THE MISSION OF TECHNOLOGY
Valdemar W. Setzer
Original: Nov. 24, 2007; enlarged version: Jan 19, 2014
This paper was written for those who care about the direction that technology has generally been taking for a long time: in many aspects, it has been dominating and destroying humans and nature. This effect comes from a blind faith on science and its offspring, technology, representing a deep fanaticism for them. I am totally against any fanaticism, in particular finding that everything that is scientific and is technological is good. Obviously, I am also against the opposite fanaticism, religious fundamentalism. I am totally for the pursuit of understanding phenomena, and actions based on this understanding, enriched by the intuition of feelings. This comes from the fact that we cannot have a full knowledge of anything, except in mathematics, albeit with some restrictions. We also should take into account past actions and experiences. In this sense, I have no belief or faith. Or better, taking into account that many of our actions are dictated by our unconscious as the impulse to write this article I try not to have them. Note that I spoke of actions based not only on understanding, so I do not consider myself a pure rationalist.
Although almost all scientists are against religious fanaticism, one should recognize that it is bigotry for science and technology that is destroying humans and nature. Religious fanaticism only destroys some individuals, and is therefore fairly limited. Examples of the destruction caused by technology are air pollution and perhaps one of its consequences, global warming; pollution of food; uncontrolled medication; ecological and human disasters that may lye ahead due to the genetic modification of plants and animals, creating living beings that never existed; the conditioning produced by TV and video games; and many other phenomena.
I have to emphasize from the outset that I am not against technology; I am not a neo-Luddite. In fact, I majored in electrical engineering (ITA, Brazil, 1963) and my professional life, dedicated to research, teaching and consulting in computer science, was based on technology. I am using a computer to compose this text but this is a necessity, since I intend to insert this article into my web site. I am a ham radio class A (PY2EH unfortunately inactive, because the Internet almost ended with ham radio), but there was no need for that.
Certainly it may seem strange to many that technology may have a mission, because it is apparently neutral. It is generally believed that the benefits or harms it produces depend on its usage. Section 3 of this paper shows that, on the contrary, technology is not neutral. Due to my worldview, briefly expounded in section 2, I can speak of a mission of technology, treated in section 4. In order to understand the role of technology in relation to human freedom, section 5 characterizes aspects of evil and good. Section 6 shows how technology is being misused, and section 7 addresses what it is understood as its mission to humanity. Section 8 gives some guidelines for taking what is considered a positive attitude towards technology. Section 9 contains a brief conclusion, and section 10 contains the bibliographical references.
Links to web pages do not appear in the text. This way, it is hoped that the reader does not feel the curiosity and urge to interrupt his reading and jump to another page, thus losing the thread. These links are in the references, with the titles mentioned in the text.
This version is a translation, done by the author, of the original in Portuguese "A missão da tecnologia".
2. My worldview
There are two mutually exclusive visions of the world: a materialist view, or materialism, and a spiritual view, which will be called spirituality. I would prefer to call the latter spiritualism, in analogy to materialism, but I am aware of the connotations this word has in English, and I want to avoid them.
Materialism is the idea that there are only matter and physical processes in the universe (chemical processes are nowadays reduced to physical processes). Many materialists call these processes "natural" ones, and do not admit the existence of any "supernatural" process which cannot be totally reduced to physical processes. Today, the vast majority of scientists are materialists.
Spirituality is here understood as a worldview that acknowledges that there are non-physical "substances" and processes in the universe, irreducible to physical processes, but eventually influencing the latter. To avoid the use of the word "spiritualist", someone that embraces such a worldview will be called a spiritual person. Scientific spirituality admits the existence of non-physical "substances" and processes only as a working hypothesis. I use the term "non-physical" to indicate something that exists outside of the physical world, and that can not be reduced to physical phenomena. I am aware of the problem of defining something by negation, but it is the simplest way I found to express what is being characterized here.
Note the emphasis given to the expression "working hypothesis". If someone believes or has faith that there exist non-physical processes in the universe, I do not consider her/him to have scientific spirituality. Hypotheses about the world should always be temporary, formulated for the understanding of something, and one should always seek their confirmation through observation of facts. On the contrary, beliefs are usually permanent, fixed, and are not subjected neither to understanding nor to proof of evidence. For a more detailed account on materialism and spiritualism, see my papers "Science, religion and spirituality" and "Consequences of materialism".
Materialists and spiritual persons are characterized by their way of thinking. Typically, a materialist looks for and uses exclusively physical explanations for any phenomenon. On the other hand, a spiritual person should admit the existence of non-physical factors that may influence some physical phenomena, especially those involving living beings.
In the sense given above, I do not consider to be a spiritual person somebody who keeps attributing the cause of some phenomena to a non-physical entity such as what is commonly called God. The reason is that this entity and her ways of acting cannot be observed and understood, because she has become a mere abstraction. Thus, typically, this type of person, who generally considers her/himself to be "religious", does not seek to understand some phenomena, which s/he takes as being caused by the action of the entity s/he calls God. One characteristic of this lack of understanding is the absence of an explanation of how this (clearly non-physical) entity can influence, for example, the actions of living beings. In the sense that was given here, every spiritual person has some religiosity, but not every religious person is a scientific spiritual person. Rather, by their way of thinking, one may note that many who call themselves "religious" are, in fact, materialists. For a detailed characterization of materialism and the spiritual view, see my article "Science, religion and spirituality".
