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Talk about "Knowledge and Power" of EA preludes 'Ahrweiler Freedom Weeks' 

Wednesday, 09 March 2016

EA European Academy celebrated its 20th anniversary on 3 March 2016 with the opening event of “Ahrweiler-Freiheitswochen” (Ahrweiler Freedom Weeks). The event was hosted by the friends’ association of EA.

Following the opening addresses by Mayor Guido Orthen and “Ahrweiler-Freiheitswochen” chairman Horst Gies MdL, EA-Director Prof. Dr Petra Ahrweiler welcomed the attendants in the council chamber of Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler with a short review of EA’s history and its current research activities.

EA Deputy Director Dr Stephan Lingner introduced the founding director of EA, Prof. Dr Dr h.c. Carl Friedrich Gethmann, who delivered his highly anticipated talk on “Knowledge and Power. Contemplations on Science Ethics”.  

Gethmann, who is university professor at the research college “Design future humanely” and member of the German Ethics Council (Deutscher Ethikrat), focused on the famous adage “knowledge is power” attributed to 16th century British philosopher, statesman, and researcher Sir Francis Bacon. Bacon aimed to emphasise the essential characteristics of modern-day science in contrast to the science of antiquity and the Middle Ages. Gethmann explained that this adage denoted a shift in cognition styles: in antiquity and the Middle Ages, knowledge was understood to be inner vision of pre-existing contents (contemplation); in Modern Days, this concept increasingly took on the notion that knowledge permits intervention into the global nexus, thus leading to power over that nexus. This shift came alongside transitions among the knowledge patterns of “poietic” (appropriated) and practical knowledge.

Philosopher Gethmann reasoned that if knowledge generated power, it was vital to determine how this power may be controlled and possibly limited, how science may exercise its power appropriately, and who wielded power over knowledge.  In his talk, Gethmann elaborated on the answers to those questions that enlightened, modern-day science had found for itself. With regard to the first question, how science as the source of power was controlled, science figured it was controlled and limited through the scientists’ ethos. With regard to the second question, science figured it was exercising control appropriately unlike Platon’s philosopher-kings through immediate power but – as we would put it today – through science-based policy counselling. With regard to the third question: science was controlled through science policy, which at that tried to exercise power over knowledge. Gethmann referenced various examples to discuss those three answers.

In appreciation of his talk, Andreas Wittpohl, chair of the friend’s association of EA, presented Gethmann with a gift of Brogsitter wine.

After the talk, the close to 100 guests were invited to join EA researchers at interactive “debate isles” to further discuss topics brushed by the talk.  Professor Gethmann was on hand for in-depth conversations on his talk at one of the debate isles. EA-Director Prof. Ahrweiler offered “Artificial Intelligence: the Power of Knowledgeable Machines” up for discussion by addressing the question, “Can (and should) machines be capable of thinking?”.   Dr Lingner approached the uncertainties of climate knowledge and the ambivalence on climate acting at his debate isle on “Climate Change – From Knowledge to Acting”. Dr Bert Droste-Franke’s debate isle “Knowledge and Power in Energy Transition” illustrated what knowledge is needed to tackle imminent changes to do with energy transition and what influence those changes have or may have on power structures in the future.

The reception following the event was filled with discussions late into the night.