Failed Enlightenments: Yuri Milner’s Eureka Manifesto and the Challenges to Scientific Progress

Failed Enlightenments: Yuri Milner’s Eureka Manifesto and the Challenges to Scientific Progress

Rate this post

We tend to take the existence of humanity and the world around us as a given. But humans could easily not have not evolved if a few chance events in the past billion years had gone differently. How many near misses have there been in the history of our civilization? How many false dawns of complex life and stalled leaps of intellectual evolution?

In Eureka Manifesto: The Mission for Our Civilization, Yuri Milner explores the possibility of failed enlightenments and their potential impact on human progress. The short book places our civilization within the context of the cosmos and identifies the mission that the “Universal Story” implies for us.

Minds Formed From Matter

The Universe has existed for billions of years, with galaxies forming, stars burning out and exploding, and debris amassing into planets. For most of that time, these cosmic events went unseen and unrecorded. But then, in a tiny corner of the Milky Way galaxy, humanity arose.

With minds formed from matter, we looked out at the stars and started piecing together the Universal Story. We began to explore and understand our Universe.

This is the mission for our civilization that Milner presents in Eureka Manifesto. He believes we should actively embrace the mission to ensure humanity fully realizes its potential. Not embracing our mission could incur severe costs, such as failed enlightenments.

Challenges To Scientific Progress

We shouldn’t assume scientific progress will continue unhindered. Milner points to the long, slow birth of science as evidence of this precariousness. Many proto-revolutions crystallized and dissolved before the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Sometimes, a lack of support from broader culture has suppressed scientific progress. Sometimes, as in the case of the book-burning cult of Savonarola, political turmoil has sabotaged intellectual openness.

“Today, the printed word and the internet have spread scientific ideas so widely that they could never be lost, even if society turned against them,” Milner writes. “But such a turn could still drastically slow the pace of progress. Because new discoveries do not just spring from old ones. They require a questing, questioning, and tolerant culture around them.”

Milner compares the emergence of an age of enlightenment to the growth of a crystal. Both depend on their surrounding conditions to form. Scientific progress usually thrives in cultures that tolerate critical thinking and open discussion. In these cultures, scientists and the wider public generally agree on the value of exploration and understanding.

Our Duty to Accelerate and Celebrate Scientific Progress

While many people might consider themselves pro-science, our cultural preferences suggest that science holds a relatively low position on our list of priorities. We rarely celebrate scientific heroes or their discoveries to the same degree as sports or film stars. Since the passing of Stephen Hawking in 2018, how easy is it to name one of today’s leading scientists?

Milner says this low level of public interest leads to low levels of public funding in scientific industries. Investing in fundamental science is vital because we never know when an idea will bear fruit that transforms our lives. And, more profoundly, science is our only means of continuing to tell the Universal Story.

“If we allow scientific progress to stall, it will ultimately mean the end of our civilization,” Milner writes. “It is up to us to accelerate [the Scientific Revolution] and launch a new enlightenment in which it can flourish.”

In his book The Beginning of Infinity, the physicist David Deutsch illuminates the significance of all failed enlightenments of the past: “If any of those earlier experiments… had succeeded, our species would be exploring the stars by now, and you and I would be immortal.”

Some of our ancestors failed us. Milner emphasizes that we must not fail our descendants.

Download or listen to Yuri Milner’s Eureka Manifesto for free.

About Yuri Milner

Yuri Milner signed the Giving Pledge in 2012 to formalize his commitment to science philanthropy. Since then, he has helped advance the mission to explore and understand our Universe by:

●   Celebrating scientists as heroes and rewarding individuals who have made groundbreaking discoveries. Milner is a co-founder of the Breakthrough Prize, the largest-ever prize for science and mathematics.

●   Investing in fundamental science and space exploration. For example, his Breakthrough Initiatives are a group of space science projects that search for evidence of life beyond Earth, develop interstellar technologies, and encourage debate on these subjects. Milner’s Breakthrough Foundation supports these and his other non-profit initiatives, like Tech for Refugees.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.