There is much evidence suggesting that the spiritual world view is a reasonable one. I will not dwell on this, as well as on some other subjects concerning this view, because the paper "Is there just matter or also spirit in the universe?" discusses this question extensively. There I also expound my theory of how non-physical processes can act upon the physical world, especially in living beings, without violating physical laws and conditions. As will be seen in section 4, it is precisely due to admitting the spiritual hypothesis that one can speak about a "mission" of technology.
3. Technology and its non-neutrality
There is no neutral technology. In fact, hold a hammer, and see what is the inner attitude that is inspires: certainly beating something, probably a nail, sometimes with violence. Now, hold a pillow. The attitude it certainly inspires is calm, coziness, rest unless for children who like to make fun with a pillow fight, but even then the induced attitude is not to hurt another person with violence. Therefore, these two artifacts induce a certain inner attitude and certain feelings. The philosopher Marting Heidegger wrote "Thus we shall never experience our relationship to the essence of technology so long as we merely conceive and push forward the technological, put up with it, or evade it. Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it. But we are delivered over to it in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral; for this conception of it to which today we particularly like to do homage, makes us utterly blind to the essence of technology." [Heidegger 1954.]
In fact, we must recognize that nothing in the world is neutral in relation to humans, because they incorporate all their experiences. Indeed, the reader will not be exactly the same after having read this article, compared to what s/he was before reading it: s/he will have come in contact with some new ideas, will have had some new thoughts, and all this will be "saved" forever, at least in the subconscious. Surely the reader would not remember everything read, but if hypnotized, s/he can repeat much of what has been forgotten.
I will give four examples of the non-neutrality of technology, using my favorite targets. First, examine TV. Imagine what it means to have stored in the unconscious or subconscious all the mental junk that was watched on television. Surely it must have some influence in the viewers' thinking, feelings, and actions (a young person, as s/he enters college, has in general already watched on average at least 20,000 hours of TV). That's why there was a perfect marriage between TV and advertising. Never so much money has been spent on advertising than after the advent of television, and this is the vehicle to which most resources on advertising has been channeled. In Brazil, in 2010 66.2%, that is, about 2/3 of all advertising expenditures went to TV [Mídia 2011, p. 51]. One could think that these expenditures are channeled to it because it is the most widespread means of communication. In fact, it is present in almost all Brazilian households (the estimate is 98%, [idem, p. 60]), to the point that it is not possible to make some research using a control group that does not watch TV, because it almost does not exist. But the fact is that if advertising on TV did not work, conditioning viewers to buy the advertised or transmitted products, large companies would not spend the huge amounts they do for advertising on TV after all, they are not idiots to throw money away. Susan Linn, who in her excellent book Consumer Kids, mentions that in 2002 McDonald's spent 510.5 million dollars in advertising only on American TV [Linn 2006, p. 132]. In Brazil, the fight of political parties for an extra minute of political propaganda (subsidized by the government with time slices proportional to the number of representatives of each party), is also a demonstration of TVs conditioning power, as exposed in my essay "One minute more on TV". Another interesting case is reported by Hancox and collaborators: They did a longitudinal study in New Zealand, following the research subjects from childhood on for 15 years. They found that, despite the fact that cigarette advertising on TV was banned in 1963, before the beginning of the research, children who saw lots of TV, were 17% more likely to be smokers in young adulthood (age 26). This was simply due to their having watched programs in which people appeared smoking, such as in interviews or films [Hancox 2004; see this and other studies cited here, in my paper "Negative effects of electronic media on children, adolescents and adults"; there I cite literally more than 100 scientific papers corroborating my ideas]. These two cases demonstrate that TV has a conditioning effect, therefore it is not at all a neutral vehicle of communication.
If TV is non-neutral, then imagine a video game. In this case, the conditioning is not only done through images, but also by the gamer's actions. For example, it has been sufficiently proven that violent video games induce aggressive actions in the short, medium and long term and social desensitizing (see, for example [Anderson 2000, Bushman 2009]). Another example of non- neutrality of a machine is the computer. There are several studies showing that the more a child or adolescent uses a computer, either at home or in school, the worse their school performance (see citations of some of these studies in my paper "A critical view of the One laptop per child (OLPC) project". This fact is in general justified considering that students end up wasting too much time using computers instead of studying or even doing their homework. This is obviously a fact, but I also give importance to the essential influence of the computer on the way of thinking. In any application, it forces a mathematical, logical-symbolic reasoning, hindering general creative thinking. Children should not exercise this type of thinking, which goes contrary to their non-formal, imprecise, flexible, intuitive thinking, directly connected to reality of to fantasy.
The negative impact of computers has reached extraordinary levels with the use of the Internet, especially with the advent of smartphones and tablets. With them, one can access the Internet anytime anywhere, which ends up causing serious physical and psychological disturbances, including addiction [Young 2011]. Adults are not controlling themselves; many are using the Internet exaggeratedly and for idiotic purposes, now imagine what is happening with children and adolescents, who should be developing their self-control!
