Book 250: The Scientific Outlook by Bertrand Russell

The Scientific Outlook by Bertrand Russell

Finished reading on January 1st, 2018

The Scientific Outlook was first published in 1931. It presents some of Russell’s views on what would constitute a scientific society and where would applying scientific method in everyday life, government and elsewhere lead the world. To do that, he first introduces some bits about history of science, the nature of scientific method and also shares some ideas on philosophy of science.

I found the beginning quite amusing, as far as the scientific method and philosophy of science are concerned. The latter parts as to what would happen if and when scientific principles were enforced in government etc were interesting in showing the boundary conditions for what would become of the world if we’d try and apply actual logic everywhere.

It’s interesting how parts of Russell’s vision sound obviously dystopian and have been used in science fiction and elsewhere and others sound just slightly more appealing but veer off to horrible consequences anyway. It seems to me that the overall point is that applying scientific principles in every occasion might not be much better than never applying any, though they’re of course both kind of extreme.

I found it interesting how David Foster Wallace’s and Philip K. Dick’s and many others’ works have shown parts of Russell’s outlook.

Some of Russell’s thoughts that I found interesting:

“[…] any defects in the status quo become known only to those who are willing to spend their leisure time otherwise than in amusement; these are of course, a small minority, and from a political point of view they are at most times negligible.”

“The manipulative idealist differs from the man of merely personal ambition by the fact that he desires not only certain things for himself, but a certain kind of society.”

“What would Western Europeans do if deprived of their nightly drug from Hollywood? The moral of this for Western European Governments is that they must keep on good terms with America.”

I think it’s interesting how amusement and entertainment are seen by Russell as a means of disengaging the majority of people from thinking about the world much in the same way as David Foster Wallace shows it in Infinite Jest, and the idea of entertainment as a drug and sports as a diversion from other more violent things become quite obvious.

Russell also mentions chemistry¬† and drugs as a possible way of to eventually generate emotions without any ill effects, which reminded me of Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, where such technology exists, and also, the kind of intelligent upper class, and a distinct lower class are shown in pretty much the same way as imagined by Russell. Of course Aldous Huxley shows the kind of scientific dystopian world that Russell describes too.