Quotes/Ocalan on Science

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A mind based on positive knowledge

Extract from Prison Writings: The Roots of Civilization, Abdullah Ocalan

What we regard today as distinctive European thought is characterised mainly by the application of the scientific method and the knowledge gained this way. This method of reasoning is primarily what lies at the bottom of European civilization and is, therefore, a basic condition for the rise of capitalism. The myth-bound mind-structure of the early days of mankind and the medieval world, marked by religion, were overcome step by step with progress toward capitalism. Gradually, a scientific way of thinking, which had been prepared for by the philosophy of Greco-Roman antiquity and the European Middle Ages, was to gain acceptance. It was based on the observation and explanation of nature and its phenomena. Its difference from traditional philosophy lay in the fact that philosophy hitherto had tried to explain all that exists in general terms and ideas, while the emerging new sciences aimed at explaining a more limited set of phenomena by referring strictly to observation and empirically gained data.

However, the two ways of thinking had something in common: their roots. In animistic society all of nature is alive and animated. There is no difference between organic and inorganic matter, nature and society, man and animal. Any application of this world-view, any animist "technology" would result in what we call magic. The art of magic, therefore, produced the first leaders, the magicians- those that were more skilled and had more foresight than others. They were extraordinarily admired, even if their contributions could often only be small, since they helped their group to survive. As already mentioned in Part 1, the first social institution was the magicians. In the paleolithic, this was replaced by shamanism.

The neolithic way of thinking was a more progressive social stage, partly animist and partly totemic-religiously structured. The tribe as a basic social unit became distinguishable as such and with it the meaning of affiliation to the tribe. The position of the mother, as a leader and creator, came to the fore. Women in general gained recognition for her social role; she played a dominant part and enjoyed extraordinary power. Even today the mental structures are reflected as feminine elements in the grammar of many languages (and in feminist criticism!). The mindset of the neolithic, however, was characterized by a man-god structure, resting on a feminine basis and with the mother-goddess on top. Under her, all important beings were ordered according to the importance attached to them by man.

With the rise of the class society in Sumer this way of thinking developed into a system based on myths and legends. Production of food and other vital resources as the most necessary and important abilities of society were reflected in a world of gods that corresponded to the master-slave relationship of the emerging social division into classes.

Philosophy was the next important step in the history of thinking. Philosophy originally means "love for wisdom" (from Greek: philia (love, friendship) and sophia (wisdom)). Even at this early stage, philosophy took a somewhat practical approach to the issues of nature and society.

Philosophy came into being when the mythic mindset lost its practical relevance, i.e. when mythology moved from everyday life into the realm of literary interpretation. The old mythological patterns of explanation became insufficient, new thinking was required. Gradually, religion and the gods lost their influence and no longer interacted with people or interfered directly with human affairs. This new way of thinking, the new world-view called philosophy, can be called the first non-religious, secular way of thinking. However, myth and religion had not completely been left behind.

It should be noted here that there is, of course, a difference between mythology and religion. Religion is structured theorems and dogma, obligatory rituals and a clearly defined faith. Within this religious structure, intellectual argument based on logic is possible.

Philosophy, then, is a methodical way of thinking, resulting in provable statements based on clearly defined principles and a chain of reasoning (i.e. the principles of logic). Philosophy brought forth a number of humanist and individualist approaches and developed into one of the most important prerequisites of the mindset of capitalist society. Philosophy provided the roots for what we call scientific thinking. It was not the only factor in the evolution of science, though.

Over time, the production of goods resulted in an enormous amount of practical information concerning the production processes - it brought about an uninterrupted accumulation of knowledge based on empirical data. Seemingly different phenomena could be connected by cause and effect.

The establishment of new technologies initiated exploration and discovery in all areas of nature. Science gained importance: it become the great synthesis of the struggle between myth, religion and philosophy. The great battles in the intellectual world have come to an end with the victory of scientific thinking.