Finally, one last example of the non-neutrality of technology: genetically modified foods, which will also be considered here as artifacts, because they don't occur originally in nature. It has been already proven that many of them cause several problems, for example the fact that bacteria are used in the transposition of genes and thus break up the genetic barrier between plants and animals, as documented by Jeffrey Smith in his excellent book [Smith, 2007, pp. 123 ff.]. In a public lecture given on Oct. 2007, he stated that he considered genetically modified foods as being a much bigger ecological disaster than global warming and nuclear waste.
4. The question of the "mission" determinism and randomness
As already stated in section 2, I have no beliefs (or, as I said, I try not to have them). One of the first beliefs I dont have is the belief in chance. One of my fundamental hypotheses is that there is a cause for every phenomenon. I can make this assumption because of my spiritual worldview: some causes may not be physical. For example, take up the symmetry of the human ears. If the shape of the ears of someone is compared with that of another person, the difference is usually very large. Relatively to this difference, in general the one that exists between the ears of a certain person is insignificant. It turns out that the ears grow continuously. How come they preserve their great symmetry? One cannot imagine that a cell of an ear, subdividing itself to promote the growth of the tissue where it is, physically "communicates" to the corresponding cell in the other ear, "telling" the latter that it will subdivide, and in what direction, so that this second cell also subdivides and positions its two resulting cells in the symmetrical position of the cells produced by the first one. Without admitting this communication, there remains the physical explanation that the growth is random, governed by a mysterious "programming", perhaps existing in the genetic code: the environment of a cell causes the "program" to be executed in a different way depending on the location of the cell. But in this case it is necessary to assume that the environment is the same in the vicinity of two symmetrical cells prior to their subdivision. As the genetic code is the same, how is the symmetry produced? In addition, there will necessarily be a certain randomness, because the time of subdivision may vary between the two corresponding cells and their environment is obviously not exactly the same. Probably, not even a perfect symmetry exists at the cellular level. However, observing the ears of a person, the symmetry seems to be too big, excluding random growth to a large extent. Any randomness breaks at least a bit of symmetry, propagating its effect during growth, and this would become apparent. Another hypothesis is that there is a model regulating the growth of both ears. This model obviously cannot be physical, otherwise we would have to live with the ears encaged in templates; moreover, these templates should be dynamic, modified along the time, to account for the changes in shape with age. Therefore, the symmetric models of the ears that control their growth down to the cell level, perhaps down to molecules and atoms, are ideas. They are thought-models.
It is hardly surprising that there exist models that are ideas. For example, an architect designing a house has the idea of it in his mind before physically representing it on paper, and before constructing it according to his ideas. Every mathematical entity is an idea, such as a perfect circle (which nobody has ever seen; what we see in objects with the form of a circle is a rough approximation representing its concept). Just because I admit the spiritual world view I can make the hypothesis of the existence of mental models of our ears: concepts, mental models, exist in a Platonic, non-physical world of ideas. For more details, including pictures of plants and butterflies, showing shapes and symmetries, see my paper "Is there just matter or also spirit in the universe?" where, as already mentioned, I expound a theory of how these mental models can act upon the physical world, e.g. through the timing and direction of a cellular subdivision. Note that there is no problem in supposing that a mental model is dynamic. In the case of the ears, it will be modifying with their growth. For example, in a baby the ears still do not have in miniature precisely the form which will be acquired in adulthood. Incidentally, every baby has almost round, universal forms that's why each family member can say that the baby resembles her/himself... What was described for the ears obviously applies for all symmetric organs such as hands, feet, eyes, eyebrows etc.
The renowned biologist Richard Lewontin shows with great emphasis in his book The Triple Helix, that genes and the environment are not sufficient to predict the growth of living beings and their shape. He believes that there should be a third factor (hence the "triple helix"), which he calls "noisy development", or random development. In my view, it is not a random development process, but the conformation of a living organism to a non physical model [Lewontin 2000, p. 36].
Note the emphasis I give to the symmetry in living beings as a strong indication of the existence of non- physical processes. Note also that one should not confuse randomness with imprecise measures. The latter are consequences of the very imprecision of the measuring devices, or the influence of these devices upon the phenomena they measure, which is clear in the molecular and atomic levels (hence quantum mechanics, about which I comment in the paper "Is there just matter or also spirit in the universe?"). A materialist must necessarily make the hypothesis of the existence of chance, because s/he can not admit the existence of a Platonic, non-physical world of ideas influencing the physical world. In fact, chance is widely used in scientific reasoning, from the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution (random mutations and random encounters of individuals leading to natural selection) up to atomic and cosmogonic theories. So what is an apparent randomness in the physical world may cease to be such, when one admits the influence of a non-physical world. The action of non-physical models upon the physical world does not transform the apparent non-physical non-determinism into determinism, since this concept does not exist in the non-physical world, where everything is dynamic, possibly within certain limits. Jacques Monod has this difficulty in his interesting book Chance and necessity [Monod 1972] because, being a materialist, he can not admit the possibility of a non-physical world. "We call these [mutation] events accidental; we say that they are random occurrences. And since they constitute the only possible source of modifications in the genetic text, itself the sole repository of the organisms hereditary structures, it necessarily follows that chance alone is at the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, absolutely free and blind, at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution: this central concept of modern biology is no longer one among other possible or even conceivable hypotheses. It is today the sole conceivable hypothesis, the only one that squares with observed and tested fact." [pp. 112-113] Interestingly, despite his thinking being totally materialist, as he wants to reduce every biological phenomenon to a "natural philosophy", he speaks in his book about God. He says that the admission of this entity has to have purely moral motivations. In my articles and books, I did not appeal to this entity, who, as seen in section 2, has become a mere abstraction.
