To tackle this topic, we first must understand what the term Science and Technology means and in what relation is it with the existential question proposed. The obvious meaning is that this topic deals with both science and technology and their interactions. And of course, since science and technology are major parts of near past and present human life, it is evident that they have some impact on our way of thinking and our lives in general. However, this topic also encompasses the philosophy of science, meaning, how to use science, how to behave like a scientist and how to apply critical thinking in all branches of your life. In other words, it is a door to a scientist’s way of life.
Given that this term includes the philosophy of science, we must decipher what is philosophy. Philosophy is an activity people undertake when they seek to understand fundamental truths about themselves, the world in which they live, and their relationships to the world and to each other. In this case however, philosophy is followed by “of science” it has a different dimension to it, and it describes the application of metaphysical and epistemological questions to a certain subject area1. Nevertheless, it is only natural to propose that these questions are in some way answered in the process of their application. In conclusion, you may think of philosophy of science as a tool that you can use to evaluate and understand not only science, but the world around you.
Now since we have established a connection between science and technology and philosophy, we can attend to one of eternal philosophical questions which is what is the purpose of life? It is a question that still does not have a universal definitive answer but has been answered a lot in the human history.
If we want to see the effects of science and technology on the human answer to this existential question, we first must realize how it was answered without them. In the distant past, while human species were still evolving and our surrounding was full of predators and generally death all around, there was not much time nor need for thinking of the purpose of life. What we know for sure, is that their main goal was for their offspring to survive and to continue the existence of human kind.
However, in due time, people evolved to the point where it was a lot easier to survive. This was the point where people started forming civilizations and lived in relatively safe enclosed areas. Even though science and technology as we know them today were not around, there were relevant discoveries which shaped human lives and therefore, reasoning. For example, irrigation systems, which helped agriculture immensely and afforded people the luxury of staying at a certain region and to not be nomads. At this point, religion was slowly overtaking the throne as the main purpose of life. Religion was around since the beginning of the human kind, but it was mainly used as a tool to clarify and explain the unknown, not explicitly as a solution to a meaningful life. We can see the religion peak to that central point with the rise of monotheistic Abrahamic religions where the purpose of mankind is to serve God and God is the ultimate justification and explanation to the queries of existentialism. To this day, this answer is considered valid and people live by this notion.
However, during the time of Enlightenment, the focus shifted from God to human. Paradigms of thinking emerged, and science and technology took the main stage. Intellectual giants like John Locke, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, Immanuel Kant and many more with their inventions and observations, paved the way for the modern world. With the major paradigm shift, came the shift to the answer to the human purpose in life. Societies started to become more and more secularized, and while atheism was not the common norm, the notion that religion is the ultimate truth was disregarded and pure reason replaced it. Empiricism was a leading philosophy in that period, and it was based solely on senses and interpretations of them. This is where existential crisis gained its roots.
The age of Enlightenment gave birth to post-modernism and as Nietzsche proposed, killed the Abrahamic God which gave meaning to people and sent them straight to nihilism2. An approach in which nothing has any inherent importance and that life lacks purpose. We can see the extent of the effects of nihilism in the notion that most people struggle with an existential crisis at a certain point of life. And what supports nihilism is the secularism of societies, technological advancements and debunks of religious theories that came along with the scientific revolution.
Today there are many answers to the question discussed in this essay, some believe it is just survival, others see meaning in serving God, others see no meaning in life what so ever, but we can see that technological advancements and scientific research had an impact on this discussion. This essay is merely a brief observation to this large and complex topic.