• MikeL
    A bird that uses grass to make it's nest can not switch to mud, and visa versa.Bitter Crank

    I just want to add to this comment that they can. It's adaptation to the environment, best seen through consecutive generations.
  • darthbarracuda
    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".apokrisis

    Yes. Heidegger has a famous piece on the problem of technology. Essentially we become obsessed with the present-at-hand and begin to see the world in terms of calculable entities that must be weighed and measured and sorted to maximize efficiency and production.

    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.apokrisis

    But do you think there is something "natural" about, say, a Christmas icicle light string? Normally we wouldn't call this a natural phenomenon, as it was created by human hands. But actually, it was probably created by a machine, which was created by human hands. But that opens the door to seeing the Christmas lights being made by nature itself. There doesn't seem to be a strict cut-off being what is natural and what is artificial.

    And of course, what we see as "natural" could very well be a strange anomaly in the big picture, and that the long stretch of time gives the illusion that it isn't.

    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

    Yes, this is similar to what I was getting at, but not necessarily in an awe-inspiring way, although I will agree it is remarkable how flexible reality seems to be. Like it's almost unbelievable how something like a printer is even physically possible. Why is there so much flexibility and diversity? Why not just the same and nothing more?

    What I see to be disturbing at times is how technology resembles a form of torture, a mangling of an assortment of unrelated things, put together in ways that, had humans never existed, would never come to be this way on their own.

    I'm by no means advocating biological intelligent design or any bullshit like that but it's remarkable how the world is so flexible and allows us creative human beings to come up with seemingly endless new creations.

    I'm a computer engineering major. I have some experience with engineering in general and I can tell you that many things that seem to work "perfectly" as if by magic are the result of many, many failures, and may barely function properly itself. "Whatever works" is how engineers tend to go about things. And it's surprising when you learn how things work - sometimes it's cool but for me at least I've found that I'm more surprised that this is actually the way it works. How things work in the inside of the black box can oftentimes seem counterintuitive or unexpected. Often it seems like it shouldn't work, but somehow it does.

    Actually I think one of the disturbing aspects of technology is the fact that technology's teleology is entirely imposed by humans. Even the identity of these technologies is a projection of humans. When humans go extinct there will likely be some leftover technology that no longer has an identity. A book will no longer be a book, it will just be a "thing". Some mutated assemblage of random pieces, held together by a purpose that no longer exists. It's creepy.

    Have you considered a career in writing? :)JupiterJess

    Thank you. I've considered it but not in any serious degree.
  • szardosszemagad
    Nature had billions of years to perfect itself. If you listen to materialist atheists. But man has toyed with hi-tech for only about 70 years.

    It's time to give man and his technology a chance. Please, be a bit more patient.
  • Rich
    I just want to add to this comment that they can. It's adaptation to the environment, best seen through consecutive generations.MikeL

    Yes, this is the essential feature of life. It is continuously learning, adapting and evolving. It is moving against entropy. Tools are in constant state of decaying. They are not self-organizing.
  • Bitter Crank
    The crow comes to mind.MikeL

    The crow is, indeed, remarkable. Parrots too show remarkable capability. For that matter, so do squirrels when they want something. In order for animals in general to survive and evolve, they had to have some skills and adaptability. And, contrary wise, humans can be remarkably dull and blunt.
  • Rich
    And, contrary wise, humans can be remarkably dull and blunt.Bitter Crank

    For further evidence, just observe today where people choose over and over again to build their homes in Florida. And observe how many people in Florida choose to stop flying out of airports and spewing junk in the atmosphere creating the very environmental conditions that are destroying their homes. But then again, humans are quite certain that technology will save them against 15 foot storm surges.
  • Bitter Crank
    But man has toyed with hi-tech for only about 70 years.szardosszemagad

    Good point, but a little longer than 70 years. 1839 for photography (with developmental events preceding); 1840s for the telegraph, (with developmental events preceding); Franklin investigating electricity 1752; the Leyden jar, 1740s; Bell's telephone, 1876; transatlantic cable, 1850s; electrical generation plant, 1880s; Germ Theory 1876 (with developmental events preceding); viruses identified, 1890s; transatlantic radio transmission 1901; Darwin's big book, 1859...