I was quite radical and wrote in the beginning of the section that I do not admit the existence of chance. In this case the existence of technology should also not be a matter of chance. (I could have been a little more politically correct and have admitted the existence of chance in particular cases, as I have done elsewhere in relation to neo-Darwinian evolution, but in my old age I no longer care so much about being politically correct.) Let's look at what could be technology's raison d'être, i.e. its mission to mankind, from a spiritual point of view. But before this, it is necessary to talk about free will and what is necessary for it to exist.
5. Freedom - evil and good
A materialist can not speak of freedom, because for him only physical matter and energy exist in the universe. These can only be subject to the so-called "physical laws". I will not enter here into the discussion whether there are physical laws; if there is any doubt about this, one could considered "conditions and physical forces" instead of "laws". These "laws" are inexorable: they always apply, otherwise civil, mechanical, electrical etc. engineering would not exist. It seems to me that a materialist who speaks about free will in human beings and its consequences, such as responsibility, morality and conscious altruism is not a coherent person. An old reasoning about this is the following: if only physical matter and forces exist, an atom certainly cannot have free will. Therefore, a group of atoms forming a molecule can not have free will. Ditto for a group of molecules, forming a cell. The same for a group of cells forming a tissue, the same for a group of tissues forming an organ, therefore a group of organs forming a human being cannot have free will.
From where would then come the free will of a human being? It is impossible that it arises from matter. For a spiritual person, there is absolutely no problem admitting the hypothesis that humans may have free will, because s/he admits the hypothesis of the existence of non-physical phenomena, and these are obviously not subjected to physical "laws". In my already mentioned article "Is there just matter or also spirit in the universe?" I show how, without violating physical "laws", the human being can have free will leading to free actions. I even present (mental) exercises so that everyone can observe freedom in his/her thinking. This gives confidence to the admission of the hypothesis of free will and therefore the existence of a non-physical member in each human being, interacting with one's own physical body. From a human point of view, there can only be free will when one has the possibility of making a conscious choice, of at least one out of at least two possible actions, including mental ones, e.g. controlling one's own thoughts.
Let us suppose that, in a given situation, two different actions can be performed, a "good" and a "bad" one. For example, one that is beneficial to the environment and to oneself, like going by foot to the next supermarket, instead of an evil one, such as going by car (assuming that going by foot presents less danger than going by car). Driving by car would produce pollution, would mean almost no physical exercising, would isolate the person from his/her environment etc. I am ignoring here the particular case of a person being in a hurry, and having to save time by using a car. We can say that the person, having chosen to walk, has therefore made a "good" instead of a "bad" action.
It is precisely the possibility of doing something "good" or something "bad" that gives human beings the capacity of exercising free will. If we could only do good actions, we would have no choice. We would be in a situation corresponding to the magnificent biblical image of the Paradise: we would have no self-awareness and no free will. The "Expulsion from Paradise" can be interpreted as an image for the "fall" of human beings into matter. Note the wonderful image: Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the "tree of knowledge of good and evil" [Gen 2:17, 3:6], and shortly thereafter acquire self-consciousness: "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked." [3:7.] Note that a small child has not yet developed self-awareness, and does not realize that she is naked. Incidentally, before their act, Adam and Eve had no self-consciousness, had no "knowledge", thus could not have fallen in a "temptation" and committed a "sin", because they had no possibility to take decisions and make mistakes. So it seems to me that the term Original Sin, introduced by Augustine, is totally misplaced. Note that in German the expression is Erbsünde, i.e. "Inherited Sin", which is somewhat more adequate, since at least the "heritage" makes sense: since "having fallen" into matter, humanity remains in it by heredity. It is precisely this "fall" into matter, and the consequent acquisition of self-consciousness and of individuality, that provides the human being, which existed previously just in the non-physical world, with the possibility of making mistakes and therefore being able to exercise free will. Thus, something that makes no sense to materialism, the existence of non-physical forces of good and evil (part of the latter represented by the interesting biblical symbol of the serpent in Paradise), has given humanity the possibility of being free. However, it is important to note that the influence of evil ends up generating several essential benefits: besides the possibility of freedom, also self-awareness and individuality. This reminds the famous phrase of Mephistopheles in the office scene in part one of Goethe's Faust, the former answering the question about who he was: "Ich bin ein Teil von jener Kraft, die stets of Böse will, und stets das Gute Schafft [Goethe, p. 172 ], that is, "I am a part of that force, which always wants evil and always creates good" (my literal translation). The Manichaeans had a saying that shows what should be our attitude towards evil: "Love evil good" that is, evil must be redeemed, transformed into goodness, and not be eliminated [Haub 1996, p. 31]. In this sense, an interesting way of looking at evil is as a dislocated good, in time or space. For example, a return to the past (the tendency of every religious fundamentalist) is evil, but so is an undue acceleration of the future (e.g. giving exaggerated freedom to humanity before it is prepared for this; maybe the Internet is one of these cases). Anyway, we should be grateful to evil, because if it did not exist, we would still be in the state of the "Paradise" or, as Dr. Rudolf Lanz used to say, "We'd still be in heaven, clothed in pink gowns, playing lyre how monotonous!"
