a political 
use for astrology existed; to say that astronomy interested Carlos V is a 
manner of speaking, for what interested him in reality was astrology. That 
separation of which we speak basically occurs in the 19th century, when positive
science which attempts to eliminate any type of non-scientific question begins 
to function, an approach to a certain point ideological in the sense that it is 
not worthwhile to speak of things that cannot be proven, measured, weighed, et 
cetera. Nevertheless, we encounter some great scientists in the 1800's who 
performed experiments in their laboratories and wrote their books of protocols, 
and upon closing them put their hat on and went where? To a session of 
spiritualism which was very much in fashion in the Victorian world! No one 
pierced the appearances, and everyone considered the worlds of spiritualism and 
the real to be different.
     Does this mean that importance must be given to spiritualism following the 
fact that the British scientists of the 1800's were spiritualist? No, it simply 
happened. Yet they did not do it in the laboratory, but outside of it. And we 
shall not mention the great quantity of books written on mysticism and science 
in the 20th century, they are innumerable. It is something else to give them 
less or more importance. Everyone can give importance to what they want, for in 
this type of matter the collective destiny is not involved, but instead the 

 II. Science and technology: an incomplete alliance

Often we forget that science and technology are human, cultural products, and 
we treat them with excessive respect. By this I do not mean that one must 
replace science as a form of knowledge, as a strong methodological construction,
with a completely relativist vision of it, but instead that it is necessary to 
acquire, in addition to the methodological, productive, creative aspect and the 
growth of science, a cultural historical perspective which helps us to 
comprehend its own scientific dynamic and allows us to speak about it.
     Science is a product that seems to us at once eternal and ephemeral. 
Constructed by the best among us, with the most brilliant intellectual efforts, 
nevertheless becomes obsolete immediately. It is a bend in the river of 
knowledge, a dynamic, a process of learning, discovery and invention, a set of 
extraordinarily enriching processes, and therefore we should not limit ourselves
to contemplating just one of the aspects of some of the stages of those 
processes, yet instead to attempt to understand what most difficult for a human
being: time, dynamics, the passage of things.
     We shall now analyze the relations between science and technology, 
evidently projected onto history, onto culture and also in their dynamics. 
Apparently they are very simple, natural and spontaneous relationships; today 
everybody always thinks that technology comes with science. In reality it is not
that simple.
      If we can learn that the apparently elementary is not so and that pre-
conceived ideas must only be taken seriously in order to subject them to a 
critique, then we shall be close to being Copernicans, close to being 
Renaissance women and men like those raised in that humanistic context of 
scientific revolution called the baroque. What is most important in any 
historical approximation to science and technology is to be conscious that we 
enter upon a world of apparent obviousness which, however, when we attempt to 
specify and define it we discover it is scarcely permeable and absolutely 
     Let us approach from this point of view the convergence between science and
technology and how this relation that I had previously qualified as dynamic is 
stabilized. To do so we should start from a very elementary fact: the importance
of the technological and scientific continuum is such that it occupies all our 
current culture. The science and the technology serve to measure the degree of 
development of a society, in an analogous manner to how in the past century they
used coal and steel to measure the income and the importance of a country. In 
the histories of the economies it is quite customary to utilize them as a 
reference index. This tells us that science and technology are products and are 
treated fundamentally as products, just as in the past century steel and coal 
     Meanwhile, it is very curious how extended is a basic and elemental belief 
according to which without science and technology there is no development nor 
progress nor wealth. From its hand we have taken in the past century, the one 
just ended, a process of social persuasion that it is important to raise 
technologists and scientists and that a nation can commit to spending a certain 
percentage amount of its GNP to produce science and technology. Furthermore, the
most developed nations, those who supposedly enjoy a greater technological and 
scientific development, pursue the prospect of new plans and support the 
national or continental plans to develop certain technologies. In this fashion, 
when there is a serious problem in society, it always is transformed into a 
scientific or technological problem. The problems of whether AIDS has a cure or 
whether it is possible to tackle the evil of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, 
immediately become problems of scientific-technological planning or of research 
intimately related to the politics of each society.
     Every problem of great scope is automatically converted into a problem of 
technological and scientific planning and it bother us immensely to have to 
take notice of matters which cannot be reduced to that sort of expedient. For 
instance, at this moment in Spain we must resolve the problem of immigration to 
our country and it bothers us greatly not being able to do so in a scientific 
and technological manner, since it is evident that another type of perspective 
or approach is required to be able to explain and understand what rights the 
immigrants in a nation have which, in addition, has always been one of 
immigrants. This type of problem bothers us more because it is not equivalent to
a plague, to a sickness, to a hurricane, or to a problem of lack of energy whose
variables theoretically can come to be under control. At root we live with a 
fiction: that the relation between science and technology is quite linear. That 
is to say, if one augments the number of scientists and technologists, an 
increase in science and technology will instantly be automatically produced.
     One of the things taught us by the relationship between science and 
technology in the contemporary world is that there is a third most critical leg 
of the tripod, and whether science and technology are fertile, resolves 
problems or not, even poses them better or worse, depends on it and is the 
social leg. Science and technology are included in a society, in a social and 
cultural context, in such a way that it can happen that we invest a lot of money
in a development plan for the creation of scientists which in the end does not 
produce that technological-economic development, that does not increase wealth,
and where we can only say that having created many more doctors, what we have 
are many more doctors unemployed, because they have absolutely nothing to do. 
Thus we have been capable of learning that the process is not linear, that 
producing more technologists and scientists requires more sophisticated 
situations and more refined approximations. Usually and often we lament 
sometimes being excessively simple and believing too much in the linearity of 
the processes. That "Put more money towards more doctors and you will have more 
Nobel prizes and technological development" is not that easy.
     We see how the relation between science and technological can be 
characterized, that situation according to which both are very important 
elements for characterizing a society; a subject upon which we have always 
explained very little, because it is not taught to us in a procedural manner. 
For that it is necessary, anew, to look at our history, at everyone's history.
     Once again, to produce technology viewing history is not needed; to 
understand the production of technology, yes. The relations between human 
society and science and technology are the story of an incomplete alliance. I 
speak of an incomplete alliance for science and technology do not proceed from 
the same mother and from the same father, being parents but not sisters. There 
are societies of little science that develop very sophisticated technology, and 
there are others which value scientific developments more than technological 
development. Put this way its seems a vulgarity or a banality, yet it is wholly 
true. In fact it can be said that technology is a constant in human societies 
and science is not. It is a sort of knowledge that can appear or not.
     Science has a character of greater abstraction, a greater vocation of 
generality, a perennial pretension of giving laws that speak of more general 
regularities than those offered by technology. This, for its part, is 
fundamentally based on the exploitation of skills, while science does so in the 
search for normative laws which have been termed, in general, nomological. If 
someone says that everything is science, that all technology is science, she has
a right to say so, but then will have difficulty understanding the diversity of 
understandings produced throughout history. To be able to understand something 
it is necessary to discover sufficiently differentiated definitions. One can 
understand that the technological development of the primitive Chinese empires 
was most spectacular, but that their interest in establishing general laws was 
very scant, which also occurred with the Egyptian empire and many other cultures
more sophisticated from a technological point of view, yet with little 
speculative interest. Indeed the speculative, the scientific, is a relatively 
recent conquest.
     History demonstrates that science is more scarce, much more demanding than 
technology, and nevertheless it can be said that it is difficult to establish a 
science without technology. Yet it is also difficult to speak of a technology 
becoming a science in the modern sense of the term. We can affirm, with a sort 
of metaphor, that the science of nature which we know and value is a product of 
the Renaissance, or even of the 17th century, although we habitually refer to 
Copernicus to describe this period. We speak of the Copernican revolution as 
that process that changed the way of conceiving the world, the nature, the 
cosmos, and which initiated a transformation that ends practically in the 
Enlightenment, a very long two-century process where there is a continual 
     What truly captures attention in the knowledge that emerges during this 
process is that it emerges and develops upon the basis of very sophisticated and
abstract philosophical patterns, however immediately beginning to support itself
in the utilization of technological resources. Such knowledge changes the notion
of the relationship with nature, the relation of mediation of our observation 
and our manipulation; that is, it transforms the notion of interaction to make 
room for experimentation as a most important historical concept. That is what 
causes the science of nature of that era--the incipient physics and chemistry, 
the natural history, also incipient, pneumatics and all the sciences that emerge
at that moment--to be different from the antecedents. Although there are a 
series of sciences that seem to follow a continuum: mathematics keeps being 
mathematics, the same as astronomy; no one can deny that the Greeks had powerful
astronomy and a very important mathematics and geometry, despite their 
arithmetic being very precarious.
     The relationship with nature can also be mediated through the intervention 
of the human being, thanks to the instruments, the apparatuses of medicine and 
of experimentation. This can seem very banal to us, given that, as I previously 
said, in general we consider science and technology as naturally related without
any sort of mediation. However, throughout history that alliance has been 
incomplete, because sometimes science had been more developed than the others, 
or has benefited less or more from the technology, or rather the technology has 
developed with greater or lesser independence from science.
     I shall perform a series of historical brush strokes, referring to specific 
