TECHNOLOGY, KNOWLEDGE, AND WISDOM
Movies have long wrestled with the questions above. They explore the possibilities and pitfalls from numerous directions, be that via the political commentary of X-Men, the hopeful future visions of Robocop, or the gently dystopian almost-present visions of Her.
Philosophers, scientists, and theologians have also wrestled with these questions. From the philosophy of Mary Midgley, to the cultural commentary of Andy Crouch, to the religio-scientific utopianism of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Within the academy, scientists, engineers, philosophers, theologians, and educators have the opportunity to shape how we, as a society engage with these issues. Simply shrugging, scrolling on through a news-feed and hoping things will turn out OK is simply not an option.
To this end, taking inspiration from both academic literature and popular culture, this series of discussions will consider the interrelationships between technology, knowledge, and wisdom, and what this means for how we (should) live in today's world.
Scenario 1: Specialisation
The creatives stared in contemplation into the middle distance as the labourers refilled their coffee cups for them. Each piece was in its place, and playing its part. And that was right. Those who, by accident of birth, contingency of life, or guiding of the Social Plan, were deemed best fit for menial tasks were trained from the start for that at which they would excel. And those best suited to more cerebral reflation were trained in that. Within such specialisations were those trained in art history and those trained in art appreciation; those trained in neuro-psychology, and those trained in psycho-neurology. And lest silos become too narrow or disconnected, there were those trained in interdisciplinarity. To each their allotted place, as the Social Plan willed it.
And yet, thought one of the creatives, I wonder if there is a better way? They shook such a strange thought from their head. Not my concern. If there were any chance of a better way, the Social Plan surely had someone specialised to look for it.
Scenario 2: Integration
Once upon time, humanity was stuck with the hand it was dealt: a brief, brutish, painful life; limited by shortsightedness, forgetfulness, fragility, and deformity. Now – thanks be to progress – we are free. Free to bind ourselves to a bright, efficient, effective future. We have cameras to see everything; hard-drives to remember everything; technologies to fix everything. There is nothing that can slow us down, impede our advance, or end our days. Now we deal our own hand. And yet, free to deal any hand, there is only one hand we deal. There is nothing we lack, except anything that can slow us down, impede our advance, or end our days.
Scenario 3: Separation
She inhaled deeply. Smiled at the simple pleasure of smelling cherry blossom on the cool evening breeze, and feeling the soft grass beneath her bare feet. She stretched her shoulders back and stood tall, at peace, free from the constant interruptions and burdens of work. But there it was, even here, even after this day, her mind returned already to the world to which her body must also now return.
She gazed wistfully at the setting sun before turning her back on it and watching her locker rise from what a moment before had been simple grass. She donned her dress, her shoes, her glasses; picked up her phone, and re-inserted her earpiece. She took the escalator down to the station platform and boarded the train, which efficiently transported her to down into her world of glass and steel, purified air and optimised lighting.
As beautiful as the cherry blossom was, you could not trade it, eat it, or live in it. No. It was a luxury set apart. A brief pleasure away from the reality of all that must be done.
Scenario 4: Centralisation
I do what I want. I talk to whomever I want. I go wherever I want. I read whatever I want. But there are so many people, so many places, so many books. If only someone could help me choose. Someone who knew me. Someone who could suggest what I might want to read, or who I might want to talk to. I wouldn’t have to take their suggestions. I would still be free. But their suggestions might help. And the better they knew me, the better their suggestions would be. Until they would just make the suggestions that I would have made, if only I knew myself as well as they did. Then I could do what I truly would have wanted!
But who could help me choose? My friends do not know me well enough; they could not know me well enough. I would need someone with enough resources to get into every area of my life. Maybe there would be a company with enough resources. But I am not sure I would trust a company that was out to make a profit. I would need someone with enough resources but without a financial interest. Maybe if the government knew all about me…
Scenario 5: Transcendence
This was it. She looked nervously at the smiling faces on the screens to her left and right. She looked down to the cables snaking away from the computers to the banks of sensors and, she knew, from there to a network of sensors around the world.
“But what does it feel like?” she asked.
“Indescribable!” answered the face of her boyfriend on the screen to her left. “Just like being in a body, but so much more!”
“Are you sure? How can you know? What if it feels different, but you can’t tell?”
“Don’t get philosophical.” he sighed. “Just upload yourself and join us!”
She hesitated one last time, made sure the connection was securely fitted to her temple, and pressed the button.
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Dr. Mike Brownnutt
PhD in experimental quantum mechanics, Imperial College London
PhD in business economics, Harvard University
PhD in communication, Regent University