Note that animals and plants obviously do not have an individuality that transcends their heredity and environmental influences, because they do not have self-consciousness. They also do not have what every human being has and that will be called here, without glossing over it, because it would surpass the scope of this article, a "higher individuality". This is an individuality that transcends the physical body, feelings, memory etc. Due to it, for example, monozygotic twins reared in the same environment have in general different ideals and take totally different paths in their life. Interestingly, materialistic science reduces the human individuality to heredity and environmental influences, that is, it is not able to consider that humans have something essentially different from animals. Considering the human being as an animal, one should not talk about free will and moral responsibility, which animals obviously do not have. Incidentally, note the emphasis that is taking place, especially in scientific circles, on the genetic influence, often even neglecting the environment, from that of a cell up to the outside of very living being. About this subject, see my paper "Considerations about the DNA hype".
The reader may be wondering what all this has to do with technology. We are getting there.
6. The use of technology
As shown in Section 3, technology is not neutral. Therefore, its use should be done with extreme care, which implies a conscious use. But in general this is absolutely not the case. We are in an era in which, as I mentioned early in this article, there is a real deification of technology. In general, it is thought that all technology is good. This is because technology is a direct application of science, and since the last century both have presented phenomenal results in terms of knowledge and mastery over nature. It turns out that the greater the knowledge and mastery over nature, more harm can be done with them.
Science was born with the separation of human beings from nature. Without a large capacity for abstraction from reality, there is no curiosity to understand it. For example, the conscious linear perspective appeared only in the early fifteenth century [Zajonc 1993, p. 58]. This was a time that marked not only the emergence of the Renaissance, but the discoveries and scientific development a true discontinuity in the development of the human being's mental capacity and sense of individuality. Before that, a straight road was represented by parallel lines, because in fact their margins never converge. It is necessary to make a great abstraction from reality to represent what is perceived with vision, i.e. both sides of the road converging to the vanishing point. Before that time, the description of a single individuality such as Hamlet, with his unique fate and problems, did not occur. In general, no one knew who was the painter of a particular masterpiece produced in a famous painting school. The mentioned curiosity is the primary source of the impulse of doing science. And technology aimed to bring something good. Nowadays, this has changed completely. Obviously, some idealists still do science driven by the desire to know something or to convey their knowledge to their students and the public. But most scientists do science in search of prestige or of an activity that is not constrained by the dictates of a business. Lately, several scientists aim to develop something that can be produced and sold in the market, and thus open their own business. On the other hand, a lot of science is supported by enterprises, or by their own scientists, solely for profit. For example, the appearance of transgenic plants followed precisely this paradigm. Another case is cited in the book by Susan Linn mentioned in Section 3: she says that the U.S. advertising firms do more research in applied psychology than universities and research institutes, in order to develop techniques for convincing children, adolescents and adults to buy what is advertised [Linn, p. 46]. Incidentally, I characterize advertising as the art, science and technology of influencing people to do what they would not do without this influence. This is, for example, what leads people to buy what they do not need, what is more expensive and of lower quality. This is done by means of conditioning, i.e., decreasing the individual freedom.
Therefore, much of the science and almost all technology aim today to satisfy ambitions and selfishness. It turns out that both are antisocial. What we are seeing as a result of these impulses is the destruction of human beings and nature. The destruction of the latter is visible, but in many cases the destruction of the human being is surreptitious, for example when the psychological constitution is attacked, as was discussed in the case of electronic media in item 3. Unfortunately, it seems to me that almost all of humanity is not aware of the problems of technology or, if it is, feels helpless and end up using it, or even use it by inertia or convenience, not wanting to think about the harm it produces. It seems to me that one of the fundamental consciousness mankind should have in relation to technology is its mission.
7. The mission of technology
As stated in section 4, technology does not exist by chance, therefore it must have a purpose, a mission to humanity. As explained in section 5, one of my fundamental assumptions, with strong evidence to be true, is that humans can have free will. To me, the mission of technology is to give freedom to the human being, ridding it of internal or external forces restrictive of its capabilities.
