• darthbarracuda
    2.4k
    I bought a printer a few days ago. I was setting it up last night when the LCD screen prompted me to wait and let the machine configure itself. I could hear all the buzzing and whirring and beeping going on inside the printer, but had no idea what was actually happening. It was a black box. I pushed a little button on the screen, waited half a minute and it spit out an instruction sheet for further set up. It was almost like magic.

    This has become a standard part of modern life. I push a button on my keyboard and - magically - a letter pops up on a screen. I plug in a refrigerator into the wall and - magically - it starts to hum and cool its inside. I step onto the bus, pass my keycard beneath the scanner and - magically - it beeps to signal its recognition of my identity as a bus passenger.

    This is helpful but it seems to me to also be a bit disturbing. Everywhere else in the world we look, we don't find things like printers, buses, refrigerators or computers. We find the non-technological, the natural. When compared to what we see as nature, technology looks like an aberration, as if it doesn't belong. Technology seems like a mutation of the natural order of things, an artificial aggregate of dissimilar parts and pieces that have been forced into an unnatural symbiosis. The natural world is put under examination and forcibly man-handled into submission; we might even see technology as nature being tortured.

    When humans eventually go extinct we will leave behind a vast quantity of technological things. Once they were helpful but now that the users are dead, they become terribly grotesque. That is actually the perfect word for how technology sometimes seems to me - grotesque. I can't really find another word for it. Technology appears to be a grotesque manipulation of the natural world, like a cancer that should not exist.

    But this also seems to rest on the dichotomy between the world <------------> and us. "The natural world" is not an artifact but a plenum without agents, whereas "us" is filled with agency, purpose, reason. But we are part of the world, we are not separate from it, at least not in any scientific sense (but perhaps in an existential/metaphysical sense). Could there be a science of technology? Could it be that technology is actually one of the many ways the universe ends up organizing itself? Could what we see as artificial, technological, actually be simply a natural expression of the logic of the world?

    In a way, the question comes down to: what differentiates the natural from the artificial?
  • apokrisis
    2.5k
    Nature is a pragmatic harmony of information and matter. Technology relies on the forced divorce of the informational and material conditions of being.

    The answer is always the same. Machines are our way of imposing our will on nature. And in doing that, we are being formed as "selves" in turn. We become mechanically minded and disconnected as "human beings".

    Hence the essential dissatisfaction of modern life where the balance is too one way or the other - where either we feel ourselves as becoming overly machinelike, or instead, that material nature is "getting out of hand". Illness, power outages, and other sources of unwanted unpredictability.

    We want a balance where we are the unpredictable ones and the world functions with machinelike reliability. Or at least we think we do until that gets boring or creates too much responsibility for making up our own individual meanings in life.
  • Rich
    2.1k
    Technology is just a fancy shovel. It's not living. Life requires life to continue to live and create and it self-organizes in order to do this. As for what it's natural? Well, as with everything, it is in the eyes of the beholder, and there really are beholders and lots of them each with an opinion. I guess for me, natural is something that maintains or increases health. But that is me. To much in front of a computer screen is really bad for health (oh, those backaches!). But that is just me.
  • MikeL
    638
    It is incredible to think that the very same atoms that make life can be milked in such ways to create our animated technological world. The fact that we can crudely arrange them to achieve our purposes this way really reinforces the idea of just how remarkable these little things are and how far we have to go in truly understanding them. To my mind, it points to a type sentience we don't fully understand.
  • MikeL
    638
    Darthbarracuda, you might enjoy this if you haven't seen it before, it's along the lines of your OP.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7W33HRc1A6c
  • Bitter Crank
    4.1k


    Hewlett-Packard offices... Engineer to Product Manager: "Of course the printers are ready to work when we put them in the box. It's just that customer satisfaction is so much greater after they hear the machine do this phony diagnostic song and dance."

    Buzz, buzz, snick snick snick; hum, click; hum click; merp meep ...

    Welcome to the built environment, all human all the time. Press the red button to start.

    Could it be that technology is actually one of the many ways the universe ends up organizing itself?darthbarracuda

    Probably not. Somehow the universe managed to get along without our technology for what... 13.8 billion years? It's actually the other way around. We are just obeying the rules the universe laid down.

    We began living in the built environment a long time ago. We liked it. It offered a bit more reliability, predictability, and comfort, compared to huddling under a rock ledge in the cold. We covered ourselves with clothing; we cooked our food over fire; we grew food instead of waiting for food to happen. Cool.

    So, this alienation from raw nature has a long history, starting on the day we moved indoors, however humble the roof, walls, and door were.

