Insatiable Curiosity
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Insatiable Curiosity

Innovation in a Fragile Future

By Helga Nowotny

Translated by Mitch Cohen

An influential scholar in science studies argues that innovation tames the insatiable and limitless curiosity driving science, and that society's acute ambivalence about this is an inevitable legacy of modernity.

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Summary

An influential scholar in science studies argues that innovation tames the insatiable and limitless curiosity driving science, and that society's acute ambivalence about this is an inevitable legacy of modernity.

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 acknowledgement 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.

Hardcover

Out of Print ISBN: 9780262141031 200 pp. | 8 in x 5.375 in

Paperback

$19.00 X ISBN: 9780262515108 200 pp. | 8 in x 5.375 in

Contributors

Mitch Cohen.

Reviews

  • 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

Endorsements

  • Societies today promote innovation and curiosity as tracks 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

  • In this learned and wide-ranging meditation on the future, one of Europe's leading scholars of science and society reflects on the complexities and uncertainties that surround today's dizzying technological innovations. Acknowledging the disorienting forces of change, Nowotny nevertheless presents an eloquent, erudite argument for embracing the future in all its ambiguity. To those who worry about the pace of change, she counsels courage. 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

  • In this learned and wide-ranging meditation on the future, one of Europe's leading scholars of science and society reflects on the complexities and uncertainties that surround today's dizzying technological innovations. Acknowledging the disorienting forces of change, Nowotny nevertheless presents an eloquent, erudite argument for embracing the future in all its ambiguity. To those who worry about the pace of change, she counsels courage. Her message is as deeply humanistic as it is also optimistic: experiment with the new; do so with self-knowledge; revel in the openness of the 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