For instance, the plane is a technology that gives a person the freedom to move quickly over long distances, thus surpassing the limitations of his own speed of walking or running, even riding on horseback. The phone allows verbal communication between people far apart. A building gives people the freedom to take shelter, do some work or have leisure, even if it is raining outside or it is very cold. However, in general technology is working exactly in the opposite direction of this mission: instead of freeing mankind from internal or external forces, it is imprisoning. Quite often some advantages it provides is accompanied by many more disadvantages. Thus, the car gave a tremendous freedom of movement in medium and even in long distances. However, it allowed people to live far away from their place of work or study, wasting much time on the way, with adverse psychological consequences. It allowed cities to swell, most of them transformed more into traffic lanes than in nice houses and alleys to walk from one place to another. It allowed for less public transportation with fewer disadvantages than cars. The result can be seen in many cities around the world, choked by traffic, both from the standpoint of air quality as from the psychological aspect of drivers and passengers forced to face daily nervousness arising from a literally hellish traffic (in my city, São Paulo, statistics at the site of the state Traffic Department [DETRAN] show that 33,494 new vehicles were licensed just in Dec. 2013).
How many people have become prisoners of the Internet, this electronic net that caught a large part of humanity? For example, I myself am obliged to consult my e-mail mailbox every day, otherwise two things may occur: correspondence accumulates too much, and people who wrote me soon think that I have not answered them immediately because I despised them. I suggest the reader, who certainly uses the Internet, to examine yourself and see how many days you can go without using it. If no more than one or two days, it already shows an addiction. The number of people who are addicted to the Internet, those who spend hours in a row using it every day, is huge, especially among adolescents. A 2006 survey showed that 12.5% of Americans are addicted to the Internet; studies with college students resulted in an estimated 10 to 14% of addicted people [Young, p. 20]. The electronic net really captured a good part of humanity!
8. What to do?
8.1 Firstly, there must be an awareness of what each technology is. This means understanding at least the basic functioning of each tool and machine, and the effects they produce on their users. Unfortunately, as machines are becoming increasingly complex, e.g. by incorporating chips with electronic circuits, their operation is becoming increasingly incomprehensible. An example is the automobile: before the use of electronic control units, a mechanic-electrician and even a common user could perfectly understand the whole functioning of the engine and other parts of a car. With the incorporation of electronic chips, some of them real computers, the car operation became incomprehensible. Moreover, nowadays a defect in one of these chips requires its replacement; some time ago many parts, including electric ones, could be made in a workshop, replacing a broken one. The old image of a Martian coming to Earth and taking apart a machine to understand it is no longer valid: it is impossible to disassemble an electronic chip to see what its circuitry is and discover its operation, as this would destroy it. The "black box" became inviolable. It also seems impossible to figure out how a chip works by simply inserting it into electrical impulses through some of its contacts and measuring what comes out on others, due to the complexity of the logical operation and stored programs.
However, many machines can be understood, at least in their basic operation. This understanding should be one of the most important tasks of high school education through subjects such as "technology lab". It was with this intent that I elaborated a curriculum for introducing computers in education [Setzer 2001, pp. 141-172, or on the Internet]). Unfortunately, there is no general awareness of this need, unless for Waldorf high schools, because the founder of this educational system, Rudolf Steiner, recommended the introduction of this subject already for the first Waldorf school, founded in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany [Stockmeyer 1965, Vol. II, p. 278, Bideau 1951, p. 149]. Since then, this subject is part of the curriculum in almost every Waldorf high school around the world.
Confirming the general lack of a basic knowledge about machines is very simple. For example, does the reader of these lines know why an airplane flies and does not fall? The two effects that lead to lift (inclination of the main wings and difference in air speed above and below them the latter effect can be demonstrated easily by blowing air below and above a sheet of lightweight paper) are easy to understand. This leads to an important consideration. How many people see an aircraft flying, but do not know why it is kept in the air, and do not have the curiosity to investigate or learn why this happens? They probably think that the explanation is too difficult, so they do not even ask the question themselves. To me, this is an indication of a true mental paralysis. When some person sees a phenomenon but cannot associate it to some concept, the normal situation is to get restless, searching for this association, which would give her/him an understanding of cause and effect of that phenomenon. For example, suppose that in a garden with no wind, a person sees a moving branch of a bush. She should immediately find it very strange, and would probably approach the bush to verify the cause of the phenomenon. After a few steps, the person sees a bird flying away, which was perched on the branch, but hidden by the leaves. The person then understands why the branch had moved, and becomes intellectually satisfied. The increasing complexity of machines and the lack of education in order to explain their basic operation produce this mental paralysis: people cease to be curious, to investigate, and make an effort to understand how the machine works. Thereby, they become less human.
Returning to the question of awareness in relation to technology, a second part mentioned understanding the effect it produces on its users. Returning to my favorite targets, this would mean, in the case of TV, understanding that it usually puts the viewer in a drowsiness, semi-hypnotic mental state, hence most of its dire consequences, especially mental conditioning. In the case of video games, especially those of the action-reaction type, understanding that they force conscious thinking to be completely turned off and lead to automatic reaction. This leads to a deep conditioning of actions, especially in cases of unconsciousness, like stress, extreme fear, anger, lack of sleep etc. In the case of computers, understanding the fact that they force the use of a formal language and logic-symbolic, algorithmic reasoning. In its use, it is necessary to exercise a language and a type of thinking that can be transmitted to the machine and correctly interpreted by it, what I call "machine-thinking". For details on these and other aspects of these three devices, look up my articles "Electronic media and education: TV, video game and computer" and others on my website, especially "The negative effects of electronic media on children, adolescents and adults" (this one, unfortunately only in Portuguese).
