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Holy Chip!

The rear LCD display on a Flip Video camrea

The rear LCD display on a Flip Video camrea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I was reading an article in the Wall Street two weekends ago about yet another technological revolution heading our way. Titled “Is Smart Making Us Dumb?” it explored the new wave of “smart” technology we’ll be seeing soon. There’s a trash bin that analyzes your recycling efficiency and posts the results on Facebook if you’re not “green” enough. There’s a fork that monitors how fast you’re eating and signals you to slow down if needed. Computer scientists are even working on a “smart kitchen” where you’ll be surrounded by video cameras and computers guiding your every move. It’s like Disney’s Tomorrow Land on steroids.

Fortunately, the article’s author, Evgeny Morozov, approaches the subject from a skeptical, critical viewpoint. He’s not all pie-eyed at the new shiny things. In fact, he calls attention to a frightening trend in the futurist, technology camp: fixing things like us.

Morozov quotes Google CFO, Patrick Pichette, as telling an Australian news program that his company’s computer scientists “see the world as a completely broken place” that can be fixed by technology. He also points out that Jane McGonigal, a game designer and futurist, often talks about how “reality is broken.” Finally, Morozov makes it clear that the word “smart” is “Silicon Valley’s shorthand for transforming present-day social reality and the hapless souls who inhabit it.” The religious overtones are hard to miss.

“The serpent said to the woman . . . ‘you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'” (Gen. 3:5, ESV)

Over a half century ago, scientist and visionary Loren Eiseley, wrote in his book, “The Firmament of Time,” that technology will change man, and not for the better. “The rise of a science whose powers and creations seem awe-inspiringly remote . . . has come dangerously close to bringing into existence a type of man who is not human. He no longer thinks in the old terms; he has ceased to have a conscience. He is an instrument of power.”

We’d best open our eyes.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2013 in Ideas, In The News

 

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Reason Isn’t Everything

Archimedes Thoughtful

Archimedes Thoughtful (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is not such a great gap between mysticism and rationalism as we tend to imagine . . . we have all urged friends to “sleep on” a problem in the hope of finding a solution that has eluded them in their waking hours. When our minds are receptive and relaxed, ideas come from the deeper region of the mind. This has also been the experience of such scientists as Archimedes, who discovered his famous Principle in the bath. A truly creative philosopher or scientist has, like the mystic, to confront the dark world of uncreated reality and the cloud of unknowing in the hope of piercing it. As long as they wrestle ¬†with logic and concepts, they are, necessarily, imprisoned in ideas or forms of thought that have already been established.

- Karen Armstrong, from “A History of God” (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1993)

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2013 in Quotations

 

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Good-Bye, Jacques

Good-Bye, Jacques

This weekend I read of the passing of Jacques Barzun. It made me more than a little sad. Not because I was his biggest fan or have read all of his books (I’ve read one.) What made me sad was that another great mind and insightful thinker has passed from our world at a time when we can ill afford the loss.

Jacques Barzun was a historian but his interests were broad ranging. Music, art, teaching, the intellectual life, even detective fiction were the subjects of his writing. However, his observations and commentary on Western culture was where, to me in my limited exposure, he truly shone. He strongly believed that ideas greatly influence civilization. Take this example from “Darwin, Marx, Wagner,” which I read several years ago:

The Evolution which triumphed with Darwin, Marx, and Wagner . . . was something that existed by itself. It was an absolute. Behind all changes and all actual things it operated as a cause. Darwinism yielded its basic law, and viewed historically, its name was Progress. All events had physical origins; physical origins were discoverable by science; and the method of science alone could, by revealing the nature of things, make the mechanical sequences of the universe beneficent to man. Fatalism and progress were as closely linked as the Heavenly Twins and like them invincible.

Their victory, however, implied the banishment of all anthropomorphic ideas, and since mind was the most anthropomorphic thing in man, it must be driven from the field, first in the form of God or Teleology, then in the form of consciousness or purpose. These were explained away as illusions; those were condemned as superstition or metaphysics.

There, in eight easily understandable sentences, was Barzun’s analysis of the idea of Darwinism. That he wrote so clearly was another of his talents. He was an intellectual who wrote so that everyone could understand. He was a public intellectual in the best sense of the word.

His magnum opus, “From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present,” was published when he was 93 years old. Amazing. I hope merely to be breathing by then.

Joseph Epstein shared his memories of Jacques Barzun in this past weekend’s Wall Street Journal. I can do no better than to leave you with his closing sentences:

He lived to 104, and his death scarcely comes as a surprise. Chiefly it is a reminder that a great model of the life of the mind has departed the planet. Not many such models left, if any.

Amen.

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2012 in Authors, History, Ideas, In The News

 

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Philosophy Vs Science

English: Mortimer Adler, Miami Book Fair Inter...

English: Mortimer Adler, Miami Book Fair International, 1988 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let me make this last point quite clear. The conduct of human life and the organization of human society depend on our answers to such questions as what happiness consists in, what our duties are, what form of government is most just, what constitutes the common good of society, what freedom men should have, and so on. Not one of these questions, nor any question like them which involves right and wrong or good and bad, can be answered by science, now or ever. . .

In my judgement it is philosophy, not science, which should be uppermost in any culture or civilization, simply because the questions it can answer are more important for human life. Certainly it should be clear that the more science we possess, the more we need philosophy, because the more power we have, the more we need direction.

- Dr. Mortimer J. Adler from the book “Great Ideas From The Great Books”

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2012 in Quotations

 

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