cases, in order to illustrate the thesis of the incompleteness of such an 
alliance, wherein we shall be able to observe aspects of science that were 
modified by experience or by the usage of apparatuses or instruments.
     The Baroque is an extraordinarily rich period, perhaps one of the most 
interesting scientific periods in what regards the relations between science and
technology. Direct intervention into nature was traditionally poorly considered 
by the philosophers of previous eras, for it was thought that one had to stop 
talking about nature in order to hear it, in such a way that mankind should 
observe and admire itself with the very word, "admiration" with the 
corresponding Greek, theorein is the verb admire, from which the word 
theory derives. We may admire nature and theorize about her, yet we cannot 
impose upon her.
     That is why the Greeks had so much passion, above all those of the Platonic
and Pythagorean court, for astronomy, since it permitted them to admire but not 
intervene. No one could modify the position of the Moon or the trajectory of a 
comet; nobody could intervene so that the planets would traverse different 
orbits. Such that astronomy is truly the world of admiration in that the 
observer is like an eye which can only analyze its own visual experience.
     A colleague at the Complutense University and I myself have written 
hundreds of pages with respect to that situation in our book, Theories of the
Universe, in which we analyze that astronomer's sensation as observer: to 
observe did not assume intervening, yet instead to simply theorize, which does 
not mean that in Greece and during the Middle Ages they did not intervene in 
nature. The traditional chemistry was of intervention, like the traditional 
mechanics and traditional technology, but they did not have as much intellectual
or social prestige as the work of the philosophers or the astronomers, who were 
considered the most refined individuals. For example, alchemy was a discipline 
neither recognized nor valued, however much it might obtain extraordinarily 
useful products like the waters of life, or that is, alcoholic liquids produced 
through distillation. To discover an element with a greater alcoholic degree in 
order to be able to revive excessively cold persons was a matter of prime 
importance in the Middle Ages. So then, those products were viewed with 
suspicion, not for questions related to alcoholism, but because they were 
obtained by acting in a brutal fashion upon nature; the distillation processes 
were viewed this way and thus were carried out in secret in those alchemical 
laboratories, most times in the abbeys or in the great medieval institutions.
   Thus then, they intervened, yet to do so did not convey prestige and, of 
course, no one offered a theoretical defense of the intervention. Even in 
aspects as important as medicine, a surgeon received a lesser intellectual 
rating than that of a "physicist," who was one who studied the body of one sick 
and solely by means of its nature could restore the altered equilibrium, since 
disease was considered as an imbalance of something balanced.
     Already in the 1500's a type of philosophy is founded that defends 
intervention into nature, which attempts to theorize on the modes of 
intervention. Those who practiced it were called "natural" magi. Along with them 
were found the "black" magi, who obtained their knowledge by means of pacts 
with vile demons. A natural Magus of the Renaissance would be the precedent for 
a later physicist or a chemist, but they called them magi and, of course, in 
their magic books they would often write prologues where they defended the 
goodness of their magic and assured that in no case was it black magic. In those 
books are found recipes for obtaining chemical and metallurgical
products and even methods to obtain cosmetics. Often those recipes are presented
as formulas that had a certain generality, that tried to encounter truly 
important regularities which we could call "proto-laws." Those books are known 
as "books of nature's secrets." Nature hoarded intellectual secrets, not only 
diamonds and precious metals, and the natural Magus would have as mission to 
open that box--which for some has come to be that of Pandora--and cause all the 
secrets to exit so as to expand throughout the world. We do not know whether 
within that, hope has remained.
     Of course, we speak of the Renaissance as a period that gives life to an 
epoch, like our own, in which that attitude of uncovering secrets becomes a 
systematic form of interrogating nature. Yet in the interval there are very 
important events. The 17th is an extraordinarily prolific century in the 
creation of instruments. Of course, one can say: "Note, instruments are 
technological constructions." Very well, there we have a principle of alliance. 
Instruments serve technology's approach to science. In the nature of that 
relationship, instrumentation will always unite science to technology; if 
something must be measured, if one must interpret what is observed through a 
lens or a set of lenses, a technologist must always participate.
     The problem now is: how is an instrument created? Under what formalities 
is it constructed? Sometimes it is thought that the scientists designed and 
constructed their instruments as if they were conceived according to a principle
for a certain end. But that is not so. Habitually what the Baroque sages did 
was to take advantage of the technicians who constructed instruments.
     Galileo may have wanted to have a marvelous telescope, yet he had a 
miserable telescope. Why? Because it was the one constructed by the Dutch to 
see how the troops of the duke of Alba--the perverse Spaniard who was going to 
invade them and to whom is attributed the responsibility for the great increase 
in telescope construction--were advancing. Meanwhile, the person who created 
them was a manufacturer of spectacles, a grinder of lenses; not an optician 
trained in the best mathematical and scientific academy of Europe, but instead 
a simple manufacturer of spectacles, who patented that instrument he called 
"eye-glass" and which spread through all Europe since it was a curious object.
     It was such an instrument that originally served Galileo in observing the 
Moon. Later it is improved and perfected, but only up to a certain limit; which 
indicates to us that Galileo acted through trial and error. There is produced, 
then, in the 17th century the intervention of instruments from a parallel
technological tradition that joins with a scientific astronomical tradition. 
What was that astronomical and cosmological tradition? In what intellectual 
domain did the type Galileo Galilei operate? In something as absurd and 
impossible as showing that the Earth moves and as little useful as showing that 
the Moon has mountains, Jupiter has satellites, and Saturn has rings. Did that 
actually resolve some practical problem? None, absolutely none, being a 
pretension belonging to the purest theoretical tradition - here we have to say 
"philosophical." Yet from the moment that Galileo utilizes a technological 
instrument, namely the telescope, this becomes what at that time was called a 
"philosophic instrument."
     What does philosophic instrument mean? We could translate it to be an 
instrument that serves for seeing what it is not necessary to see, yet which 
gives us enjoyment to see; an instrument that serves for observing that which 
will not cure us of any disease, yet that pleases us; an instrument which serves
for contemplating the "nature of celestial things," to discourse regarding them,
to compare them with the earthly. To see the mountains of the Moon does not 
produce any solution to any human problem, does not cure diseases nor increases
the amount of food we could need. To explain the influence of the telescope we 
cannot be presentistas and say: "Since science was going to develop such 
that it later would be very useful, then that is why it was done." In such a 
case we would be performing a sort of projection onto the past of present
requirements. Galileo must be seen as he was, and to him all he wanted to show 
was that the universe was different from what Ptolemy and Aristotle said, which 
helped him to take positions in a sort of intellectual war. Yet it did not 
involve a war in practice. We could even think that it dealt with a war among 
powers, political and social, but that social war between cultures was not 
social in order to find solutions to needs. When in 1610 Galileo focuses his 
rudimentarily re-built telescope on the starry sky and seeks the Moon, he is 
able to interpret that which he sees because he knows a lot about painting and 
of perspective and has read about how shadows are projected in a painting; he 
can see those shadows on the Moon and is the first individual to say: "Aha! 
Those shadows are not projections of the clouds, but instead the mountains, 
because I have studies that in books of mathematical perspective. Thus this is 
the shadow cast by a mountain or the shadow that appears in a valley."
     Galileo utilizes the entire culture of his age to interpret that those are 
mountains, and when he writes the Sidereus nuncius, in 1610, this becomes
an editorial bomb in Europe because that which the whole world had always seen, 
that the Moon had spots, could be a set of mountains, of valleys and of craters.
And all this is defended by an Italian of absolutely wicked character and 
enormous prestige as a mechanic. In that moment science and technology have 
allied to the benefit of the former and a sort of marriage or instrumental pact 
is begun which now will never disappear. Starting then and for always, 
experimental science, that which had to do with nature, not the purely 
theoretical, would have need for that type of technological referent.
     Clearly, we can say that that sort of instrumentation (the telescope) 
opens the possibility of referring to nature in another way and of constructing 
a new dictionary to interpret her. Beginning with Galileo, one functionally 
speaks of what she sees through a telescope in the same manner that one speaks 
of what they see without the telescope. To ourselves, who live in an 
extraordinarily technological culture, this seems obvious, yet to an individual 
of the 17th century it was not. To say that the same degree of reality is 
awarded to something which appears through a telescope as to something that 
appears without it, requires a training process of and, above all, a confidence 
process, because someone who looks through a telescope is a person who can lie 
or exaggerate. Furthermore, at the beginning there were few who knew how to 
view through those instruments and all the rest of society had to confide in 
     Let us imagine the process: Galileo is a brilliant person who looks 
through a telescope, who also knows a great deal of philosophy, of mechanics and
of mathematics, who writes a marvelous book and causes all to enter into crisis 
around him saying: "What a situation, if it is true what Mr. Galileo sees, 
things have to change, the image of the universe must change!" Then, we imagine 
those persons, who are in principle we must assume well-meaning, directing 
Galileo's telescope to where he says are Jupiter and its satellites, or Saturn 
and its rings. They try it time and again and see nothing. If one does not have 
a certain training in the use of a telescope, it is impossible to find Jupiter 
or the satellites or the rings, which means that one has to learn to look 
through a telescope. It is necessary to understand those contemporaries of 
Galileo and not to insult them in advance. One need not say "How retarded they 
were, what brutes!" without considering that every technological process 
requires training and, of course, an education. Another factor is the 
ideological attitude of the Holy office, or the position of the Jesuits in the 
Roman curia, who based their opposition to Galileo on other reasons than their 
lack of skill in the use of telescopes.
     Returning to our narrative, it can be said that the use of the telescope 
enables a certain criterion of authority. Thus, in the 17th century one could 
say: "Galileo claims...Helvelius--one of the greatest astronomers of the age--
describes...Fontana--a renowned Neapolitan instrument builder--observes...Hooker
says," et cetera. People who had no access to a telescope--in that day 
practically the totality of the population--must believe that those philosophers