One of the consequences of the mental paralysis mentioned above is that the users do not worry or do not become interested in the inner state in which they are placed when using technology.
8.2 Secondly, based on knowledge of the basic principle of functioning and the effect that technology produces in its users, one should have permanent consciousness in their use, particularly in relation to what I characterized as the "mission of technology" in section 7 above. In this latter aspect, this would mean while using some machine constantly questioning if it is restricting personal freedom or it is helping to get it. Another key aspect is to constantly weigh the personal benefits and harm arising from the use of a technology.
8.3 Thirdly, it is necessary to use technology not just with personal awareness, but also with social and global consciousness. This means assessing whether the use of some technology benefits or harms other people and the world in general. Here comes the consideration of a technology curtailing or not the freedom of others. Furthermore it is not just freedom that should be taken into account, but also equality (human rights) and fraternity, solidarity. On these three aspects, see my article "Liberty, equality and fraternity: present, past and future". Also very important is to consider if the use of some technology reduces or not the consciousness of other people.
In terms of awareness about the impact on the world in general, this may mean changing habits, for example taking short showers, in order not to waste in a dispensable pleasure the increasingly precious water. Note the degree of consciousness that one must have when using technology: in this example, occasionally, as in cases of great need of relaxation, perhaps it is worth prolonging a nice hot shower. The important thing is that the choice should be a conscious one.
8.4 Fourthly, it is necessary to raise a general awareness about the harms and benefits of technology. This is what I have done with my papers, books, lectures and courses. That's what Susan Linn did wonderfully in her book cited above, in relation to consumerism induced by TV [Linn 2006]. However, it is striking to read in this book that the author, despite her critical stance about TV and as it is usually the case with people who criticize this medium , does not have the courage to say that one should simply not watch TV, unless for exceptional circumstances. In my experience, they almost never occur: I have a TV set, but as I write these lines I cannot remember the last time I watched a program; by the way, I did not have a TV set at home until my youngest child became adult. Susan Linn complains that her teenage daughter was being influenced by television advertising. But why not throwing the TV set out of one's home, or lock it only to unlock it when the family consciously decides that it is worth watching a special program? The psychiatrist and neurologist Manfred Spitzer, declared in his remarkable book Vorsicht, Bildschirm! ("Attention, screen !") that he had no TV at home because of his 5 children [Spitzer 2005, p. 250]. Having cited this author, it is worth mentioning his second book, Digitale Demenz, where he cites a enormous amount of literature about the ill effects of electronic media [Spitzer 2012]. The title of this book (digital dementia) may seem bombastic, but one should take into account that the author is the director of the psychiatric clinic of the University of Ulm, in Germany. So he knows precisely what dementia means.
8.5 The question of courage brings me to my fifth point. One of the consequences that I deduce from my concepts regarding electronic equipment and those regarding the human being is the fact that the former damage willpower. Indeed, one does not need to make any effort to watch TV or play a video game, maybe even surf the Internet or read e- mails and messages. A great effort is required to switch the equipment off. So, I recommend that one should regularly exercise stopping periodically to use these and any other technology, to the extent that this is possible (I hope that some rare reader enthusiastic for my ideas does not turn off his car in the middle of traffic!). In this regard, see the advices I give in my article "What the Internet is doing to our minds" (unfortunately, only in Portuguese). It also seems to me that one should frequently, consistently and consciously exercise one's willpower, seeking to counterbalance the harm that has been inflicted upon it with modern, mainly with digital technology, for example in the comfort it often provides. For this, I recommend exercising some change of habits. For example, if a person loves to have a hot coffee in the morning, quit doing so from time to time; if she adores drinking juice (at least I hope it is natural!) during meals, drink pure water from time to time. If one is used to wearing a watch, quit doing it sometimes. From time to time, try to write with the hand not usually used to do it. Done regularly, these exercises have a very large effect of strengthening the will, and produce greater mental flexibility. This is especially important with actions that become almost an addiction, like the already mentioned case of spending a few days without using the Internet (guaranteed from my own experience: it is Paradise!).
One of the manifestations of harm to the will is the powerlessness that certainly many people feel in relation to technology. The typical phrase that indicates it is "What does it help if I take some action? What influence may I have on this or that?" This leads me to the next point.
8.6 Take concrete actions. In the lecture by Jeffrey Smith, mentioned at the end of section 3, he stated that if 15% of people quit consuming something, the industries involved have to change their production. He was referring to genetically modified foods, but it is certainly the case with other products, such as TV programs, junk food etc. Unfortunately, in my country, Brazil, people are generally not very accustomed to protests, and extensive movements, confusing tolerance with permissiveness.
