Curiosity is the main driving force behind scientific activity. Scientific curiosity, insatiable in its explorations, does not know what it will find, or where it will lead. Science needs autonomy to cultivate this kind of untrammeled curiosity; innovation, however, responds to the needs and desires of society. Innovation, argues influential European science studies scholar Helga Nowotny, tames the passion of science, harnessing it to produce "deliverables." Science brings uncertainties; innovation successfully copes with them. Society calls for both the passion for knowledge and its taming. This ambivalence, Nowotny contends, is an inevitable result of modernity.
In Insatiable Curiosity, Nowotny explores the strands of the often unexpected intertwining of science and technology and society. Uncertainty arises, she writes, from an oversupply of knowledge. The quest for innovation is society's response to the uncertainties that come with scientific and technological achievement. Our dilemma is how to balance the immense but unpredictable potential of science and technology with our acknowledgment that not everything that can be done should be done. We can escape the old polarities of utopias and dystopias, writes Nowotny, by accepting our ambivalence—as a legacy of modernism and a positive cultural resource.
About the Author
Helga Nowotny is former President of the European Research Council and author of Insatiable Curiosity: Innovation in a Fragile Future (MIT Press) and other books.
"Seldom have the contradictions of our times been so penetratingly described and traced back to their scientific-historical causes.... Helga Nowotny has written a wonderfully worldly-wise book that eliminates the last remnants of trust in progress without completely sounding the death knell of the project of modernity.", Ludger Heidbrink, Die Zeit
"Helga Nowotny is not only la grande dame of science studies in Europe, she is also one of the most savvy and influential people in European research affairs.... It seems regrettable that this essay from a leading European science-policy figure has not been published in English.", Hubert S. Markl, Nature
"With this slim volume, Nowotny invites us to contemplate 'innovation in a fragile future' and provides the means and occasion for doing so.... The invitation is timely, welcome, and consequential."—Science
"In this learned and wide-ranging meditation on the future, one of Europe'sleading scholars of science and society reflects on the complexities anduncertainties that surround today's dizzying technological innovations.Acknowledging the disorienting forces of change, Nowotny neverthelesspresents an eloquent, erudite argument for embracing the future in all itsambiguity. To those who worry about the pace of change, she counselscourage. Her message is as deeply humanistic as it is also optimistic:experiment with the new; do so with self-knowledge; revel in the openness ofthe imagination; be not afraid."
—Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies,Harvard Kennedy School
"Societies today promote innovation and curiosity as the track to the future—but if the quest for the new is unrestrained, what is to keep societies from careening off the rails? This is the dilemma explored in this brief but provocative meditation by Helga Nowotny, one of Europe's most distinguished and influential scholars. Imagine a tool that is at once a precise probe and a far-reaching map: it is this book."
—Rosalind Williams, Program in Science, Technology, and Society, MIT
"Science is a social enterprise oriented to a future it helps to make. It is never exhausted by simple factual descriptions of the present. Better understanding and new viewpoints make possible different actions. This makes science essential to modernity. Some say modernity is over, some that it is pernicious. But as Helga Nowotny, one of the most sensitive observers of science, shows here, modernity itself can change. Innovation remakes not just technology but the social context of science itself. Nowotny eloquently shows why innovation is necessary, curiosity crucial, and the fragility of the future an argument for science rather than against it."
—Craig Calhoun, President, Social Science Research Council, and University Professor of the Social Sciences, New York University
"This is a thoughtful book on a hugely important topic. The author brings to the subject wide and varied experience with governments' policies, academic scholarship, and engagement with innovators. The book deserves a correspondingly wide readership."
—Robert M. May, Oxford University