The political activist, musician, and businessman was in Dublin as one of the keynote speakers at the 2012 Euroscience Open Forum.
Geldof began by saying he felt completely out of his depth because he knew “fuck all” about science, but wanted to talk about the point of the subject and the illusion of progress.
Geldof, who was speaking on the 27th anniversary of Live Aid, warned that the challenges of population growth, climate change, and food and water scarcity could set at naught all the wondrous scientific discoveries.
“There are great practical problems on earth. We cannot keep just consuming — it is an economic, environmental, and evolutionary dead-end.”
Geldof quoted Oscar Wilde in saying we were all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
We were all in the gutter now, he said, and while scientists should continue to look at the stars, we should make the gutter a better place to live in.
“We simply don’t know how to handle the present while we imagine the future,” he said.
Life was an experiment in itself but did there have to be a point to it, he asked.
“The problem is us. Man does not act in self-interest but always in the needs of the moment. It is the essence of our politics.
“The problem is I don’t know that as a society we know what we want and we must be very careful for what we wish for.”
Geldof said we had yet to discover how the poor had survived and how to bring them into a world that would benefit us all.
“So much to discover. It is not all rooted in the stars — it is in the gutter with the rest of us.”
Meanwhile, the head of Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, Dr Rolf-Dieter Heuer, believed that Irish scientists should be able to work at the organisation.
He said Ireland could become a full member of Cern for €11m a year and for €1m could become a part-member.
There are 20 European countries who have joined Cern, one of the world’s most important research centres.
The Government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Cunningham, said he hoped Ireland would have the option of joining once the country’s finances improved.
Dr Heuer will address the conference today just over a week after Cern announced it had discovered the Higgs Boson particle, nicknamed the “God particle” because it could explain mass.
Dr Heuer said Cern was examining the particle, measuring its properties, and trying to understand how it behaved.