SECTION THREE: THE MEANS FOR EXTINCTION WILL INEVITABLY APPEAR (PART II): INEVITABLE BREAKTHROUGHS IN SCIENTIFIC THEORIES
With science and technology developed to a such high level, the guiding role of scientific theories has become fundamental. Breakthroughs in scientific theory will lead to a series of breakthroughs in technology, which will inevitably lead to revolutionary innovations in technological products and practices. Therefore, the most crucial factor regarding humanity’s possible self-destruction is not the inference of extinction methods based on existing theories, but rather breakthroughs in scientific theories themselves. Tools of mass destruction inferred from existing theories will most likely be complex and difficult to access, making it difficult for those vengeful individuals to operate them; however, breakthroughs in scientific theory may revolutionize methods of destruction and create self-destruct possibilities that we cannot imagine today. These methods will include the following features: they will be easy to use and obtain, extremely powerful, incredible, and strange. Once such breakthroughs occur, the possibility of humanity’s self-destruction will increase exponentially.
One: The Breakthrough Cycle of Scientific Theories
Let us first define two terms:
1. Revolutionary Truth: Revolutionary truth refers to the birth of an entirely new theory. The accuracy of this theory will almost totally deny past mainstream theory in a revolutionary turn.
Copernicus’ heliocentric theory and Darwin’s theory of revolution were both revolutionary truths. They were total negations of deeply rooted past-truths. The birth of revolutionary truths usually requires a process of gradual acceptation; they not only emancipate the mind but also propel the further development of human society as well as science and technology. A revolutionary truth not only affects its own field but also affects all aspects of human society.
2. Revolutionary Theory: Revolutionary theory refers to the revision, summary, and systematic improvement of past theories in order to form new theoretical explanations and push science to a new level.
Revolutionary theories are not a total negation of previous mainstream theories (it may be a total negation of past technologies), but rather an inheritance and development of past theories. They reject the unreasonable parts of past theories and introduce more practical and dynamic components. Revolutionary theories may also be a comprehensive summary and systemization of past theories.
The theory of relativity was a revolutionary theory. It inherited and further developed Newtonian mechanics. The establishment of genetics was also a revolutionary theory. It summarized, systemized, and improved upon past achievements in biological inheritance to form a new discipline.
Revolutionary theories will inevitably promote a series of scientific and technological revolutions. There would have been no atomic bombs without the theory of relativity, and genetic engineering would never have been possible without the study of genetics as foundation.
There is no hierarchy between revolutionary truth and revolutionary theory. Revolutionary theory emphasizes the theoretical advancement of its field, while revolutionary truth impacts human society in a major way.
Revolutionary theory can be separated into major revolutionary theory and discipline revolutionary theory. Modern science can be divided into many branches with many levels of sub-disciplines, and every discipline has the potential to produce revolutionary theories.
Science advances in an undulatory motion. Though specific future achievements are difficult to predict, there is a pattern to scientific development and scientific breakthroughs. We will refer to it as the breakthrough cycle of scientific theories (breakthrough cycle for short).
The breakthrough cycle can be illustrated with the following diagram:
Breakthrough Cycle Diagram
Level One Cycle
Level 1 Level 1 Level 1 Revolutionary
Level Two Cycle
Level 2 Revolution Theory Level 2 Analysis Level 2 Observation
Level Three Cycle
Level 3 Level 3 Level 3 Revolutionary
Level Four Cycle
Level N Level N Level N Revolutionary
a. The first level of the cycle involves the earliest scientific thinking, research, and summarization process. Within this cycle, people will conduct a primary level of observation and research analysis and reach a level-one revolutionary theory. The establishment of a level-one revolutionary theory is a major scientific breakthrough, and it marks the completion of the first cycle.
A level-one revolutionary theory will guide scientists to conduct level-two observations and analyze the results on a higher level. Scientists will revise, supplement, improve, and systemize the level-one revolutionary theory to reach a second-level revolutionary theory. This is the second level of the breakthrough cycle.
The second-level revolutionary theory will be more complete, more comprehensive, and more in-depth. It will serve as a guide for third-level observation, analysis, and revolutionary theory. The breakthrough cycle will continue onward to the third level and so forth and so on, all the way to level N.
b. The breakthrough cycle can be divided into large cycles and sub cycles. For example, electromagnetism follows the breakthrough cycle under its umbrella field of physics.
As a branch of physics, electromagnetism breakthroughs can only be classified as sub-cycle breakthroughs in physics; they contribute to the overall advancement of the field.
