Michel Houellebecq the Science Guy
In my previous post I have quoted a passage from the novel Atomised by drunken nemesis of journalists Michel Houellebecq in which one of the characters does some grandmaster-level trolling of molecular biologists.
I have finished re-reading the novel and I have found a quite reaffirming statement on science and the power of facts by the same character (Desplechin, head of the department):
“Knowledge, on the other hand . . . There’s still a desire for knowledge. It’s a curious thing, the thirst for knowledge . . . very few scientists have it, you know. Most of them are happy to make a career for themselves, move into management, but it’s incredibly important in the history of the species. It’s easy to imagine a fable in which a small group of men –a couple of hundred in the whole world, at most –work intensively on something difficult, abstract, completely incomprehensible to the uninitiated. These men remain completely unknown; they have no apparent power, no money, no honours; nobody can understand the pleasure they get from their work. In fact, they are the most powerful men in the world, for one simple reason: they hold the keys to rational certainty. Everything they declare to be true will be accepted sooner or later by the whole population. There is no power in the world –economic, political, religious or social –that can compete with rational certainty.”
– Michel Houellebecq: Atomised
It seems that the Frenchman’s Hunter S. Thompson, while not being a scientist or philosopher of science, has a pretty clear idea about what the mission and impact of science is. Maybe even more than many scientific workers themselves. Bill Nye the Science Guy would be proud of him for sure!
So the novel contains conflicting ideas on science, but before you ask the question “so what is the author’s message here?” remember that a good literary work is like a Rorschach test: read it an learn something about yourself.