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Since we believed that we could not simply build a science centre without having reflected as thoroughly as possible on what role this centre should play in society, we made a threefold reflection. First we tried to analyse the relevant issues of the near future. Secondly, we looked back at the development of science and of science museums and centres. And thirdly we stressed the fact that we consider science centres to be independent agents, with their own role to play in society.
Actually, this last aspect has been decisive. We believe that for too long science centres/museums have operated in the shadow of other groups' preoccupations: of scientists, of formal educators, of politicians, of technicians and industrialists. The argument is not that we cannot render service to all these disciplines. We will certainly continue to do so, as we have done successfully in the past. The argument is rather that science centres/museums should never become mere derivatives of problems outside their direct influence. In a long-term-scenario study, the Dutch Central Planning Bureau pictured four possible scenarios, of which Balanced Growth is the most optimistic. It shows that an annual growth rate of the world economy above 3,5% ‹ which is ecologically sustainable and embraces all major world regions ‹ is still realistically possible. A Global Crisis scenario shows progress towards widespread distress which could only be corrected at high cost. Global Shift and European Renaissance explore divergent developments with respect to North America and Western Europe. The message is that both blocs are vulnerable, albeit for different reasons. In all scenarios, the rise of the Dynamic Asian Economies (DAEs) play an important role. Their future challenge is a second upgrading, but once successful they will become dominant and start investing in less-developed countries able to offer labour at lower cost.
Setting these scenarios aside and examining the driving forces behind economic development, the authors of the study propose three human "types": the rational, the cooperative and the competitive. Each of these projected human beings suggests a different perspective and, in their conclusions, the authors state that economic failure is largely due to overemphasizing one of the perspectives. Japan's successful development combined elements of the Coordination (cooperative man) and the Equilibrium (rational man) perspectives while, at present, emphasis is also placed on introducing elements of the Free-market perspective (competitive man). The main conclusion is that much depends on so-called "social innovation". This refers to the ability and will of individuals, companies and governments to break free from existing habits, perceptions, institutions and task allocations, and to revise them in the light of constantly changing circumstances.
Not surprisingly, authors like Robert Reich, Ray Marshal and many others arrive at somewhat the same conclusions when they describe the impact of the globalisation of the world's economy and the accompanying rise of a new, intellectual elite within highly developed societies. Their works state that it is widely acknowledged that the era of super-power geo-politics is shifting towards an era of geo-economics, in which successful regions compete world-wide. Knowledge, innovation, lifelong education, and human-resource management are the foundations of the future prosperity in these regions. The relative value of intellectual capital is growing. "Owning" a company no longer means what it once did, since the true worth of enterprises is increasingly in the brains of their highly-skilled employees rather than in physical capital. We are rapidly changing from a society of producers and consumers into a society of job-holders and choosers. Sceptical, curious and creative.
They also describe the problems and dangers these developments may engender. A social split is foreseen: those who embody society's intellectual capital will be the winners; those engaged in routine production and personal-service jobs will increasingly lag behind or lose. The winners belong to a footloose, global network segregated from local economies. Their incomes have risen enormously. Day by day they enhance ‹ by their work ‹ the very asset which sets them apart from the rest of society: their intellectual skills, training and experience.
The advanced regions of the world have come to look much alike and, within them, segregated enclaves have developed where the privileged members of society live. Outside the privileged areas, cities world-wide face financial crisis. And the inner cities have lost much of the "public quality" they once had.
The increasing value of intellectual capital is not matched by a rise in educational opportunities. The formal-education system is severely criticised for this, in sometimes contradictory ways. And schools have reacted, also in contradictory ways. Schools have lost their primacy as places for the transfer of knowledge, information and insight, and must now learn to cooperate with other (informal) educational institutions.
The security of stability has also gone. Two or three major technological revolutions occur within one lifetime. The pace of change creates opportunities, and tensions. It pushes many into a non-active consumer role, sometimes temporarily, sometimes structurally. Comparing the amount of information generated daily between 1850 and 1900, and 1950 and 2000, the increase is breathtaking and this will only accelerate. The problem seems to be threefold: increasing specialisation, the (increasing) amount of information daily poured over us, and the invisibility of the processes behind the scientific and technological scenes. Mankind, it seems then, is facing a fundamental change: a second scientific and technological revolution, after the first of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The first revolution was spread over three generations and it took another hundred years before the resulting industrialisation really made itself felt throughout society. Roughly 400 years, from 1500 to 1900 and spreading gradually over the world. Yet this time, everything seems to be happening at once, world-wide and within one life-time.
