Scientists & Sociopaths

“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.” – Carl Sagan


Presently, our world is largely run by politicians and financiers, many of whom exhibit traits of sociopathy and narcissism. Power seems to be held by those who manipulate society without much regard for its citizens. But even the masked sociopath has a desire to belong. Like everyone else, he wants to exist, and he certainly doesn’t want to exist alone. Though his love may be limited, he is still prone to care for his closest companions. The vast majority of individuals have, in some degree, a mutual respect for our shared existence. For the unemotional, this circle of loyalty is small, and it narrows even more with power or wealth. But if this circle can’t be widened through compassion, then perhaps it can be widened through reason.

“Only justice, fairness, consideration and cooperation can lead men to the dawn of eternal peace.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower


The powerful may fail to see the utility in cooperation, but they are surely the minority. And though they stand at the top of society, it is innovation that feeds the roots of every industry, and science that upholds every facet of our civilization. Clearly, the true potential of our species remains not with the short-sighted ends of the selfish, but with the thinkers who work for the broader visions of humanity. Should there be an ideological revolution, a global cooperation, then it must begin with those who are capable of embracing a cosmic perspective.

“For peace to reign on Earth, humans must evolve into new beings who have learned to see the whole first.” – Immanuel Kant


Carl Sagan: “Once we overcome our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome Universe that utterly dwarfs the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors. We gaze across billions of light-years of space to view the Universe shortly after the Big Bang, and plumb the fine structure of matter. We peer down into the core of our planet, and the blazing interior of our star. We read the genetic language in which is written the diverse skills and propensities of every being on Earth. We uncover hidden chapters in the record of our origins, and with some anguish better understand our nature and prospects…

Nebula NGC 6357 (8,000 l.y. away)

…We invent and refine agriculture, without which almost all of us would starve to death. We create medicines and vaccines that save the lives of billions. We communicate at the speed of light, and whip around the Earth in an hour and a half. We have sent dozens of ships to more than seventy worlds, and four spacecraft to the stars. We are right to rejoice in our accomplishments, to be proud that our species has been able to see so far, and to judge our merit in part by the very science that has so deflated our pretensions…

Earth at night. Photo by NASA.

…[But] the sword of science is double-edged. Its awesome power forces on all of us, including politicians, a new responsibility—more attention to long-term consequences, a global and trans-generational perspective, an incentive to avoid easy appeals to nationalism and chauvinism. Mistakes are becoming too expensive.”


By 2037, an estimated 47% of jobs done by humans in 2017 will be performed by machines. (Source: The Economist)

“You can’t have people making decisions about the future of the world who are scientifically illiterate. That’s a recipe for disaster.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson


The Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is the world’s largest machine, built in collaboration with over 10,000 scientists and engineers from more than 100 countries.

“Science is international but its success is based on institutions, which are owned by nations. If we wish to promote culture, we have to combine and organize institutions with our own power and means.” – Albert Einstein

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The ALMA array in Chile is the world’s most complex telescope and largest astronomical project, built in collaboration with the scientific communities of Asia, Europe and North America. Photo by ESO/José Francisco Salgado.

“Science knows no country,
because knowledge belongs to humanity,
and is the torch which illuminates the world.”
– Louis Pasteur

We live at a peculiar moment in history. While some of us dream of colonizing Mars or achieving AI supremacy, others claim that the Earth is flat or that homosexuals cause hurricanes. Sure, we’ve always had a diversity of ideologies, but never have we seen such a divide between our intelligence and our ignorance. Just as we begin to discover our capacity for growth and exploration, we find ourselves on the verge of self-destruction.


If humanity is to survive, then we must mobilize the intellectual community to take its place as the head of the human system. We need an agreement among the thinkers who will ultimately guide the future of our species. But such a unity seems unlikely given the many ideological differences among our academics. Of particular concern is the pervasiveness of our nihilistic assumptions: everything is chance, there is no purpose, and we may as well be nonexistent. These are dangerous ideas because, as Steven Pinker notes, “pessimism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.” If we cannot let go of extinction, then we doom ourselves to extinction. If we fail to hope, then we will remain hopeless.

“I believe, indeed, that overemphasis on the purely intellectual attitude has led directly to the impairment of ethical values. Without ethical culture, there is no salvation for humanity… A new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.” – Albert Einstein

For this reason, my argument is directed towards an academic audience. But these ideas are meant to give everyone a sense of purpose and belonging—you don’t have to be very smart to understand this discussion. The following is meant to make you think outside the box, but the argument I present is conceptually simple and, for most readers, rather intuitive. And if you’re anything like me, then you might find this idea to be incredibly satisfying on both an intellectual and emotional level.


And should you care about injustices or inequalities of any kind, then realize that our moral progress is bound to our intellectual progress. In fact, the Enlightenment ideals of liberty and equality were born largely from the critical reasoning advanced by the Scientific Revolution. Together, these movements formed the moral and intellectual foundations of Western Civilization. But if our progress is to continue, then we need another movement, one that stirs every scholar and humanitarian around the world. We need a spiritual revival that makes practical use of the compassion and altruism potentiated by every major faith. But unlike other religious awakenings, this one must begin with the intellectual mind.

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