who have a telescope tell the truth. In reciprocal fashion, those who observe 
through a telescope should, in turn, support their affirmations with very good 
images such that the people believe that what they have seen is of interest. 
Galileo, in the Sidereus nuncius, executes some pencil drawings that now 
seem to us a little simplified, yet which then were what he could do; and what 
he could do, he did magnificently. When today one contemplates Galileo's 
drawings it is easy to think that if the plausibility of the the Copernican 
theory was then doubted a little, it was not strange that his contemporaries saw
Galileo's drawings as a product of his fantasy. Who believed Galileo? All the 
Copernicans, immediately, of course. Who did not believe in Galileo? Many of the
Ptolemaics. Or that is, the matter divided the scientific society. That 
technology of Galileo's did not provide a "Popperian" settlement of the 
question., but only allied him with the Copernicans. Thus then, throughout the 
17th century the number of persons who had access to Galileo's information grew,
as much as those how observed the sky by means of telescopes; they published 
every more clear and convergent recorded images of the Moon, perhaps being made 
in Italy or in Poland, and which agree in the description of the orography of 
our satellite, such that inter-subjectivity begins to grow in the use of the 
     Yet this was a slow process which lasted practically the entire 17th 
century. That alliance between science and technology was represented by the use
of instruments of experimentation and of observation. Up to a certain point, the
telescopes and the microscopes were instruments related to the theories of 
vision, which had preoccupied geometers and physiologists since antiquity, and 
it was thought that the problem of how one sees through a lens was associated 
with that of determining what was the course of the ray from the object to the 
eye and how the image was formed. Thus it is not strange that the problems of 
optics were profusely treated in the 17th century (Descartes and many others in 
that era dedicated himself to them). Yet in addition to those in optics, many 
other instruments were constructed more difficult to understand and operate than 
those at first; the vacuum pump, for instance. The fact that one could produce a 
vacuum in a barometer, vary the pressure, reveal the atmosphere and construct a 
machine that ejects the air but simultaneously permits seeing through it
--the air indeed retreats or exits, not so the light--allowed a set of 
extraordinarily important discussions concerning the nature of a vacuum.
     Yet we do not remain here, but take a further step. Up to now we have seen 
the relations between science and technology in the sense that a new science 
requires a technological tool to support a new theory that has upset many 
socially, the Copernican, which furthermore violates and changes beliefs in an 
extraordinary way like those of the most pious Protestants, who consider that 
the Bible cannot lie and that if it is affirmed there that Joshua made the Sun 
stand still, it means that the Sun moves. In this way, at a certain moment the 
problem almost becomes a matter of state when Europe splits between Copernicans
and Ptolomaics.
     Let us now turn to an apparently softer scenario from an ideological 
viewpoint, although much more important from the social point of view; the 
process of construction and diffusion of machines during the Enlightenment. We 
are going to concentrate upon a particularly interesting aspect in referring to 
a period that, according to many, determined our world, that of the first 
industrial revolution.
     Throughout what today is habitually called the industrial proto-revolution,
the period extending from the beginning up to the 60th year of the 18th century,
pure processes of technology transformation took place, by means of which a 
series of characters invented and constructed steam machines that were like 
enormous mills located in places where it became necessary to perform a certain 
type of work. In general they served to drain the mines, so that the miners 
could work in them without being waist-deep in water. In fact, the first steam 
engine patented  by an Englishman named Savery is known as "The light-hearted" 
or "The miner's friend." Later, in 1712, Newcomen improves it and it becomes the
first stationary steam engine, which experienced a wide diffusion in Europe and 
America. Afterwards, Watt and his generation constructed more complex machines, 
with a separation between the condenser and boiler, and managed to design a 
doubly effective machine that converts the rocker movement to circular.
     All this process is technological, not scientific: no one knew the "law" 
that ruled the movements of the steam engine, although the engineers did not act
blindly, given that they possessed an abundant amount of data to orient their 
work. It is true, nevertheless, that over more than a century, until 1824, no 
one discussed the problem of why any steam engine functioned in this and not 
another manner. Thus, in a very scientific context--not in that of imperial 
China nor in that of the Egyptians or that of the Incas, which were enormously 
technological societies but in the context of the Enlightenment--technological 
developments are carried out at the margin, to a certain degree, of scientific 
developments; in fact, few scientists concern themselves to find out why steam 
engines work.
     In those times it was considered that, in principle, machines were 
constructed in order to perform work, whereas the scientists should concern 
themselves with whether the Moon has a specific nutation or not, and the 
academic prizes were awarded to more abstract and theoretical works. It was 
assumed that the steam engine was not relevant as a theoretical problem and its 
functioning was simply improved in a practical manner, even when significant 
advances were made like those of Watt, who separated the boiler from the 
condenser, as I have previously noted. But he did not offer a rigorous 
theoretical treatment of thermal machines until the end of the 18th century, 
when he compared them to hydraulic machines, and that for reasons or 
perspectives of an economic order: which is more profitable, a hydraulic machine
or one of steam? In the midst of the French revolution, Lazare Carnot poses the 
problem of where to invest the state's money, in promoting hydraulic machines or
those of steam. The majority of the French engineers of that age considered the 
technology of the future to be hydraulic and not of steam, since this latter 
was too complicated; no one knew why they worked, while a hydraulic machine was 
simple and even could be reduced to a problem of hydraulic mechanics.
     They considered that the hydraulic was a worthier machine than one of 
steam, because they knew the theory. They were reasonable and not adventurous. 
They began then to establish the quid pro quo that only that promoting 
and interesting for our development would have success, that which we 
theoretically comprehend, and what we do not know through theory, but instead 
simply through technology, will be less interesting. It is not that the French 
scientific community at the beginning of the 1800's would not support the 
technological developments. Simply, they considered the scientific to be more 
legitimate than the technological. The sciences were considered the touchstone 
of any knowledge, even the technological. It should not be forgotten that this 
occurred at the moment of greatest brilliance for French science, her golden 
age, that coincided with the Napoleonic empire.
     When in 1824 the son of Lazare Carnot, Sadi Carnot, writes the book 
Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire: And Other Papers on the Second Law 
of Thermodynamics, a very long though very lovely title, what was it but 
theory? Yet, attention! Theory about an artifact, about a machine. Thus the 
relation between technology and science occurs again, although now in quite an 
original manner.
     Science is customarily described as a set of phenomena that the scientist 
observes. Through those phenomena a sort of methodological chain is established 
to produce theories, without it mattering whether those phenomena are natural 
or provoked through some experimentation; what is fundamental is that they are 
lifted from the natural world. In the case of Carnot they are not phenomena but 
instead technological constructs; steam engines do not occur in nature, we must 
construct them. Yet those machines permit the study of phenomena that are given 
in nature; for example, in meteorological phenomena the transformation of heat 
into work occurs (a cyclone, the rain, the snow, a movement of the earth, a 
volcanic eruption). Carnot says that these are "phenomena of transformation" in 
which the action of heat produces mechanical work; there is a specific 
relationship among them all. Yet he also affirms: "We do not know what that 
relationship is because the phenomena which appear as meteors are very 
complicated, though we do understand how to measure and study them with great 
precision: in the steam engine." If I heat a gas and it expands and afterwards 
compresses again, in this entire process work has been generated by using heat, 
and that is something truly original in nature and becomes clear to us when we 
observe it in telluric movements, while in a steam engine it can be seen 
concretely reduced to its limits, which allows us to study that phenomenology, 
in reality a phenomeno-technics.
     The process has been the following: a steam machine is built, without 
knowing exactly what laws control it, and afterwards the object becomes to study
the laws ruling not the steam engine but instead any transformation between heat
and work; that is to say, one theorizes about the behavior of a machine 
believing in the hypothesis that it gives us an image of any process in which 
there is a transference of heat into work. Thus, then, theory emerges from 
technics, from a technology, not from nature, but it is a completely universal 
     Carnot's principle is seen as a law of nature though it has only been 
proved in steam engines, with the process of understanding it in general, in 
all the approximations of nature, still pending. The alliance, as I have said, 
occurs here in the other direction; now it is not that technology will be a 
sort of servant of science to build instruments, but instead it now is what has 
provided the phenomenological base for realizing the theory. No one could have 
elaborated the fundamental thermodynamic theory, that of Carnot, nor none of 
those which derived from it, if they had not held as referent that phenomenon of
the transference of heat into work. We can say then that in the relationship 
between technology and science the pre-eminence of one over the other cannot, in
truth, be considered; one cannot say that technology was before science or that,
on the contrary, technology was before science, but instead that these 
relations are historically given continually from the Baroque to our times, in 
such a manner that to affirm the existence of relations of subordination between
science and technology, that characteristic commonplace about the contemporary 
world, is a bit fictitious. It is true, the telescopes were perfected thanks to 
the theoretical studies of optics, but our comprehension of nature was perfected
thanks to the evolution of steam engines.
     The separation of the condenser from the boiler in a steam engine 
performed by Watt provided technological illumination for the theory of Carnot, 
for it meant that the more difference in temperature there might be between the 
sources of heat and of refrigeration, the more output there would be in the 
machines. Also, this output would have an upper limit that could not be 
surpassed. This appreciation of a limit in the natural processes derives from 
the technological development of these two models--the optical and the 
thermodynamic--something permanently repeated throughout the history of the 
relations between science and technology and, of course, what in reality has 
comprised that dictionary through which we can better understand our world, to 
the point where if now we lacked that vocabulary, that dictionary, we would 
barely be able to speak about our world. A dictionary where not only are the 
terms that we have obtained from nature, but also those which we have invented.