    Technology isn't an aberration, isn't a mutation, isn't artificial, isn't unnatural. It is just ours, and no, it doesn't belong in nature. We, however, are part of nature. Maybe that's where it gets confusing. We are as natural as lions, tigers, and bears. When we walk naked out on the veldt, or across the great plains, or in the mountains, or along the beech we belong as much as all other animals belong there. (Careful, you might get arrested for indecent exposure.) But we have to leave our technology behind in order to belong.
  • 0af
    44
    Everywhere else in the world we look, we don't find things like printers, buses, refrigerators or computers. We find the non-technological, the natural. When compared to what we see as nature, technology looks like an aberration, as if it doesn't belong. Technology seems like a mutation of the natural order of things, an artificial aggregate of dissimilar parts and pieces that have been forced into an unnatural symbiosis.darthbarracuda

    But aren't bird's nest and beaver's dams technology? The animals themselves are "machines" far more spectacular than those they build. Consider the wasp. Insects especially look like our own technology. Can humans yet build machines as intricate as insects? Perhaps. Our computers come to mind. In my view the "seems" in your "seems like...an unnatural symbiosis" is key. As I read it, you're translating a feeling into a abuse of the word nature. Beavers and birds don't use concrete and steel. They don't work with right angles as precisely as we do. But they shape the world for their advantage. It's hard not to read a disgust with life-transforming-environment-transforming-life as a desire for stasis, sleep, death. And your words could even be read as a technological manipulation of the symbolic environment for the comfort and success of your own mind. Life acts. Life transforms. Life is "guilty" of this. To the degree that "sentences are viruses," you even seek to colonize other minds. The denial of struggle/dominance is a manifestation of struggle/dominance, one might think.

    Could it be that technology is actually one of the many ways the universe ends up organizing itself? Could what we see as artificial, technological, actually be simply a natural expression of the logic of the world?

    In a way, the question comes down to: what differentiates the natural from the artificial?
    darthbarracuda

    I'd say yes to your first question. I'd read the second distinction in terms of a spectrum. Apo stressed how the way we change nature "feeds back" to change us. We might say that what tends to feed back is more artificial. But I think what was artificial yesterday is natural tomorrow.
  • MikeL
    638
    The point on animals and their creations is a good one. Man holds himself too much apart from other animals and it's just not the case. So much of what he thinks is intrinsic to himself is intrinsic to all animals. He has a splinter skill of extended reasoning, but all animals have a splinter skills, most of which we don't have. And they have the full gamut of emotions we have.
  • 0af
    44


    Thanks for responding. I'm probably somewhere in the middle. I do think "man is great." But, yeah, he's on the end of a continuum. Still, I think there is a massive leap. We've been to the moon. I suppose I would emphasize the complexity of the animals themselves, since that arguably surpasses the complexity of our best tech. So Nature was full of technology before we even got here. We use more permanent materials and there are lots of us, so we change the face of our habitat. So we freak ourselves out emotionally among our massive concrete and glass boxes that are conceptually just "bird's nest." For me the alienation is really about population. We are all (or most of us) more or less replaceable. Billions of strangers go about their business as we suffer the grand agonies and ecstasies of life, with no time for or interest in these agonies or ecstasies. We are stamped with numbers, as if demanded by efficiency. So I think the nostalgia is really for some ideal community that perhaps never existed, except perhaps in our childhoods. Modern life is a lonely climb in many ways, but there is a beauty and freedom in this loneliness, too. And I sure don't want to dig in the dirt beneath the hot sun. Give me air conditioning and the internet, and I'll learn to deal with alienation tax.
  • MikeL
    638
    So Nature was full of technology before we even got here0af

    I like this quote. Self assembling atoms that have taken the form of life and the lifeless.

    For me the alienation is really about population. We are all (or most of us) more or less replaceable.0af

    I agree on that too, to a certain extent. Back in 1905 when Einstein published his great theories there was only one of him and a world world population of around 1.5 billion. By today's standards with a world population of around 6 billion, there would be the equivalent of 4 Einsteins running around, and so it is harder to achieve the same level of fame for your ideas or deeds. So too with great writers etc.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population_estimates

    Nonetheless, I can't help feel that while I am replaceable, the world will go on, my thinking is just enough left of centre to make a contribution somewhere, somehow. I think most people in this forum and maybe everywhere probably feel a bit that way too.

    Apokrisis will tell you that there are local degrees of freedom and global constraints everywhere, and it's not a bad deduction. In this instance the connectedness with the world really only happens locally. After families, friends, colleagues it closes out pretty fast. At the higher global levels of society we are really just numbers unless we do something to distinguish ourselves, but even then we are still very much just a commodity.
  • Wayfarer
    4.6k
    But aren't bird's nest and beaver's dams technology?0af

    Nope. Techne is 'made by human hands.' A stone axe is techne, a spider web not.
  • Bitter Crank
    4.1k
    But aren't bird's nest and beaver's dams technology?0af

    I have problems with calling beaver dams and birds nests 'technology'. Neither birds nor beavers wield their behavior deliberately or consciously. Beavers, for instance, bring branches and mud to locations where there is the sound of running water. That's how they keep their dams ingot repair. Put a speaker on a perfectly fine beaver dam, play the sound of running water, and the speaker will get patched.

