[Letters] Why basic sciences are fundamental for Korea

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[Letters] Why basic sciences are fundamental for Korea

In his work on subjective logic, Georg W. F. Hegel argued that the philosophy of language is teleologically prescribed in the relationship between the nature of the subject and the predicate in every clause or sentence. Words can be implicit, explicit, general or individual, as in the use of this when paired with, for example, the color blue.

One step on, Hegel not only sanctifies the place of the copula, but also demarcates the predicate as enveloping value and importance. So far, so good; therefore, as a value judgment, the notion that Korea is an Asian Tiger can compete on a sense of reflected worth. But can it go further? Can the subject and predicate be linked in expression to such a degree that the mere illustration of the idea becomes a tautology, as much as saying, as Hegel does, that gold is a metal or that violets are flowers? Such terminology, he argues, manifest ultimately into perfectly reflective and reflexive syllogism.

But where can such a triad be found? Korea’s undoubted rise from the depths of war and poverty to an OECD country in a remarkably short space of time has been well documented. Analysis of the developmental state has been widely carried out by economic geographers, with Korean academics such as Seoul National University’s Pan Sam Ock carrying advisory as well as commentarial weight. Korea seems to be on firm ground.

At the turn of the millennium, Manuel Castells, the sociologist noted for his work on the network society, recorded his feelings on what at the time appeared to be the unraveling of this developmental state mantra. Big government was rolled back; chaebols appeared indecisive, debts rocketed and in 1997 the International Monetary Fund had to step in to stabilize the won. Yet Castells’ pessimistic outlook did not reckon on the ability and flexibility of the government to move with real time events and enable the country to rapidly ascend on an upward trajectory once more. So yet again, Hegel’s value judgments would imply Korea to be an embodiment of the Asian Tiger genus.

Yet, for all of the success that has come with technological design and innovation, with increasing exports of automobiles, white goods and gadgets, the term Asian Tiger is not implicit with Korea. It never was and never can be. It will always need to be a work in progress, asseverated merely each time progress of some sort is metered out or measured in some fashion.

Of course, talking of subjectivity, the word progress is a loaded one, and discussion on it would merit a thickly-bound tome rather than a short newspaper article. But as with Hegel’s notion of the progress of judgmental meaning and importance whereby the implementation of the syllogistic trinity can be found at the fundamental link between the general, particular and individual, Korea has to find a root cause to reflect back upon its application. If the nation’s engineering achievements lie in the citizen as the individual, then the praxis that stands between the two must come in the form of the particular. In this case the particular can be found in the shape of basic science.

The newly formed Institute for Basic Science, which will form as the centerpiece to the International Science Business Belt in Daejeon, has been given this task. Oh Se-jung, the institute’s president, aims to provide leading scientists with the autonomy and infrastructure to further Korea’s knowledge base.

Ultimately, this base will serve as the genus for the applied sciences, engineering and design creativity as much as for the basic sciences. Korea is an Asian Tiger, and with forethought and consideration, can remain so.

Stephen Dennison at the Institute for Basic Science in Daejeon

* Letters and commentaries for publication should be addressed “Letters to the Editor.” E-mailed letters should be sent to eopinion@joongang.co.kr.
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