There are certain people that say the following: we are really in a critical situation for humanity, but the latter will evolve naturally and will eventually supplant its current problems. It turns out that humans are not purely natural beings. When someone painted the first cave paintings, humanity was no longer fully natural, and one may conjecture that it has never been. This presents no problem from a spiritual world view. If each human being is not a purely natural being (as are animals and plants, to a large extent), society and mankind are also not purely natural. Thus one should not trust that things will improve naturally, by themselves. Rather, I have a view that in general terms the situation tends to get worse, because if humanity would automatically improve, it would suffice to cross our arms, do nothing and wait for it to get better. On the contrary, if the trend is to get worse, we are increasingly called to awareness and action; we need to develop ourselves continuously to face an increasingly miserable world and fight with more and more energy to improve it. Note that this must be understood from a global point of view. Of course, in some respects, there has been great improvements. But what's the use, for example, of improved sanitation if people are psychologically feeling worse, there is a constant increase in the use of psychotropic drugs and alcohol, the rate of suicides increases, separation of couples increase a sample that people have increasing difficulties to live together and relate socially. (Incidentally, when I was a child and teenager, I had never heard of psychologists and therapists...)
If the human being is not purely natural, one should not trust that people will naturally learn to live with the evils of technology, eventually learning to put it in its place. This will only be achieved by a large educational effort and, in adulthood, through self-education. I do not want to express a totally pessimistic image of humanity, so I will mention here that I recognize some of its wonderful advances: the ecological movement, the movement for universal peace, the human rights movement including its respect for the aged and the disabled, and ignoring ethnic, religious and national differences. In this respect, see my paper "Liberty, equality and fraternity: present, past and future".
8.7 Developing a critical attitude towards science as, indeed, is required for its practice. How many times a research is justified by its alleged, often bombastic future results? I remember very well the official justification `for Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon in 1969, something like "Now we will know the origin of the solar system", which obviously was not confirmed. In Brazil, the justification of the genetic sequencing of the Xilella fastidiosa, published in 2000, the first one made in Brazil, was this: now we would be able to figure out how to tackle the corresponding disease of orange trees. After so many years, where is this result? The already cited that the book by Jeffrey Smith documents very well how scientific research can be used in a biased way, in order to mask any adverse effects of some technology. He draws attention to the fact that, in general, the scientific research necessary for approval of a product, such as medical drugs and genetically modified foods, is made by the producers themselves and is relatively short and one-sided [pp. 193 ff.]. What can be expected from this situation, taking into account that, from a business point of view, the only reason for the introduction of a new product is making money?
It is very important to consider that science never provides a complete knowledge about anything, mainly due to the extreme specialization and reductionism that characterize it. Under these conditions, it is impossible to predict all the side effects of any product. This brings us to the next point.
8.8 A word about freedom of research. I am absolutely in favor of giving full freedom to the scientist to do the research that s/he wants. But one thing is doing research, and another thing is the production of something resulting from some research. Since it is impossible to have a full understanding of and foreseeing the effects of any product, there will always be a factor of subjectivity in judging if it is or can be beneficial or harmful. Because of this subjectivity, I am absolutely against the freedom to produce whatever is wished. Society should have the final word on whether or not there is interest in launching a new product. Accordingly, releasing some product should mean satisfying a real necessity, not the needs created by advertising or fad, as it is commonly the case. Note that I referred to the control by society, not by governments. This need is absolutely clear in Brazil, due to its extensive corruption, but that is not just our own trademark: Jeffrey Smith cites that in Indonesia Monsanto corrupted or paid 140 officials for approving a transgenic cotton [Smith, 2007, p. 176]. In the final judgment about the interest of a product, scientists should participate exclusively presenting their objective data on its advantages and disadvantages. Due to the always present unknown factors, in a final decision about producing a product a scientist should only participate as a common citizen, not as the scientist s/he is.
Since one should not prevent or direct scientific research, the important thing is to make scientists aware of the moral responsibility they should have in their research, so that each one decides, freely, what s/he should research for a real good of mankind. I remember very well that I read a news story in the U.S., probably in 1970, about the incendiary Napalm bomb, used extensively during the war in Vietnam. This bomb, discovered by a scientist at Harvard University, splashes burning material (at 800 to 1,200 degrees C) causing severe burns and inflicting excruciating pain; in 1980 it was forbidden by the UN against civilian populations. This scientist said in those news that if he could, he would invent it again! Here we strike a much deeper problem: the scientific or exclusively technical professional college education, as e.g. done in my country, does not provide the humanistic, artistic and social education necessary for the scientist or technician to develop sensitivity and concern for nature and humans. In this sense, there is yet another terrible factor: academic and research communities are in general materialistic; therefore, being consistent, they should not accept existence of human responsibility and morality, as these do not result from physical matter or energy (see section 5 above). If professors cannot admit them, how will they teach their students, future scientists and technicians, how to be socially responsible and act morally?
Humanity is at a crossroads. Nowadays, there is a brutal acceleration of technological development, dominated by certain forces, characterized in section 5 as representing evil. Instead of technology fulfilling its mission, which is to free the human being from the restrictions imposed by his inner forces and capabilities, and from the forces external to him, it is imprisoning and increasingly influencing him, even threatening his existence. The only way to change this state of affairs, by redeeming evil, is to acquire an awareness of what technology means, and of its impact on every human being and on nature. Then one should take steps to put technology in its proper place. The alternative is total disaster, both physical and psychological.
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