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AT THE OUTSET we must acknowledge the innumerable blessing bestowed on us by science. Nobody will dispute the enormous value science has. In order to be able to give this lecture, I have travelled all the way from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in only one hour. Back in the days of King Rama I, you would have had to wait three months for me to get here, and for that matter I probably wouldn’t have come at all. We must acknowledge science’s contribution to travel, be it by plane, train or car.

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Looking around at communications in the present day, we see radio, telephone, fax machines, television, video, satellites and so on, all of which have arisen from scientific and technological advances.

Other obvious areas of development are in the medical world, where so many contagious diseases have now been virtually eradicated. Cholera is now quite rare, in Asia it is almost extinct. Bubonic Plague no longer exists. Smallpox has all but vanished. We no longer have to fear these infectious diseases. In olden times a person could die with only an infected appendix, but nowadays an appendectomy is a relatively simple operation. Even brain operations are getting are easier. Sophisticated tools for accurate examination and diagnosis are more and more accessible. X-Ray machines are being replaced with computer X-Ray machines, and now we have ultra sound and MRI. It’s almost no longer necessary for the doctor to examine the patient, the machines do it for him. These are all examples of extremely valuable technological advances.

pic_10.jpg (10905 bytes)Then we have electricity and countless labour-saving devices. Printing and publishing have progressed astonishingly. Machines which were once thought to be quite complex, such as clocks, are now considered trifling. House clocks used to be very large, heavy and difficult to use. You had to rewind them or reset their weights every day. Now we have quartz clocks. They are simple, cheap, and much more accurate than the old clocks. Writing implements are so common and cheap: twenty years ago you would have to really look after your pen, but now they’re so cheap you just use them and throw them away. Everything is so plentiful and convenient. Now human beings are going into space and developing computers, which are at the cutting edge of technology.

The field of biology has seen the development of genetic engineering, which may produce new or specially adapted species of plants and animals. It’s almost impossible to list all the technological we have with us today.

But on the other hand, when we really look into it, we find that science, and in particular technology, has created a great many problems for humanity as well. In the present time, particularly in the highly developed countries, there is even a fear that the human race, and indeed the whole world, may meet destruction at the hands of this technological progress. It might be a very instantaneous kind of destruction, at the flick of a switch, so to speak, or it could be a slow and gradual kind of destruction, as the gradual deterioration of the environment, a very critical problem at this point in time.

Even within the immediacy of our everyday lives, we are threatened by dangers. We can’t be sure whether our food has been soaked in chemicals or not. Sometimes plants and animals, our food supply, are treated with hormones to boost their growth. Pigs are given special additives to make their meat turn a pretty red colour. Poisonous substances are sometimes used in foods as preservatives, flavour enhancers or dyes, not to mention the uncontrolled use of pesticides. Some of the people who sell these foods wouldn’t dare eat them themselves!

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