Electromagnetism also has its own branches. Though it counts as a sub-cycle of physics, it is the larger cycle to its own subdivides.
c. The path of science is a process, not a leap. The breakthrough cycle happens gradually; every link in the cycle paves the way for future breakthroughs. No part of the cycle is dispensable; that is true for both scientific theory and technology.
It is precisely this gradual nature of scientific development that limits our forecast of the future. We are often confined by today’s scientific levels when judging future prospects, and that often leads to serious underestimation of future scientific threats.
d. Ordinary people experience the breakthrough cycle differently than scientists. Ordinary people tend to be more perceptual, while scientists tend towards rationality; therefore, ordinary people will lag behind in terms of understanding.
Regardless, the birth of a revolutionary theory will always encounter contradictions and disbelief from ordinary people and scientists alike. Set views and traditional beliefs often make it difficult for people to accept new, revolutionary leaps. This phenomenon denotes people’s tendency to disagree with leaps in science development. We will call it “leap disagreement” for short.
Most of us have this leap disagreement mentality. Even today, many people firmly believe that current scientific theories are close to the ultimate truth, and it seriously affects how we assess the future of science. Another contradictory phenomenon also sounds the warning bell: the increasing numbness to emerging scientific and technological achievements.
When photography was first invented in the early 1800s, it took hours of posing to take a picture, yet people were still willing to try. When X-rays were first discovered, it was the talk of the town, and everyone wanted to see their internal structures with X-rays. When electric lights were still in the experimental phase, they stunned the reporters speechless. However, new inventions and discoveries today no longer arouse such sensation. People are so used to the innumerable products updated every day that breakthroughs have lost their shock value.
At the same time, inventions in the past usually attracted universal attention and discussion. While the novelty of the invention was being discussed, its future prospects—negative and positive—would also be discussed.
Today, people have experienced atomic explosions, moon landings, and artificial intelligence defeating human Go masters, so nothing seems to be shocking anymore. As the novelty factor fades, discussion of future prospects and potential harms wans as well. We will call this general numbness toward scientific and technological achievements “developmental numbness.”
Developmental numbness also stems from this factor: scientific and technological achievements are usually assessed by scientists or researchers with their own agendas. The positive outcome of the assessment may serve to improve career, status, or research funding; therefore, the dangers of scientific achievements are usually downplayed in favor of human interests. At the same time, the enterprises (including research institutes and schools) that fund scientific research usually wish to benefit from the results. They will likely acquiesce to potential harms or even encourage the researchers to negate and tone down discussion of potential dangers.
Developmental numbness will inevitably lead to crisis numbness. Once all scientific and technological achievements are accepted as a matter of course, the negative factors of such achievements will also be overlooked. Catastrophe often arises out of such numbness. While waters may be calm before a storm, undercurrents are usually just under the surface. When the whole society becomes numb, devastation may be just on the horizon.
Two: The Fission Acceleration of Scientific Development
In today’s society, people often find it difficult to keep up with the times. The pressure to keep learning is constant. Every time we wake up, there seems to be new ideas and inventions springing up, which is why we often call this the era of knowledge explosion. Indeed, this is not just a time of knowledge explosion but also a time of scientific explosion. Science is developing at an increasingly fast pace due to the fission acceleration pattern of scientific development.
The fission acceleration pattern can be described as follows: The development of science inevitable leads to the emergence of various scientific theories and branches that develop on their own according to the breakthrough cycle. Once these theories and branches develop to a certain level, they subdivide and branch out once more, repeating the process over and over. Science develops in a fission-type acceleration process, producing a scientific explosion that snowballs in power.
Take physics as an example. Modern physics was primarily composed of mechanics and astronomy; the two are subdivided into electromagnetics, optics, thermal science, acoustics, statistical physics, particle physics, nuclear physics, solid-state physics, and more. Each of these disciplines subdivided into secondary, tertiary, and even quaternary categories. Looking back at the branches of science today, it would be difficult for anyone to count the exact number of disciplines, let alone their numerous subdivides.
From the breakthrough cycle’s point of view, it is precisely the subdividing and further branching-out of these disciplines that creates the great power behind scientific development. Every new revolutionary theory is bound to create even more explosive energy than the last. It should be especially noted that the subdivided categories will also affect their parent field and related categories, possibly resulting in completely new and independent science disciplines. The emergence of biology was one such divide. No one can predict the extent of the threat posed by these new disciplines, and the survival of mankind teeters precariously as a result.