In thirteenth-century Europe, philosophy and the accumulation of practical knowledge seemed to have come to a dead end until Francis Bacon established experiments as sources of new and verifiable information and knowledge. In the fifteenth century, the Renaissance liberated man's mind and soul from relgious dogma, opening his thoughts to human and secular issues. This path led directly into the avenues of science, not without demanding sacrifice and martyrs like Giordano Bruno. Their deaths rang in the age of the science, and humanity became acquainted with a new way of life. It appears to be too limited a view to identify capitalist civilization with the age of science. As will be argued later, the victory of the scientific method can be said to have served as a catalyst for the present predominance of capitalist civilization. The age of the scientific society- the rules of which are determined by the people themselves, guiding their own fates in this way- is a crucial step in the progressive evolution of human thinking.

While we call our present age the information or communication age, there are still laws and mechanisms at work in all political institutions that date back to the age of slavery. As will be shown later, mainly those social traditions have been strengthened that lie at the centre of what the state as an institution has been adhering to for 5000 years. The forming of such institutions is in principle contradictory to a scientific approach. But state repression has always prevented scientific insight from becoming the governing principle in organising social structures. Rationality nonetheless must demand it.

The age of information, as it is so often called today, has not yet produced its unique social formation. Although science is in permanent progress, no principles amounting to an ethics of science have been formulated. It is, therefore, not impossible that science without control might result in even more dangerous regimes than those of the gods of mythology or the representatives of monotheistic religions on earth. We have already seen examples of extremely authoritarian or totalitarian regimes invoking science as the basis of their systems, while throwing all social and ethical principles overboard.

One of the most remarkable achievements of science has been to put the forces of nature into the service of society. No form of society could ever have existed without some form of knowledge or some knowledge-gathering process (which is for all practical purposes equivalent to doing science). The first use of a stone or club had already resulted in new knowledge. The mere calculation of a physical process in order to exploit it for production purposes meant doing science, even if the process in question had not yet been quantified in a mathematical formula. Ever since its birth, society has been accompanied by science and often in contradiction to it. The more these contradictions could be resolved, the more clearly science could become what it is today. It follows that with science, enlightenment becomes a permanent process, although its contribution varies over time.

The more science contributes to a society, the better developed are the information dissemination processes. It would be wrong to attribute this phenomenon to the development of capitalism as one of its unique qualities. Capitalism has only increased its contribution. But capitalist civilization has not only been involved on an advanced level in the progress of science but also in imposing restrictions on it. The inner contradictions of capitalist society prevent science from using all its capabilities, which had played such a creative part in the birth of capitalism during the epochs of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The use of scientific methods means strength and, most importantly, enlightenment. Being enlightened means being able to approach matters effectively, successfully; it means qualitative and quantitative improvement of production. Increased productivity, in turn, means gaining strength and taking a leading position in all areas of economy and politics according to the old saying: knowledge is power. Hence, the emergence of the scientific method can be characterised as an aspect of the ideological identity of capitalist civilisation. Still, the relationship between science and society is marked also by strong contradictions. Society has not yet left its older frames of reference behind- it is not yet able to do without them; it is still dependent on religion and idealistic philosophy.

A crucial question is whether science, and science alone, can be a liberating power. Can science free man from man's human nature? Can science be "everything"? The thinking of the first men was determined by the divine- where they perhaps on the right path? Is science God? Would our transformation into a completely scientific nature be equivalent to our apotheosis, our becoming God? The statement ana al-haaq (I am God), attributed to an Arab mystic, might then be interpreted as if the nature of science might just as well be achieved by the power of intuition. Was it not Islam which expressed the equation science = God much earlier by calling God omniscient?

There is an imperative ethical principle which demands that the common interests, rights and safety of humanity are paramount. If we should prove unable to align the apotropaic power of science with this principle, we will probably have to suffer more dangerous authoritarian regimes than those of the biblical Nimrods and Pharaohs; regimes that we make us into robot-like creatures, suffering a servitude darker than that suffered by the slaves of those ancient times. The twentieth century teaches us much about the actuality of such dangers and the catastrophes that might result from them. Here we find the cruelest wars and at the same time science already spreading through many areas of society.

In view of the fact that both the slave-holder mythology and the feudal structures of the monotheistic religions have been overcome (while humanity is still not able to free itself of despotism), would not then a totalitarian world consisting of an enormous number of science-made, godlike beings mean an apocalypse?