    So many bits and pieces had to fall into place before any of this could happen, and they started to fall into place with increasing frequency after [pick a date: 1600? 1700? 1800?]. As you say, over the last 70 years there has certainly been remarkable acceleration of understanding about matter and energy.
  • Bitter Crank
    humans are quite certain that technology will save them against 15 foot storm surges.Rich

    Like it did in Houston.
  • szardosszemagad
    This thread reminds me of how fondly people place the nobility and serenity of nature above man's achievements, and how incongruously quote irrelevant facts.

    Man can change building huts from straw to building huts from mud. Man can migrate to better climate. Man can get things he really wants, just like squirrels, or even better.

    It is one thing to be enamoured by the beauty and attraction of nature; it is another thing to extrapolate from that beauty to declaring that man's achievements are inferior to those of nature. (For one thing, man is part of nature; what ever man does is an act of nature, by extension. Man is not supernatural or outside of nature. Man is a natural being, and the artificial things he creates are a sign of his ingenuity.)

    I don't know whether to compare the posts in this thread to poetry, or to "rooting for the underdog".
  • szardosszemagad
    When I originally created my post, to which you referred two or three posts up, I said "technology is at most 2000 years old". Then I thought of the pyramids, and corrected it to 5,000 years old. Then I thought of the wheel, the fire, and the bow and arrow, the stone-age tools, circumcision, and decided that technology is as old as man himself.

    So I cut through the mustard, and called it "70 years" for "Hi-tech", and that almost seemed to have stuck... until you came along with your post. :-)
  • Bitter Crank
    man is part of nature

    Man is not supernatural or outside of nature

    Man is a natural being

    Absolutely. But it is hard to remember that stuffed into a small chair at 30,000 feet, eating the 10 lousy peanut pieces wrapped in plastic generously provided by Delta.
  • Rich
    Yep, man has evolved so that it claims it has become that what it loves most - a computer, and then spends all of its time its time sitting and playing with its true love while complaining of backaches. Then it takes toxic drugs (truly unique in nature) to kill the pain so that it can continue to sit and play with the computer. I believe man is experimenting with maximizing stupidity. Pretty successful so far.
  • Bitter Crank
    This must be the first time that stone tools and circumcision has been used in the same sentence, and referencing the history of technology. If I were to get circumcized, I would definitely prefer stainless steel and anesthesia.

    But you are right. Stone age tool making was a well-developed technology. I read the other day in the New York Times that Neanderthals had learned how to extract a pitch-glue from birch bark. They used it to fasten points to shafts.
  • schopenhauer1
    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?

    You mentioned Heidegger who had this idea of ready-at-hand. This may be a useful way of thinking of human relationship to technology. Arguably, the reason why our branch or hominins evolved the way it did around 2.5 million years ago, is a ratcheting effect of two forces- tool-making, and complex social networks. Focusing on the tool-making part first, our species' attitude towards nature has always been one where we find opportunities to transform raw materials into tools. Other animals do this, but we seemed to be at home with tool-making. The process of tool-making was less of a struggle, more frequent, and required more complex steps than other animals. There is evidence that the complex procedures for tool-making and broca's region of the brain (primarily involved in language processing) is tied together. Thus, even language could have been ratcheted up by tool-use. Combined with the need for social learning in complex societies language became more useful, itself being a tool of sorts to get other things done more quickly. Social learning had huge benefits, creating a variety of cultural ways to solve problems. And so a niche was created based on social and cultural learning. Again, presumably tool-use drove this niche, and in turn was subsumed itself in a larger phenomena of cultural learning in which technology was a large facet, but not the only one. Language and concepts, driven by tool-use also created the complex system of social, and self-reflective species we are currently. Species with only intermediary skills at the cusp of this tool-making niche that was starting to develop must have died out rather quickly while ones that were able to function most effectively with this new adaptation, survived more efficiently. Thus, the relatively short span to the modern man from first species (like Homo habilis).

