Modern science holds out a number of promises, as well as a number of problems. In the foreseeable future researchers may solve the riddle of life and create life itself in a test tube. Most diseases may be brought under control. Science is also working toward control over the environment, e.g., dispersing hurricanes before they can endanger life or property. New sources of energy are being developed, and these together with the capacity to manipulate alien environments may make life possible on the moon or other planets.
Among the challenges faced by modern science are practical ones such as the production and distribution of enough energy to meet increased demands and the elimination or reduction of pollutants in the environment. Some of these problems are political and sociological as well as scientific, as are such problems as control over nuclear and other forms of weapons (biological, chemical) and regulation of the use of computers and other electronic devices that may seriously infringe on individual privacy and freedom. Some have profound ethical implications, e.g., those associated with gene manipulation, organ transplantation, and the capacity to sustain life beyond the point at which it once would have ended. There are also philosophical problems raised by science, as in the uncertainty principle of the quantum theory, which places an absolute limit on the accuracy of certain physical measurements and thus on the predictions that may be made on the basis of such measurements; in the quantum theory itself, with its suggestion that at the atomic level much depends on chance; and in certain paradoxical discoveries in mathematics and mathematical logic. Even a detailed account of the history of science cannot be complete, for scientific activity is not isolated but takes place within a larger matrix that also includes, for example, political and social events, developments in the arts, philosophy, and religion, and forces within the life of the individual scientist. In other words, science is a human activity and is affected by all that affects human beings in any way.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.