In addition to science and technology, does it make sense to talk of 

It is necessary to correctly establish the contemporary concept of 
technoscience. In general the technological and scientific processes are usually
conceived as separate in history, and according to some authors, like Javier 
Echeverría, and analysts of these problems in the philosophy of technology,
like Fernando Broncano and Miguel Ángel Quintanilla, in addition to science
and technology one would have to speak of technoscience, that is, of those 
products created or formed through the joint action of science and technology. I
am in agreement, of course, that within "big science" which arises at the 
middle of the 20th century, that non-communal science, that of the great 
research programs, that of high energy physics or, as Julio Rubio mentions, that
of molecular biology, there truly is an exceedingly strong interaction between 
science and technology, up to the point where one can speak of technoscientific 
products. In some applications of contemporary science, in effect, the 
technological component of the interaction between science and technology is so 
strong that it becomes absolutely valid to speak of technoscience. What is 
awkward is the reductionist vision that everything is technoscience. There are 
technological problems that are approached from perspectives of tremendous 
complexity, pure technological problems of the contemporary world, and also pure
scientific problems, like the theory of unification of forces or the theory of 
super-strings, a scientific theory with a technological underpinning like any 
other theory, yet which is not a technoscientific product.

Can you refer to what George Basalla proposes in The Evolution of 
Technology regarding a certain parallelism between evolutionary ideas in 
biology and evolutionary ideas in technology?

I always recommend this book for two reasons; in the first place, not for the 
importance of the thesis, which might be more or less debatable, but instead for
the importance of the presentation of technological exuberance as against the 
idea that technology functions simply to resolve needs. That which is most 
important in Basalla's book is what is hidden, not what is manifest. The 
evolutionary theses are interesting in themselves, yet even more so are the 
theses established by Kranzberg who analyzes the paradoxical profile of the 
history of technology. We constantly read, as much in the press as in the 
political programs of the candidates to govern at any level of any country, and 
even in the most normal stories of the economy, that the relation between 
technological innovation and necessity is established from the point of view of 
the latter: when we need something, we invent it. Putting it thus, invention 
would be the result of necessity.
     Without trying, Basalla's book displays a history and shows that 
Kranzberg's theses are paradoxical but plausible. I mentioned them previously 
when I said that necessity must be seen as the result of invention and not the 
contrary. We invent and later we need that which we have invented. It is 
possible that at some moment there may be needs which dictate inventions, yet we
invent much more than what we need and in many directions we do not need, which 
creates necessities that we invent. Up to a certain point, the development of 
the history of technology demonstrates the exuberance of the inventive 
capacity of the human species, more than an x-ray of our necessities. Basalla 
shows that if this is true in the contemporary world, it is true for the entire 
history of technology and, surely, for an age as distant from ours as that of 
the flint hatchet. According to him, there are many more variants of the flint 
hatchet than differentiated needs among the hunters of that epoch. Basalla 
performs accurate classifications of Paleolithic arms until he bring us to 
suspect that the lame affirmation that necessity is the only factor in invention 
is more properly self-interested economistic reductionism and that, in reality, 
the human being has always invented, desperate and exuberant, completely 
useless things that become useful for the simple reason that they have been 
     It is the same as what occurred in that joke when the German approaches a 
gentleman who invented a glue that does not stick anything; he then invented a 
material so that that glue could stick to something and together sold glue and 
material with such success that he became a millionaire. We are capable of 
producing many more things than we need, which means that our necessity derives
from something else, not from the so exaggerated requirement of survival; that 
is to say, we are tied to the processes of invention for other reasons. 
Certainly, we are very strange animals.