    Language and concepts, transforming raw materials to useful items to survive (and entertain), is pretty much part of our species. It is natural in that it was our hominin niche. Exaptations from tool-use, led to cultural learning which then became so useful, it was probably adapted for in the ability to use languages more readily and form concepts and syntax more easily. Terrence Deacon's idea that perhaps rituals became the basis for language can be part of the equation. Beyond this example, I would have to start a new thread on the more particulars of language evolution and the many theories that abound with this phenomena.
  • John Gould

    You say, in the context of your concerns about technology in the modern era (at the end of your op), "In a way the question comes down to, "What differentiates the natural from the artificial ?"

    I think you will definatly find Martin Heideggar's, (relatively) short and accessible 1954 essay, "The Question Concerning Technology", helpful in answering this question.


  • 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

    I agree, more or less. But I was proposing what feels "unnatural" about modern life. It's not the stuff we've built but all of the strangers out there. Imagine a post-apocalyptic tribe of 30 living in the ruins of downtown New York. Everyone knows everyone in their uniqueness. Would the ruins be so disturbing and unnatural?
  • 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

    Of course you have a point. Humans are revolutionary compared to animals, as well as massively self-conscious. They think about their thinking, which includes thinking about this thinking about their thinking and so on. They can even grasp their absurdity and futility, in a certain sense, though this grasping is arguably just more adaptation. As apo might say, the perception of futility might nevertheless help us unclog the heat death.

    But what if we are visited by aliens who stand to us as we stand to beavers? The sound they play by the water for us will entice our great thinkers and poets to rhapsodize. But they'll use the simplicity of this "sound" for them as an argument for a qualitative break between our technological status. (Just a playful thought experiment...)
  • 0af
    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.MikeL

    I think you've put your finger on a great issue. Those whose ego-ideals involve creativity are perhaps the proudest of us. Of course I include myself. The fantasy is to have said something both significant and original, or to have produced a non-conceptual musical work, perhaps, with a potent, unique "flavor" of feeling. This fantasy is threatened by the millions of strangers, some of them maybe the true "Einsteins" instead of us. The horror is that one might be a second-rate imitation, a superfluous poor-man's version of the thinker, poet, composer, scientists. At least the mediocre scientist can be a useful foot-soldier, but the mediocre creative type is ( at worst) noise obscuring signal.

    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.MikeL

    Exactly. I think that's the heart of alienation. Having only commodity value for the vast majority of other human beings. We exist for them as skills/credentials with a fluctuating if not radically uncertain market value. So capitalism is stressful. But the flip side the privacy that comes with this alienation. In a small town, folks are in your business. In the city you are just a passing face, perhaps worth scanning on the subway between stops, if even that.

    The bottom line is that we are not living within our means.

    New technologies often are the result of the need to cope with problems created by previous technologies.

    More significantly, as Richard H. Robbins organizes, outlines, and conveys so effectively in Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism, the culture/system that has dominated the globe for the past 500 years, capitalism, requires perpetual economic growth. For the system to work, more and more things have to be commodified.

    I would argue that when Silicon Valley designs and makes a new printer, a new gadget, a new operating system, etc. it is because something--anything--new has to be made to get consumers to consume, earn returns for investors, and the many other things that keep the system functioning. Hence, Steve Jobs said "It isn't the consumers' job to know what they want".

    Whether it's McDonald's french fries, the latest printers, or a lot of things in between, how often do people in the affluent Global North really like, need or want the products that they consume? A lot of it collects dust and barely gets used, ends up in landfills, etc.

    The problem is not "technology". The problem is stuff. See Annie Leonard's "The Story of Stuff".

    We have things being made and consumed for the sake of being made and consumed so that more "value" can be calculated by economists and added to GDP. We have a system that now dominates the entire globe and requires perpetual economic growth and is completely incompatible with sustainability or any other living within our means. You should not be surprised by the meaningless, random stuff that such a system produces.
  • fishfry
    People say tech has a downside. Sure. But I like tv and high speed internet and automobiles and a huge variety of products on the store shelves enabled by the computer networks that run global commerce. I for one do not want to live in a wood shack reading by candlelight and dying at 30.

    How about medical technology? How much of that are people willing to give up?
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