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Scientific progress is not a guarantee. That is the topic that Andrew Irvine wrote about in his article “Is Scientific Progress Inevitable?” in 2006. The article was originally published in the book “In the Agora: The Public Face of Canadian Philosophy” published in Toronto, Canada. Through a story about a trip he took with his daughter to see an original medicine wheel in rural Saskatchewan, he explores the idea that perhaps scientific progress is not an inevitable phenomenon in human society. This paper will provide a summary of the article.
The article begins with the author talking about the medicine wheel that he visited with his daughter. The wheel is comprised of at least 150 stone structures built between 1500 and 4500 years ago. He points their location as being within 200 kilometers of the confluence of the Red Deer and South Saskatchewan rivers. He talks about how their shape resembles a wagon wheel with many of them having spokes. However, some of the structures are concentric circles, and others have more complex shapes of people and turtles. The author and his daughter visited the medicine wheel that is located atop the rolling Moose Mountains outside of Regina. Irvine writes that this specific medicine wheel was constructed by the plains Indians. The structure is the wheel type with five stone spokes laid out at various angles with a cairn in the middle. The ring is measured at approximately 62 by 50 feet (Irvine, 2006).
The journey to the wheel is not easy because it requires the person to ride a horse to reach it, as well as a guide and permission from the Pheasant Rump Reserve. The author describes the view as being magnificent and talks about how rare it is to see structures as old as Stonehenge in North America. This inspires him to consider the fragility of science and its progress. He writes about how people often see scientific progress as an inevitability, but the reality is not reflective of this notion. These structures were built so long ago that people have forgotten their true purpose. Archeologists can only guess that there was a scientific purpose behind them due to a few different factors. The main reason behind this assumption is that the wheels point at specific astronomical sightings and the longest spoke usually points at the position of sunrise during the summer solstice (Irvine, 2006).
With the purpose of these structures lost to time, the author underlines that progress can be lost as well. He proposes that scientific progress is linked in complex and unpredictable ways to social progress. This hypothesis rings true when looking at the history of Europe, and especially the “dark ages.” During that time, countless technologies were lost that could have completely changed the history of the world. Such things as steam engines, mathematics, and various scientific theories could have been utilized hundreds of years earlier than they did in our time. Irvine talks about how they’re no guarantee of either social or scientific progress without the people working to protect it (Irvine, 2006).
Progress deserves protection. With all the positive change technology brings to people’s lives, unfortunately, progress is not being guarded more thoroughly. In our time, things like misinformation, rumors, smear campaigns, and self-centered goals of international corporations serve as the main adversaries of scientific progress. Hopefully, people will be able to protect it before it is too late.
Irvine, A. (2006). In the Agora: The public face of Canadian philosophy. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press.