Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Cultural Change, Dissent and Medieval Science

                My knowledge about medieval science is so utterly feeble as to be totally depressing. It became somehow comforting to me that a public lecture on the history and philosophy of science was held last February 10, 2014 by Dr. Jovi Miroy, an Associate Professor of Medieval Philosophy at Ateneo de Manila Unversity. The lecture was primarily focused on the relationship between dissent and cultural change, and their role in medieval science. The lecture also dealt with a topic often subject of heated debates – the link between science and God.

                The discussion began with the definition of science. For the medieval mind, science or scientia served as any body of knowledge that could be systematized, including theology, a subject which we would not consider science today. That time, theology interwove itself through medieval culture and learning, and was not perceived as a truly separate discipline from philosophy or the study of natural phenomena. However, science, as we know now, is a body of knowledge, the type which can be rationally explained and reliably applied, and the type which shall follow and involve an understanding in accordance with logic or reason. In universities, it was seen as an essential area of study in its own right and was an independent field, separated from theology.

                During the latter parts of the lecture, Dr. Jovi Miroy talked about dissent – a specific sentiment or philosophy of non-agreement or opposition to a prevailing idea or belief. I learned that dissent is important in science because it leads to scientific revolution or cultural change. After the lecture, I figured that cultural change is similar to Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm shift, a topic already discussed in our Science Technology and Society (STS) class. From what I remember, a paradigm shift occurs when scientists encounter major anomalies that cannot be explained by, and radically alters, the universally accepted paradigm within which scientific progress has thereto been made. Some examples of paradigm shift were Copernicus’s sun-centered universe and Kepler’s optics, which both owed their inspiration and much of their detail to medieval antecedents.

                At first I cannot seem to digest all of the information that was being shared by Dr. Jovi Miroy and I admit there were moments when I totally got lost during his one and a half hour discussion. What I appreciate most from the lecture was that it concretized the fact that there was religious support for natural science by the late Middle Ages and recognition that it was an important element of learning. This runs contrary to the popular view of the Middle Ages being something of a dark age for science, dominated by the rule of faith rather than the light of reason. There really was nothing dark about the Dark Ages, as was said by my STS professor Benjamin Vallejo, Jr. in one of his essays. The natural philosophy, theology, and culture of the Middle Ages, in fact contributed to the formation of the modern sciences.

                The lecture ended with a lot of questions from the audience regarding changes in the Philippine society and an answer from Dr. Jovi Miroy that changes always start within individuals ourselves. Dr. Jovi Miroy left us, listeners with the challenge to open our minds to understanding the natural world for us to be able to take control of it. In the end, it was one very intellectual and informative public lecture for us students.

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