                  III. Science, everybody's responsibility

To begin this section it would be good to reflect upon the significance of 
history, and thus I am going to refer to two of its classic conceptions: that 
which is commonly called "his-Tory" and "Whig history." The first might be 
called conservative history and the second, liberal history. According to the 
first, everything deteriorates, we descend from a golden house of human beings 
and we have declined over time until reaching our current miserable situation. 
In accord with the Platonic ideas that this conception contains, any time in the
past was better. From this point of view history possesses the conviction that 
in the past the human being was more free, more intelligent and was less 
conditioned. This way of seeing history is more habitual than it seems; for 
instance, Don Quixote's speech to the goatherds refers us to a golden age. 
At present it is very common for us to feel a certain nostalgia for that 
previous "simplicity" for what we know frightens us, such that we shudder at the
power of the knowledge which we have obtained over the centuries and therefore
we tend to analyze history from the "Tory" perspective. To thus recount 
history is to do so in a fearful manner, pertaining to a narrator of an advanced
age in life wherein it seems that every individual is younger than him and a 
worse person.
     According to the other conception of history, the liberal, time always 
improves matters, progress is good in itself and somehow all times past were 
ignorance and obscurantism. This is an apparently optimistic type of history 
that brings the world to life with a certain excitement regarding what is going 
to happen, because it always will be better than that which it succeeded.
     Both are forms of history charged with the most elemental ideologies of 
our time. Before those conceptions of liberal and conservative history we can 
try to conceive history with a conceptual optics, that is, without establishing 
parallelisms between some scales of values over the sequence of centuries. 
According to this viewpoint, it is wrong to speak of decadences nor of 
progresses, but instead of contexts; it is better to bow with all necessary 
modesty to the belief that our time has the same degree of emotion and of 
commitment to knowledge as any other epoch. In particular, we know we shall be 
judged by our descendants and therefore we should be aware of ourselves at the 
judgment hour and judge our context. We should simply be intelligent, which 
means to be capable of viewing our present and our past with the same serenity.
     This preamble might seem excessively moralistic, but its only pretension 
has been to introduce the present subject as an historical moment. Up to now we 
have spoken about the different historical possibilities in conceiving science, 
in understanding it, of seeing how knowledge, theory and institutions grow, and 
we have attempted to project a certain historical dimension upon that class of 
     We have also spoken of the difficult and fertile relations between science 
and technology avoiding falling into the common opinions and places: we cannot 
say that science is better or worse than technology, or that science is neutral 
but technology not, nor to affirm that science is the purer and technology is 
simply an application of science, or that science is a sort of abstraction of 
technology. Instead we shall attempt to recognize that science and technology 
exist throughout history under often very different itineraries and later enter 
into alliance, in synergy as some communicologists now say, nourishing each 
other, enriching itself and, above all, offering us as a whole not so much a new
form of form of understanding nature, yet instead a new nature. In reality this 
is nothing new: from the Neolithic to our days the human being has transformed 
nature, so that to think that this transformative activity is the patrimony of 
the 20th century is a bit naive.
     We intend now to reflect from a philosophical viewpoint upon the relations 
between science and technology without focusing in advance on a specific school 
of philosophy. This should be warned because there is a certain tendency to 
consider that philosophy which deals with science is the patrimony of 20th 
century Neo-positivism. Dozens of books exist about that relationship, which 
beneath the optics is called the Vienna Circle, of Popper and of all those who 
attempted to construct a "universal language" for science, like the polemic 
about what the fundamental requirement was for some knowledge to have a 
scientific character as against some other that did not.
     Positivism is an extraordinarily interesting philosophical school, but it 
approaches a problem too localized in time and in place. And one of the 
characteristics of the recently ended 20th century has been to demonstrate that 
that philosophical closeness to science is neither unique nor fundamental to our
object of study. On the contrary, it is a restrictive approach (positivism 
considers there only to be one well-grounded type of knowledge: the empirical or
the logically deduced, such that scientific analysis is restricted to that type 
of knowledge, no other factor being relevant) , one that seeks only to describe 
science from within the security of knowledge, that is to say, as if we wished 
to have absolutely certain knowledge and for it we should restrict the 
methodological requisites for describing science so much that we shall be left 
with a stereotype which later, curiously, has never occurred in history.
     Given the liberality of a teaching like that of Alfonso Reyes and, above 
all, given my interest in reflecting upon the paradoxical, I am not going to 
remain in the safe and cozy niche of positivism.
     It would be excessively easy to dedicate myself to explaining, from a 
strictly positivist point of view, how science is, what is science and what it 
is not; how theoretically and normatively knowledge that is not science can be 
separated from that which indeed is. Yet I am not going to do it among other 
reasons because Kepler would rise from the grave; because Newton would shout, "I
did not do that"; because Maxwell would say, "Don't exaggerate"; because 
Einstein would howl with laughter. This is to say, because that philosophy of 
science, however magnificent it may be as philosophy, tries to understand 
neither the science which occurred in the past nor that that is produced in the 
present. And that is what concerns us here more than any hypothetical 
reconstruction of an epistemological character which tries to establish the 
characteristics of what an ideal science should be. Furthermore, there are 
already many books that discuss the philosophy of science from a Neo-
positivist perspective and the debates which have taken place in the heart of 
that philosophical current. They are polemics between and for specialists, so 
let us leave it to them.
     I prefer to locate myself in the context of discussions nearer to our 
times, in the approximations starting from the thought of a great philosopher 
and historian of science, one of the most influential philosopher-historians of 
the second half of the 20th century, Thomas S. Kuhn. And fundamentally because 
this historian-philosopher--or philosopher-historian--was capable of 
establishing conjectures concerning the function of history, spoke about forms 
of explaining scientific revolutions and throughout his life also was capable of
noticing that those revolutions did not occur as he had described. However, his 
unique viewpoint provoked at authentic cataract of investigations of how science
should be interpreted.
     So then, in Kuhn's philosophy--accessible in Spanish thanks to the 
translation La estructura de las revoluciones científicas of the 
Fondo de Cultura Económica, one of the most well-known books in the 
university world connected with those themes--you can encounter what was thought
during the years of the Seventies regarding the explanation which could be given
to a truly curious question: how does knowledge grow, how does it increase, how 
are theories born and, above all, how does change occur from some theories to 
others. This is a topic that comes from afar, for we think that 40 years is a 
universe. Those younger than 40 years old were born in post-Kuhnian times, their
entire life is post-Kuhnian; I, for my part, was educated in the university 
during the Kuhnian period and remember the publication of The Structure of 
Scientific Revolutions. If we analyze this book we note that its most 
important contribution is that we can only understand change in science if 
factors are taken into consideration which are not simply scientific, in the 
positivist sense of the term, meaning factors internal to the theories. That is,
at root, the message. And it was spoken by a physicist, not an historian.
     Disgracefully the historians, and may they forgive me, have only 
sporadically be capable of taking account of the importance of science and 
technology. In very few history texts of the years of the Thirties or the 
Forties do these words appear, for they did not perceive one of the most 
important phenomena that happened in the world at that time. It is not strange 
that an historian of the 17th century might not recognize the importance of 
Newton or of Descartes, yet it surprises me that an historian of the 20th 
century should not consider that science and technology are a set of activities 
which determine all culture.
     Kuhn died relatively recently tired of the discussions that his book had 
produced, yet he left us his message. If we want to understand what is science 
and what it produces, how it functions and how it relates to technology, we 
necessarily must renounce considering than only internal scientific or 
technological factors can explain the matter. Kuhn, in the explanation of how 
science moves and how it generates scientific knowledge, introduced external 
elements into the theories themselves. We might say that he opened a box of 
thunder and starting from that moment a phenomenon of collective seduction was
produced. Thus began a very vigorous movement of historians and philosophers who
commenced studying science from a social point of view, anthropology and 
economics with the goal of representing in a sufficiently adequate and complete 
form the complexity that the evolution of scientific knowledge assumes.
     Let us follow Kuhn's advice for a moment. Let us be amateur Kuhnians
intent on understanding the 20th century in such a way that science will not 
only be science, but instead a set of social phenomena that occur with it, that 
determine it and that in turn are determined by it, and by which the phenomenon 
is not exhausted. For that we should turn to the comparison between science and 
     As we know, science, according to some excessively optimistic historians, 
is that knowledge which separates from myth; the arrogant German historians at 
the beginnings of the 20th century affirmed that philosophy is born when myth is
overcome. The thought of historians like Nestle and all those optimistic Germans
has always seemed incredible to me, according to which mankind renounces myth, 
which is a truly turbid and incomprehensible knowledge, and enters upon 
logos, which is luminosity. It seems curious that Nestle affirms this 
and later must speak of the pre-Socratics and later must recommend Plato with 
his fascinating mythological language.
     As should seem evident, I am not much in agreement with Nestle's ideas and 
think that the advantage of the birth of science is precisely that it permits 
us to interpret myth in a different manner. It fulfills a hermeneutic--and 
presumably rhetorical--function which posits that societies who develop science 
learn to enjoy it in other ways.
     This whole digression is to justify the fact that I am going to revert to 
several myths, one in particular very frequent in the literature and which even 
affects the entire 20th century: that of Prometheus, which refers to the theft 
of the divine fire and its sharing with mankind so that they might survive in a 
hostile world.
     Prometheus, for this action, considered sacrilegious by the gods, is 
severely punished. The myth of Prometheus has always been present in the 
internal consideration and reflection about science; it is a recurrent myth that
also operates in the 20th century and which is completely Kuhnian; a myth that 
places us before the responsibility of our knowledge. In Greek mythology the 
sharing of the divine fire among men is the result of a perverse theft. Yet the 
use of this myth as an analogy has its limits. The human being is not a 
mythological character and her intelligence does not proceed from any theft, at 
least within our memory, yet instead is something with which we must live and 
carry with ourselves.
     Up to a certain point our intelligence is the measure of our 
responsibility, and from the moment when science and technology were 
collectively perceived, they became the measure of public responsibility. By 
this I mean that Prometheus provoked what Gastón Bachelard, a French 
philosopher who died in the decade of the Seventies, called the "psychoanalysis 
of fire," the psychoanalysis of creation, of our capacity to create in nature.
     It was not stupidity for Mary Shelley to write at the outset of the 19th 
century a book titled Frankenstein or the modern Prometheus, in which a 
doctor named Frankenstein had the audacity to construct a man from a web of 
cadavers and, through more or less known Galvanic phenomena, was capable of
creating life. The monster, that being which is not human and thus has no name 
and only can be seen, was asked about itself and put the responsibility on Dr. 
Frankenstein for what he had made. Since this doctor had played at being god, 
the monster requested that he keep doing so and create a monster so as to form a
couple, in what can be read as a re-creation of the Bible. All this can appear 
very cinematographic and naive, yet is not so absolutely. Shelley did not write 
this story out of naiveté, but instead from the pathos of a society that 
assisted the birth of a science which was considered enormously dangerous and 
that now clearly competed with other forms of culture.
     Now then, Mary Shelley's book can be read as if it were simply a novel of 
science fiction. In reality anything can be done in this life, such as reading 
books, with less or more responsibility, less or more intelligence; we know 
there are even child versions of doctor Frankenstein, which seems completely 
hallucinatory to me. As if it were a game! And in actuality, when science is 
knowledge so extended that the least evil it can create is a monster, for in 
truth there are worse things.
     So let us then make an elementary reflection: all of us in the 20th 
century, in collective fashion, are Frankenstein; we have managed for 
Frankenstein to be universal, just as we are all somewhat Prometheus, or better 
we have generated a Promethean society, which is a society of the 20th century. 
This Promethean society has perhaps unmeasured knowledge and capacity for 
manipulation and above all for control. And I am not demonizing the 20th century
in the absolute, for I belong to this society and assume my responsibilities, 
without delegating to thirds.
     Thus then, what is important is the Kuhnian vision, since that vision has 
some relation to the myth of Prometheus, which has given us the divine fire 
(according to the myth, evidently; in reality we have obtained it with much 
great effort and it has been the work of generations) and we cannot lose sight 
that we must control this fire so as not to burn ourselves. Kuhn, as I have 
repeatedly said, motivates us to attempt to understand science from a contextual
and of course social and ethical point of view. And though Kuhn does not base 
himself exclusively upon ethics, he claims that only from that viewpoint can we 
understand how the creation and the generation of knowledge function.
     In the light of these arguments we ask ourselves how to characterize the 
science of the 20th century yet beginning in our cultural epoch. What is it that
really has changed with regard to the previous century, above all as it refers 
to our perception? Some of the responses can seem surprising and probably will 
be considered too general. In the first place, one of the traits that has 
characterized 20th century science is visibility. This phenomenon occurs not 
exclusively in science, but in that to which it refers, showing that it is more 
present than ever in society, that it acts with its own voice, and that the 
affirmations which the adjective "scientific" includes have an enormous 
importance in every domain of culture and of social relations.
     It is evident that science became visible since the French revolution, in 
the course of which, as we have already said, the first savants to occupy
political positions appeared. It is also clear that throughout the 19th century 
marvelous scientific theories were constructed as much in physics as in 
chemistry, in biology, in geology, and in many other disciplines that formed a 
sort of general mosaic of what have been called the "positive" sciences. It is 
enormously complicated and becomes fascinating to observe how throughout the 
19th century this corpus of knowledge and of scientific theories is being
     During the 1800's a very curious phenomenon occurred:  between 1830 and 
1840 successive reforms take place in the universities, and starting in the 
middle of the century the process of creation of new institutions of this type 
throughout the length and breadth of Europe and America began. Previously I have
explained how science was born in institutions annexed to the court. Thus, the 
new science, the baroque science associated with names like Newton or Galileo, 
was basically done outside of the university, in a process where those 
institutions had much less sway than the academies or the scientific societies. 
Yet during the 1800's science returns to the hallways and great reforms are 
produced in the universities. The most relevant, the one which demands 
attention, is the Humboldtian renovation as the German university model that 