    A bird that uses grass to make it's nest can not switch to mud, and visa versa. Bees must make 6 sided cells in their honey combs -- it can't be 3 or 4.

    I don't want to diminish in any way animal lives. Beavers, birds, bees, and beetles all perform wonderfully at their live-maintaining tasks. Neither do I want to diminish our animal lives. Most animals are part of natural systems. Wetland biology depends on beavers, and pollination depends on insects like bees. Humans don't seem to belong to natural systems. That's one of the problems we grapple with. (We can certainly fit harmoniously in natural systems, but it generally means living a much different kind of life than we normally aspire to.)
  • Bitter Crank
    4.1k
    We are all (or most of us) more or less replaceable.0af

    Of course we are not replaceable. "You are all replaceable" is management talk for restless workers who might be thinking about organizing a union. We are all individually unique in not just one or two ways, but many ways.

    Someone else can perform the boring tasks I do at work. That doesn't make me replaceable. Or you, either.
  • Bitter Crank
    4.1k
    but even then we are still very much just a commodity.MikeL

    NO.

    We might get treated like commodities, but that is an abomination.
  • MikeL
    638
    It is true that there is a lot of hardwired skills in animals, like nest building. There's also plenty of evidence of animals understanding the application of tools and then applying them. The crow comes to mind. It's a pretty good problem solver too.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BAOEAeh9AGk

    Figuring solutions to complex problems is humanities splinter skill though. Rather than changing to suit the environment, we change the environment to suit us. But just like the building of the dam is hardwired into the beaver, so too attempting to solve complex problems is hardwired into humanity and provides a few more degrees of freedom in the application.

    You are right, we are not commodities at our local level. I should have started the heirachy with self, then family, friends, colleagues. But the system does tend to close off after this level. Once we begin to be viewed through the collective eyes of "society" we become very much commodified.
  • Rich
    2.1k
    Once we begin to be viewed through the collective eyes of "society" we become very much commodified.MikeL

    You might be surprised at how limited is the population that actually believes in such goop. Those who work in the technology or medical fields might, in comes with the territory, but most people view such deplorable descriptions for what they are - propaganda of the ultra-rich. Slave owners of old as well as their feudal lord compatriots would spew out similar turn off phrases so they could use humans to gain wealth and then kill them off. Come to think of it, the Nazis had a very similar philosophy about non-Aryans.

    BTW, one can thank modern day science for dehumanization. Humans have become expendable to the point that opioids have become acceptable killers. As for technology, half of all Americans have just had their identities stolen from Equifax and will have to spend a good part of their lives combatting all kinds of identify theft. Trust me, life user to be much, much better.
  • MikeL
    638
    I'm not sure if you agree with my point or are against it. Your first paragraph seemed against it, the second seemed to confirm it.

    It should be recognised I am not stating a moral position that beyond a certain level all people should be viewed as commodities, but rather that beyond a certain level they are commodities to society. We are the workers in the factories, Tom Cruise is the actor who can pull the most money at the box office.

    You could define a commodity in this sense as one aspect of the whole person that is represented as the entirety of that person. Even Einstein is commoditised by society for his genius, nobody cares that he had he preferred lasagne to spag bol. unless they feel that by eating a lot of lasagne they too might become a genius.
  • Rich
    2.1k
    Viewing people a commodities is limited in our society. It is mostly held by those who can gain an economic by such propaganda - you know, stuff like people can be replaced by robots (when actually they are being replaced by slave labor all around the world). I have acquaintances in all economic strata, and you'll find such ideas commonplace among the ultra-rich and almost universally rejected by most other economic classes. Still, such ideas are constantly receiving media coverage, media that is now almost completely owned by the super-rich.
  • MikeL
    638
    I fully agree that the disparity between the masses and the elite has widened to such an extent that we are almost living back in aristocratic world.

    As an example, the landlord put up my rent six months after I moved in here because the perceived value of the market had increased. My house is positively geared meaning that the landlords repayments are less than what I am paying in rent. The difference is a bit of extra cash in his pocket. The irony of course is that if I had had the initial capital to buy the house I would be paying less now than I am in rent. I argued my case with the landlord (through the agent - never direct - that's not allowed), that my income hadn't gone up in the previous six months and this new rent is not what I had agreed upon. I asked him to reconsider. The answer. No - because I was a commodity. It went up again six months later.
  • Rich
    2.1k
    Right. When the Federal Reserve gives the ultra-rich unlimited access to 1% money, they can buy anything and everything and humans become disposable. Think of it as a game of Monopoly where one player has unlimited access to the bank. The government is owned by the banks and it works for them, just like it was in feudal/slave times. The ultra-rich get the cash and everyone else gets there debt.
  • JupiterJess
    67
    Technology seems like a mutation of the natural order of things, an artificial aggregate of dissimilar parts and pieces that have been forced into an unnatural symbiosis. The natural world is put under examination and forcibly man-handled into submission; we might even see technology as nature being tortured.darthbarracuda

    Have you considered a career in writing? :)
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