Looking back over history, several developments can be highlighted. Way back in the Middle Ages, the enlightened King and Emperor Frederick II (1194-1250) taught us three lessons. First, that scientific discoveries may briefly flourish and as quickly perish, if let in isolation. Second, that science gains from cosmopolitanism: Frederick II sought out the true scholars of his age, regardless of country, race, religion, or condition of life, and assembled them at his court. Third, that scientific interest is in itself "harmless". But from the moment we leave our places of contemplation, and involve our fellow creatures with the applications of our new insights, then our interest loses all its innocence and our social responsibilities start. From the Renaissance onwards, men attempted a harmonious combination: the development of science and technology with a politically active life. And while they enjoyed their increasing insight into natural science, they struggled with the development of a set of ethical codes that would guard their progress and control it. The philosophes of the eighteenth century looked to the USA as the place where the "live programming" of their thoughts could be explored and experimented with. The American Revolution turned North America from an importer of ideas to an exporter of attitudes, on human nature and on the practice of democracy.
Looking back at the North America of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries we can list the following key phrases: democratic, critical, valuing experiment and experience, self-made and somewhat anti-social, self-educated, sceptical and moderately optimistic, guarding the guardians for the sake of freedom, using common sense and reason to solve human problems and advance human welfare. From 1900 onwards, Science Museums began to counter-balance the attitudes demanded by the prevailing culture of industrial mass-production and mass-education. And the philosophies of the Enlightenment and of the "live-programming" in USA-1800 can be read through the words of museum founders like Oskar Von Miller, Jean Perrin and Frank Oppenheimer. All three men took their visitors extremely seriously. Their approach was humanitarian, progressive and optimistic. They expected visitors to see "through" appearances and to discover basic principles. They assumed considerable latent learning potential in the "masses", and eagerness to investigate and find out. Science Museums and Centres began to mix models, demonstrations and interactive exhibitry with the real objects of their collections.
In the last decade, Science Centres have added to these basic features exhibitions on social, historical, psychological and environmental issues, and "mini-theatres".
So, were do these reflections bring us? In the first place the challenge of the 21st century seems to be: to steer the present intellectual revolution in such a way that as many people as possible gain from it and that their quality of life does not decline, but improve. The tasks ahead of us are huge in scale and complexity, but so are the available tools. Yet we must not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the processes that these tools and their toolmakers generate. Our ideas, our cultures, our diversity and our commitment should dominate and steer the development of our tools. Therefore we want IMPULS to become a public centre with a broad philosophical, social and cultural appeal within society. We have decided to try and create a public, interactive centre, which is primarily focused on human creativity in a very general way.
In order to accomplish this we chose an Italian architect, Renzo Piano, who designed us a building that will be elegant, sensual and modern; yet it will also meet the old town with an exterior of traditional materials ‹ copper and brick. The building further relates itself very intentionally to its immediate context: the roof will be freely accessible and we have commissioned a Japanese artist to turn it into a sculpture garden, enlivened with kinetic art. On summer evenings a kind of ballet will be performed on the roof with references to current developments in science and technology. The visitors' experience should encompass educational, social as well as personal elements. Our exhibitions will include the natural sciences, social sciences and also (kinetic) art pieces.
We value outside activities as highly as those inside. The fact that we are in the middle of the city gives us the opportunity to establish strategic alliances with the surrounding science-related public institutions. We are investigating ways of extending the concept of highlight tours to the city itself, as well as building exhibits in the streets in an attempt to rekindle the notion of the city as an environment for spontaneous learning.
"Inspiration", "stimulation", "curiosity", "encouraging confidence", "motivation" and "fascination" will be more central to us then worries about scientific facts and figures, however much information visitors can gain from us.
The key message we would like to communicate to our visitors, sounds like this: "We think you are worthwhile. Each of you is gifted with certain talents and we invite you to take active part and enjoy yourself in our centre. We also need you as an active, creative and curious member of our society." After the opening, our visitors will certainly give us enough food for thought on where we have succeeded and where we should be doing better.
In prototyping for the 21st century.