little by little is adopted in a large part of the German and Anglo-Saxon world.
As against the Humboldtian universities the French system is seen, that in turn 
aligns with a set of high schools, like the polytechnic, before the Napoleonic 
universities, which were considered second class institutions. Thus, throughout 
the 19th century, in the nations where science functions vigorously, a process 
of profound university renovation occurs.
     The Humboldtian model says: "Teach and research, train your professors in 
your laboratories." In this manner, the German university acquires an enormous 
vigor and visibility. In the course of this process of institutional renovation 
a progressive visibility of science is produced, though it is still not 
manifested in all its amplitude, not as an occult vocation of the scientists, 
but instead because the scientific community continued to be very small. It 
acquires prestige, it is true, yet it is a prestige borrowed from other forms 
of culture. We consider, for example, Victorian London where the scientist is 
seen as a discoverer, and the notion of discovery in science merges with the 
notion of discovery in geography. Therefore, when Faraday died, Tindall wrote 
his biography under the title Michael Faraday, a Discoverer, a word that 
underlines the importance of discovery: "a discoverer" is a person who has an 
idea how to unveil what is in nature. Like Burton who went to the sources of the
Nile, Faraday went to the sources of the electronic state of matter and invented
the activity of the electromagnetic field.
    Socially their works were viewed as processes of discovery. Thus, when 
Faraday appeared before queen Victoria and the heir prince en the famous 
Evening Lectures, the Faraday Lessons, and showed in spectacular
fashion how the electromagnetic field works and how, if it is introduced inside 
 a cage, its charges could not be detected from the outside--in the same way it 
is still explained to students, given that the famous Faraday cage is one of 
the cheapest laboratory instruments--and his discoveries were converted to 
social knowledge, to public knowledge. Nevertheless, the scientific community 
continued to be very small compared to that of the administrators or business-
persons. Nonetheless, the community of technologists, of engineers and 
technicians, grew with greater rapidity than that of the scientists.
     Thus, then, from the perspective of the size of the communities of 
technologists as against those of the scientists, the 19th century contained 
more of the former than the latter, and not in vain is the industrial revolution
associated with that century. To illustrate the importance of the technological 
visibility of the 19th century it is well to mention the universal expositions 
which took place starting in 1851, in which Great Britain, the United States, 
Germany, Austria, France, Italy, and even the British colonies like Australia, 
created forums where the industrialists exhibited their machinery and their 
technological products. The propaganda read: "We offer a forum where our 
products and all the rest of the industrial products of the world compete." But 
we can also have a different reading: "We offer a forum where the people can see
those products in a gigantic showcase of propaganda and social indoctrination." 
In fact they were expositions through which millions of persons passed. Through 
the Paris exposition, that was held as homage to the centenary of the French 
revolution and for which the Eiffel tower was erected, nine million persons 
passed, and that at the end of the century, when communications were not very 
easy. The 19th century, then, is that of technological visibility.
     During the 20th century, to that leadership was added that of the 
scientists, not solely because they augmented extraordinarily in number, but 
also because, remembering Dirac's words in 1960, if we perform a calculation, 
admittedly a little speculative, of the number of scientists who have existed 
since Pythagoras until our time, 80 percent of them would be alive. That is, the
growth of the population of scientists and of technologists up to the years of 
the Sixties had been so spectacular that one could say the greater part of them 
were alive and only 20 percent belonged to the past. Science acquired a 
Promethean visibility converting the scientists into an enormously powerful
group in the advanced societies, yet the same also occurred in the societies 
that were supposed to be (or are) on paths of development.
     Science has become a social value of great importance determined by the 
political contexts, yet not solely by these, but also by those purely social. 
It suffices to reflect on the transcendence of the Nobel foundation, as much 
institutional--what it means for a university or research center to have a Nobel
prize--as journalistic - the effect which announcement of its awards has. I 
posit it as a striking example for understanding what the public wants from a 
     As we all know, each year a set of prizes are awarded based upon the 
statutes of the foundation that administers to fortune of one of the most 
important chemists of the 19th century, Alfred Nobel, who among other things
invented nitroglycerin, an explosive of great importance at the time so as to 
be able to open roads or handle railways. Nobel earned a fortune and wanted a 
set of prizes to be created with it. Previously there had been other prizes 
assigned to scientific achievements, but this is the first that is created in 
the context, importantly, of an emergent, competitive and international 
scientific society, with the additional gain that it is not awarded by the 
French government, nor Cambridge, nor Harvard university, but instead by an
apparently independent institution which furthermore asks the scientific groups:
"Who do you think should win the Nobel prize for next year or for this year?" 
That is to say, nominations exist, which indicates there is a recognition of the
worldwide collective scientific web and that even nations with few hopes of 
winning a Nobel prize in science can participate in the nomination. Thus the 
scientific class begins to become a community with social recognition and, of 
course, visibility, because every year there is a gentleman who says: "The Nobel
prize for physics is Tommy; the Nobel prize in chemistry is Dickie; the Nobel 
prize for medicine is Harry," so creating a sort of senate of prizes for 
excellence that are made visible because they have the possibility of being 
presented in public, and they become extraordinarily important because they are 
capable of settling disputes, now that a Nobel prize creates a sort of senator 
of science.
     It is said, for instance: "A Nobel prize came to this university," it is 
not said who, yet instead "a Nobel prize." In my university we have invited 
Nobel prizewinners out of simple desire to speak with them and form them to tell
us their focus; for they form part of a sort of sainthood, are saints in life 
who acquire the right to opine about anything. For example, S. Weinberg, who is 
a very penetrating and fascinating person, as well as one of the great 
physicists of the second half of the 20th century, was capable of ensuring that 
the sciences are neutral, atemporal, acultural, and universal. Fine, in reality 
he was talking about physics, but his methodological spirit might be extended to
all the scientists. In his case I would like to highlight, more than his 
indubitable worth as a scientist, the fact that he was capable of making related
affirmations. The best way to demonstrate the culture of something, in this case 
of science, is to see that those who feel acultural, like Weinberg, are not so 
absolutely, because the fact of being able to prominently express their opinion 
exists by virtue of something as cultural as the award of a Nobel prize. In the 
case of Weinberg his physics research may probably be impeccable, yet what in 
reality become politic in his life is that he has been given the Nobel for 
research which becomes "impeccable" for the great public precisely by having 
received the Nobel. And this does not occur only to him, but also to anyone who 
receives it. The very award of the prize is a political act, an act of 
consensus, as Kuhn said; that is, an act through which the public relevance of a
certain knowledge is taken as an agreement over what is considered most 
     Yet remaining with the example, the Nobel foundation, that as I have 
already commented is an institution truly interesting for philosophers and 
historians, informs us regarding the degree of compromise and of alliances of 
the scientific groups among themselves. When I arrived at the Complutense 
University of Madrid, as a student in the specialty of physics, I remember that 
the professor of quantum mechanics told us: "Well, gentlemen, from here no Nobel
prizes shall come, we already know that." We all remained a little surprised 
because at age 20 one still carries two illusory hopes: to win a marathon and 
to win a Nobel prize. I had abandoned the first by age 14, so I no longer 
obsessed about it; however, regarding the Nobel prize it seemed to me an insult.
We immediately asked him why he said that and what meaning did it then have to 
study a science as arduous as physics. "Don't worry," he answered, "despite 
everything it is amusing."
     Somewhat later I had occasion to know a Nobel winner quite closely, Ilya 
Prigogine, for whom I have much affection because he helped me in my work not 
exactly winning the Nobel, but instead my studies of Boltzmann.  So then, 
Prigogine told me that politics was as important in those as in these, where he 
always wanted to win the Nobel prize in physics while they gave it to him in 
chemistry. The physicists never had voted, and since the groups of chemists 
were much more subject to surprise and heterodoxy, they awarded him the Nobel 
prize in chemistry.
     One learns a great deal studying these phenomena of visibility, if one is 
capable of not being scandalized, of course. That which seems a little naive is 
to consider that the processes to reach that visibility reveal that science is 
neither pristine nor transparent. No! What they reveal is that science is human,
that it is simply a cultural product, which does not mean that the theory of 
universal gravitation be the product of a consensus, despite the fact of being 
accepted or not in the breast of a community, as well as whether they care to 
learn it or not. The theory of the quaternions ceased to develop before that of 
vector calculus, despite that the British pledged for decades to utilize the 
first in place of the second. If one might think of the world like a 
mathematician everything would have to be beyond suspicion, which ought to 
function in an automatic fashion motivated by some type of transcendent reason.
But no. We ourselves move it. No one has granted us the divine fire, we have 
obtained it on the basis of finding agreement, and that is what characterizes 
science as culture.
     Science is a set of collective phenomena of great importance and scope, 
collectivities with great expectations for interaction with society. The labor 
of a lone scientist might not be relevant, but it is if it is that of a 
collectivity of scientists. Science can achieve significant advances produced by
a single person, yet upon a collective basis; that is to say, no one doubts 
there can be geniuses in the scientific world, yet that which qualifies the 
genius is her context, of her present or of the future; a smart person, if they 
are not receptive, lives the solipsism of forgetfulness.
     I remember that in Spain, when I was a child, they always spoke of a 
Spaniard who invented a motor that instead of gasoline used water. It did not 
prevail, but it never would have been accepted to speak of such ingenuity had 
there not been a propitious context for it. Now today no one invents the water 
engine, there are no notices about a Spaniard who invents to water motor because
fortunately a little more is known, and there is not a collectivity which 
happily receives news of this type, though it does for others equally naive yet 
much more "scientific."
     Knowledge of how the Nobel prize and its nominations function, the fact 
that the prize is the product of a consensus of communities, is important 
because the idea emerges that the scientific life is complex, a social life and 
one of agreements.
     The second factor which can lead us to conclude that the scientists have 
acquired that social visibility we find in the relationship of science with 
technology, which was an extraordinary cognitive force in the 20th century. If 
anything truly characterized that century it is that science sought to ally 
itself in a systematic fashion with technology, something that in the 19th 
century had occurred in a sporadic manner. In the 20th, science seeks that 
interaction between technology and science--which does not mean that basic 
science had not existed--which presents itself to society as the political 
capacity to resolve problems. We may have hope before any collective calamity
if this is confronted in a scientific-technological manner. That is, if it is 
demonstrated that depression is produced by a lack of lithium, it is considered 
a curable disease, but if we do not find grounds to demonstrate that that 
problem has a material solution by means of physics, chemistry, molecular 
biology, et cetera, we come up completely lost for we only feel capable of 
resolving those problems which science and technology can pose.
     Ever more, we desire that political problems be convertible into scientific
and technological problems. Great visibility causes science and technology to be
feared on one hand and loved on the other. We suffer from technophobia and 
technophilia at the same time; even those most critical of scientific thought, 
the most "humanistic," have a sort of enormous duality.
     Recently (in October of 2000) I presented an Alfonso Reyes discourse 
covering the for me fundamental topic upon which I am currently working: the
relations between science and war in the 20th century, a century that was 
determined, in great measure, by the martial conflicts which, in turn, were 
extraordinarily determined by technology and science. From study of this theme 
we deduce that the supposition is not entirely certain that both, science and 
technology, always nurture the solutions to resolve problems and conflicts.
     Luckily, Mexico is a nation that has not suffered a war in a very long 
time, but in Europe we have lived, endured and suffered conflicts where science 
and technology has played a terrible role of the first magnitude. Afterwards we 
suffered the absence of conflicts, the so-called cold war, which was more 
warlike than the two previous and produced much more paranoia, a period when one
could only trust scientific knowledge to be able to resolve the problems of that
situation or context. Thus then, the relations between science and technology 
during the 20th century were enormously determined by projects of war like that 
of the submarine and its sonar system; or that of poisonous gases in the first 
world war; or that of radar, electronics and the Manhattan project for atomic 
bomb production, as well as the arms race, the space programs, et cetera. 
Finally, in our time, now at the exit from the cold war, we view the development
of biotechnology and of our way of conceiving nature. We find that science is 
present in such a form that it has passed to comprise part of our vocabulary, of
our scale of values and of the world of our hopes.
     We have accepted the gift of Prometheus, knowing how to produce more than 
to use the knowledge, and we know how to use it better than to be responsible 
before it, yet the notable truth is the emergence of voices that in turn call 
attention to the importance of that responsibility. I shall cite only one of 
the characters who interest me most from the 20th century, despite their 
modesty: Rachel Carson, an oceanographer who dedicated herself to studying the 
lakes and the waters, a very peculiar woman who during the Seventies wrote the 
book Silent Spring.
     Carson's appearance was that of a small, weak woman, not very tall, yet 
who had the extraordinary strength to write a book that calls the attention of 
United States society to the danger surrounding the use of DDT. The title 
Silent Spring refers to that future quiet spring when everything has 
died, and there is silence because there are no birds, since there are not 
insects, there being nothing now, everything has been flattened by DDT; only 
swamps and lagoons remain with no sound; mortality.
     Rachel Carson's book was so determinative that it is now read and studied 
in all the high schools of the United States. Despite her modesty, since she 
only tried to call attention to the problem, it is a great book of scientific 
ethics and figures among the 30 most important books of the 20th century 
exhibited in the permanent exposition at the public library in New York. If you 
go there, on 42nd street, you will find certain books very important for the 
20th century, among them being Silent Spring. Why? Because it constituted
a call for ethical attention to the use of DDT which achieved the promulgation 
of federal laws to regulate its utilization.
     Clearly, a swallow does not make a summer. Rachel Carson (1907-1964) was a 
person attractive up to a point with the politicians for they did not see that 
she had economic interests or was related to some industrial group, yet instead 
as someone independent. I would say, learning from Kuhn, that there are no 
swallows in science. Rachel Carson was not a swallow, but was news of that 
which was coming starting in the Sixties, that is, the attempt to understand 
what is is degree of responsibility before the repercussions of the use of 
science and technology with respect to the future.
     And that indeed is the myth of Prometheus, because we must achieve some 
type of control over our knowledge so as not to do away with ourselves and our 
world, so as to discover a positive slope in our knowledge. Or at least to know 
that we incur a great responsibility if we defend the absence of control.


