Friday, August 24, 2012

Technology East and West

A Sequence of Connected Ideas
Tree at Wentworth Coolidge Mansion- Portsmouth, NH: August 2012

The following is my summary of Steven Batchelor’s take on technology, taken from pages 70-72 of his book Faith to Doubt, written in the late 1980s: 

A technique is a sequence of connected ideas, which when correctly applied produce an identical result under all circumstances. Whenever a technique is applied, a technology is presupposed.

In this sense, technology is neither recent or modern; it has nothing to do with scientific research or machinery. In this sense, technology is as old as the human mind, referring as it does to a particular approach to reality. 

In the West, technology has been concerned with the outside as an application of techniques to transform the material world. Conversely, in the East, technology has been concerned with the inside as a method to transform the spiritual world. 

Batchelor says, “I can see for myself that a technical approach to transforming the material world works. Yet even here what works on one level is often achieved only at a greater cost on another. Many advances in technology have brought unforeseen, destructive consequences in their wake.”

Climate change comes to mind for me as the latest, greatest example.

 “To submit nature to man's technical desires cannot be achieved without consequences that may cause more harm in the long term than any benefits produced in the short term. A technical attitude is locked in a narrow vision which is blind to the wider implications of its actions.”
A Sequence of Reeds Arranged by the Tide
Adams Point:August 2012
Chinese sage Lao Tzu understood this in the 6th century BC:

Those that would gain what is under heaven by tampering with it–
I have seen that they do not succeed. 
For that which is under heaven is like a holy vessel, 
dangerous to tamper with. 
Those that tamper with it, harm it. 
Those that grab at it, lose it. 

Western technology, Batchelor writes, considers only the causal relations between things that may be exploited to fulfill its own desires while ignoring their deepest interconnections. He illustrates the folly of this approach with a quote by Gabriel Marcel:

Broadly, we might say that man's increasing mastery over nature has been accompanied ... by a more and more complete capitulation of man before his own fears and desires, or even before the ungovernable element in his nature. Man's mastery over nature, then, is a mastery which has less and less control over itself .... A world where techniques are paramount is a world given over to desire and fear; because every technique is there to serve some desire or fear.

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