You have affirmed that we alone can resolve the problems that are presented 
as science and technology; under this premise, and in the light of the history 
and philosophy of science, how can we resolve the problem of the responsibility 
of science, or the scientists and of the consumers of scientific-technological 

One of the differences between the science of our times and that of the past is 
that the great separation which existed between emitters and receivers of 
science has disappeared. Not totally, yet so in part. Or if one prefers, it has 
been much modified. While in the 17th or 18th century the distance between the 
layperson and the learned in a matter could be very large, in the 20th century 
it is not as much since beginning with initial education one tends to get a 
generalized scientific training. We all study scientific questions from 
childhood; all the world knows mathematics and learns something of the exact and
natural sciences, thanks to which that division now is not so striking.
     I see as one of the challenges of the future to be having the consumers of 
the products of science understand their responsibility as such, as demanders 
of those products.
     Kranzberg's very paradoxical second law, already mentioned, says that 
invention is the mother of necessity and not necessity the mother of invention. 
What that means, neither more nor less, is that we invent much more than what we
need and that not always, though often, the invention is not the product of any 
necessity, yet instead accelerates and stimulates needs. Unless one has an 
absolutely optimistic idea like that of the tutor Pangloss, Voltaire's 
character, one cannot really believe that they live in a world of infinite 
resources, not only because we shall not have prime materials so as to be able 
to survive and produce, but because any of our actions have a technological 
impact that has repercussions on the future. It is not a matter then of only 
asking responsibility from the producer, but also from the receiver and the 
     Of course, from a nation like México one can view this situation as a 
great injustice. "Clearly, the nations of the first world have consumed and 
destroyed whatever they wanted and now we, who are ready to enter into wealth,
cannot do so because the CO2 must be controlled, it is necessary to 
limit the use of automobiles and we should exhibit austere behavior!" Certainly 
in this lies the egoism of the first world, in the idea they can destroy 
whatever they want because they arrived first, and now one has learned that they
should not destroy, it is you who do the learning and be more austere. This 
indeed, while the first world continues to waste what they want. As can be seen,
this is a problem of international politics, of political regulation of 
technological production.
     That which seems evident, the same for the first world as for the second 
or for the most disfavored nations, is that we should find agreement and have a 
clear idea that science should be among the things to negotiate, the same as 
technology. That, or to cross one's fingers in hopes nothing will happen.
     Meanwhile, invention can be performed in such a way--from a strictly 
theoretical viewpoint--that it has no repercussions on the environment. It is 
unnecessary to destroy something for the mere fact that we know how to do so, 
that being very infantile behavior. One assumes that we should exercise a 
certain degree of self-criticism before these situations. Thus I have cited 
Rachel Carson, for she attempted to be a voice for the ethics of nations and, in
the case of the United States, for the ethics of the political behavior of such 
a powerful collective. One might think: "Fine, it was an isolated voice in a 
desert of awareness." Yet it always will be better not to destroy, not to use 
DDT. Her great achievement was to invent that sensibility.

Beginning in the 16th century science emerges as an exclusive culture that 
has competed with other cultures for space in society, among individuals and 
the collectivity. From your perspective, the product of knowledge of history, 
and somewhat playing the futurologist, what will be the emergent culture that 
will compete against science for the dominant position in the western society of
the future?

The answer is very simple: I do not know. Yet possibly it is very good to pose 
the question. History does not teach us to game the future, and it is difficult 
to make predictions. I should confess honorably that that question has been 
asked of me and asked of me, and I have always been left with the sensation that
one if too involved in the heart of a scientific and technological society to 
imagine a society with a science constructed in a different manner, with another
way of viewing science. The fact that we are not capable of imagining it should 
cause us to think of the importance of culture: we are in a cultural framework 
so determined by science and technology that we cannot imagine reality without 
them; and furthermore, probably 90 percent of those asked that question 
considered it not relevant because we cannot do without science and technology, 
since if we did so, we would have moved to another completely different way of 
     Up to a certain point it would seem naive for us to present this 
possibility, yet it is not so. I believe it is important to do so keeping in 
mind the transcendence of the possible evolution of science and technology to 
more advanced forms. A least we should have a right to that. As against a 
convulsive, inexorable science, which does not leave any margin for discussion,
is the reaction, the need for attempting another manner of conceiving it.
     How can one judge in science? What does it mean to judge in science? 
Evidently, to know whether the theory of universal gravitation is true or false,
or whether the sun moves or is stationary, cannot be achieved through voting or 
on the basis of what the children in school think. An ancient division exists in
semiotics between semantic and pragmatic syntax; thus therefore, the domain of 
opinion always occurs in the pragmatic, in the use of science and technology, 
yet also in the permitting, the financialization and the public tolerance for 
certain sciences. For instance, the program of molecular biology is structured 
because certain persons in the United States consider biology lacking in 
science and introduce "fiscalist" standards in its treatment; the result is a 
much more "scientific" biology, but also deals with a discipline which has been 
constructed as a function of options. The importance and the role of the 
Rockefeller foundation in that decision is well known by all historians of 
contemporary biology; influential in it was a collective opinion that declared, 
"Gentlemen, the biology that is performed at this time lacks seriousness and 
something different must be created." What we do not know is what might have 
happened had it followed another path.
     In the relations between science and politics, and science and opinion, 
that which is truly important are the roads that have remained untraveled, yet 
not by the scientific theories, but instead by public attitudes. It might seem 
then that I am proposing reading science fiction, a literature where there is 
much of the first and little of the second because it always presents quite 
repetitive yet surprising worlds similar to what we have before us. I do not 
claim that the future be explored reverting to science fiction with 
Matrix or Blade Runner. No, what is fundamental is to know that we
must be more conscious of the role of science and of technology and that we 
apply that consciousness to all the orders of political decision so as to 
influence the options which are taken.
     We are not going to decide through voting whether Rutherford's atomism is 
true or not, yet we indeed can say which scientific programs we wish to support 
and which not; which technological developments seem reasonable to us and which 
not as a function of what in reality is our world. Those indeed are political 
matters, and if they do not come to form part of our political culture, we shall
remain in the 20th century, yet if they do so, we will have advanced to the 21st
century. We should stop speaking to history in that sense.

How can we relate science, as a cultural product, to the political and social

Exactly as I just finished explaining. Science has a very specific public 
responsibility, yet it seems this is only perceived at limited moments, when it 
is dramatic. When Oppenheimer gathers with Truman and the persons in the 
Interim Committee in April of 1945 to decide whether to drop an atomic bomb or 
not on a Japanese city, the scientists, Oppenheimer concretely, have a 
responsibility. We can think that it was completely determined by the context; 
it is probable that this was so and I am not going to ask for explanations from 
poor Oppy, as his colleagues called him, but it is also clear that he was 
extraordinarily interested in what for him was an experiment.
     To drop the atomic bomb was also a scientific experiment, not only a 
military action--it is dramatic to have to experiment with human beings--and he 
encountered the enormous responsibility of deciding to do it or not. Of course, 
the decision was not taken by Oppenheimer, but by the Interim Committee. The 
official version recounts that they had to do it because the continuance of the 
war could have much lower costs than those produced by the atomic bomb. But the 
burning question was whether to keep holding in secret that which was known 
about atomic energy or whether that knowledge would become something in the 
public domain where no one would feel aggrieved and thus arrest a possible arms 
     The scientists took positions for one or the other option. Some opted to 
support the research in secret. Others manifested their disposition to do so 
publicly. And you know the difficult situation of the scientists in the decade 
of the Fifties of the past century, a decade of paranoia, of the politics of 
blocs frenetically developing scientific and technical knowledge. And this is 
the usual in the development of contemporary science and technology: if the 
development of a certain program is privileged to the detriment of another, 
there is a responsibility shared by the scientists and the politicians.
     Therefore, we cannot sustain the idea that science is to a society was 
wheat was to the inhabitants of Rome: "We only want to have wheat, and feel the 
same wherever it is from, that the empire brings it to us, and for that there 
are legions, since the citizen of Rome has a right to their wheat," in the same 
fashion as if the 21st century citizen were to say that she has a right to her 
science, to her technology, to live well, to be comfortable, and cares little 
what happens outside of that desire. Yet it happens that outside of Rome there 
are people who suffer because their wheat is taken and ever more legions must be
sent to ensure it. The same occurs in our century, with the difference that now 
there is no exterior, now we are all in the same Rome: our world. Hence the 
political and social contexts determine the cultural character of the science.
     Let us see an example that makes manifest the existence of the context and 
what any physicist knows: Joule's constant, the heat-work conversion. Joule 
cannot ascertain a correct measurement of the relation of forces of work because
he explores them in a very complicated direction, which is that of electrical 
machines, the product of Faraday's research. What is the reason for Joule's 
lack of success? I am now speaking more of social questions than of politics and
of exact contexts. Joule investigates the relationship between the different 
forms of what we today call energy--which then was not called energy, but 
instead force--in the direction that seems to him most promising, that in which 
Faraday, his acquaintance, has worked; this is, the production of electricity by
means of magnetic movements, yet there was no way to encounter any result 
because of his cultural context: England was dominated by enchantment with 
electricity, whereas on the continent Robert Mayer, a doctor extravagantly 
partisan of Goethean interpretations of nature, performs a simple experiment 
which consists in seeing how much the temperature of a rock increases when it 
falls; that is to say, how work is converted, or the energy called potential 
(in the case of the kinetic) upon impact, into heat. The only problem is that 
Mr. Mayer is a poor experimental scientist and describes the phenomena in quite 
a coarse fashion, yet he publicizes his experiences. Joule reads them and 
understands what there is behind those deficiently realized experiments for he 
himself is a good experimenter. In this way, he carries out the experiment that 
appears in all the books, but does so in a much freer context than the German 
Romantic context of Mayer.
     I have used this example to illustrate that one should not only speak of 
politics; the social or the cultural context can also determine the course of a 
scientific investigation. Today we speak of politics, of ethics, of 
responsibility, because the emergence of science and technology is of such 
magnitude that we always find ourselves in the situation of having to explain 
why science moves in one direction or another, why technology fabricates certain
products or certain others. In the 19th century world one can study in a more 
bounded fashion why the effects have not been so toxic for society, at least 
apparently, except for greed, which has always been the same, as much in 
Newton's era as in ours.

Doubtless, science is a central element of western culture, yet it also has 
become dominant in global thought. What happened with traditional societies? 
Have they been reached by the globalization of scientific thought? Does such 
globalization exist?

It is very complicated to reply with a completely general response with regard 
to globalization. Now that word which we all understand is used; some historians
of the 19th century employed mundialization. David Headrik, whom I have already 
mentioned, wrote a book titled The Tools of Empire. The thesis of this 
book is that all colonizing societies used science and technology as tools in 
order to dominate, in order to exploit the colonized societies. Among the 
technological advances that can be studies to analyze these types of actions we 
find the railroad, which serves to rapidly transport goods and merchandise and 
furthermore is a very apt mechanism for domination; the application of steam to 
ships, which liberates them from dependence upon the winds and, additionally, if
a sufficiently refined technology is attained, it favors the construction of 
battleships that traverse the rivers to confront those indigenous opposed to the
penetration of the westerners; or indeed, the development of medicines such as 
quinine, that favors the settlement of European colonies in zones of the world 
traditionally dominated by malaria. And we can continue positing examples. It 
happens that the railroad allows the empire to transport products and bring in 
money; the instance of India is classic and illustrative. Following Headrik, 
globalization commences in the 19th century.
     Elsewhere, at the beginning we spoke of the German empire, the second 
reich of Bismarck, and of his idea to export educational models to Asia, 
and even to Latin America, so that through them German ideas could penetrate 
more easily and, of course, their merchandise. Up to here everything seems very 
clear: individuals who introduce products; later, societies that introduce 
technologies on a grand scale, as in the case Headrik studies, when the English 
got the Hindus to finance some railroads that were not theirs and that, 
furthermore, could only be administered by the British, from the gatekeeper to 
he who conducted the locomotive, although giving them some participation in the 
     Nevertheless, I disagree with Headrik on an elementary aspect: that that 
assumes globalization. It assumes, at most, mundialization of the action.
I consider that globalization takes off at the moment when things are no longer 
transported, but information instead; when the communication net ceases being 
physical and became electronic; when the first telegraph line was laid and when 
that line, starting in 1860, combined with submarine cable and, beginning in 
1900, radio entered onto the scene with Marconi; it is to say, when information 
begins to be transmitted. That is globalization! Globalization is the effect of 
information, because the latter destroys (or constructs, I do not want to be 
negative now) identities with much more facility.
     The difference between the British submarine cable and the end of the 19th 
century and the current Internet is that in that epoch, those who dominated the 
cable traffic dominated the world from a colonialist viewpoint of direct 
intervention, as the British thalassocracy was. Today it is not so clear that 
one can easily dominate the Internet; globalization is also the dispersion of 
the poles of decision with notorious effects of a political character.
     The world cannot be linearly extended backwards, yet it can give us a 
strategy for understanding the dangers of that globalization. For instance, the 
European preoccupation with United States cinema because it is supposed that it 
transmits the values of that country: fashion, everyday culture, forms of 
alimentation. It has reached the point of European cinema establishing quotas 
and the result is that to go to see one has become almost an act of patriotism. 
And often it is, certainly. I repeat, information, and its usage, are what 
truly destroys or constructs cultures.
     Yet, what occurs with the traditional societies? Let us first ask, what is 
a traditional society? One which has had no previous contact with any culture? 
And its members, due to the fact of having been born in a traditional society, 
do they have the privilege or the aggravation of being unable to connect with 
other cultures? It is very difficult to tell someone: "Since you were not born 
in this society and since, furthermore, you come from a traditional society and 
we do not wish to intervene in your life, you cannot attend Harvard university."
To that one could respond: "Of course, evidently, and since, also, I have no 
money, in any case I am not going to go... Yet maybe I can at least work like a 
maniac so that my child might go to a university, though it may not be Harvard."
"No, you are traditionalistic, you cannot contaminate yourself."
     In Madrid I have often asserted, in discussions with anthropologists, one 
of the guilds that most assists the historians and the philosophers of science, 
that we should understand what is the ethnic construction of a traditional 
society. Who says that a society is traditional? Someone from outside or from 
within? Can we consider a society traditional as a basis for constructing an 
identity from afar or is it really manifest, appearing as such? This occurs in 
the mechanisms of nations little accustomed to migrations towards their 
territory, like Spain, which to the outside had been the invader, yet inside 
does not tolerate those who arrive.
     For the Spanish, the members of traditional societies who have emigrated to 
their country all have the same color and belong to the same type of societies, 
though they themselves do not see it that way: the Senegalese Africans and those 
from Gambia are completely different from each other, yet we Spaniards view them 
as exactly the same. We construct them as Africans, as belonging to a 
"primitive" or "traditional" culture. What happens then? That by necessity they 
begin to generate a collective image so that we identify them and construct a 
specifically African identity which only exists in Spain and does not correspond
to anything extant in Africa.
     In Europe, to comprehend that it is a traditional society, like those of 
the adjacent continent, Africa, becomes an authentic problem, since many 
Europeans have wanted to tell the Africans who they are and have constructed 
their identity, which constitutes the destruction of their memory. The first to 
construct an identity for the Africans were the missionaries, who told them: 
"Now you are like this," and the Africans had to be like that because it was the
only form of being identified. That is the problem with traditional societies, 
which is duplicated when they advance to the following stage. Ourselves 
supposing that traditional societies are identified, we then notice they are not
impermeable. Yet, who determines the permeability between the dominant societies
and the traditional societies? How is that permeability determined or 
negotiated? And who performs that negotiation? As we can observe, we have 
returned to the original question: Who negotiates developments in science and 
technology for societies, whether they are traditional or not?
     It is evident that globalization is not a good in itself. The fact that 
something is global may be very positive (that the whole world has access to 
antibiotics) or very negative (the impossibility of studying one's own culture).
Often, in an automatic or naive form, globalization is called positive, yet 
really it is not in itself. Like everything, it has to be the object of 
negotiation, or political consideration and, of course, of agreement.

Will societies succeed in counterpoising the ethical and human order to 
existing technologies? Will they be capable of imagining technological creation 
as in its origins, without the value of any technological mediation such as the 
computer, that is, with their hands alone?

I have always explained in my history courses that technology is very positive, 
yet invariably generates situations of dependence. If I go to my work on a 
magnetically levitated train, I am much more vulnerable than if I walk, though 
it costs me more effort; but if the only way I have of going to work is to 
cover 400 kilometers in 35 minutes on a magnetically levitated train, the 
probability exists that someday a failure in its functioning will occur that I 
cannot resolve; the problem then will be that I cannot cover 400 kilometers 
     As we see, it is an obvious example that can be extended to all our 
technological dependencies. It could be said that when bread was made at home 
the probability of eating it was higher, or at least the vulnerability to not 
eating bread was less than if it were brought from the neighboring population.
Technology creates vulnerabilities for us, although it also provides 
possibilities. This indeed is inevitable and obvious. But I would ask: what 
society do we know that has renounced a given technological development? 
And I do not refer to a promise.
     I always tell my students that what should surprise us are situations like 
that in which we are now living, or that is, that what I am saying in Monterrey 
is being heard in Mexico City. However, what surprises us is they do not hear, 
and when that happens, someone who is trying to follow the transmission arises 
indignant and declares: "But, what happened that it does not work?" If we 
rest one finger upon the knob of a television labeled on and it does not 
function, we experience surprise and disgust, when in reality it should surprise
us every day that upon squeezing the button something appears on the screen. 
That disgust makes evident our dependence; we have naturalized the television, 
have converted it into our second nature, and the same occurs with many other 
things, computers for example.
     Cast one's gaze, how many natural materials do we use? Everything is 
plastic, everything is an apparatus, machines, technology, and not only in the 
university, in the house, in the bus, in a plane. Let us imagine that we decide 
to do without some technology, only one type of technology, plastic, for 
instance, the combustion of gasoline; can we think of a world without that 
technology? The answer is elementary: the technologies are implicated, 
interwoven with each other. Fine, let us choose any state of technological 
evolution. Someone might think that in the court of Louis XIV they lived very 
well with still quite incipient technologies. Yet except for Louis XIV, the rest
of the people lived quite badly, even the king himself, in some aspects, 
because, for instance, nephritic colic could be the most frightening thing, or 
simply a dental cavity, or indeed having to tolerate the odor of the Versailles 
palace. I ask: do we want to return to the origin, to be Emile Rousseauians?
     Let us perform the test of choosing the type of technology we can do 
without, that we do not want or to what type of technological state we desire to
return. "Of course--you will think--now you have become a defender of the 
technology." No! I only try to highlight the importance of us becoming 
responsible for choosing a world where there is no technology, which will be an 
exercise that we must do.
     If we should guarantee technological development, or at least change its 
orientation, or posit what type of development we want and be conscious of the 
responsibility to promote some in particular, we shall have to, as a minimum, 
pose that fiction.
     It is not necessary to go from the computer to hands alone, there are many 
intermediate states. That is the open debate over sustainable development.