Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Creation technology values?

Before I start, I want to say that my previous post should not be over interpreted. I think the created world needs to be shown more respect than we currently do. Just because we may be able to understand it as being constructed of technologies does not mean we treat it as disposable. As this post begins to suggest maybe quite the reverse. Anyway, I also just want to say, I love being out in the bush as Aussies like to say. Breath taking majesty and beauty, enough to bring tears, should not blind us to the place of creation in our own technological story. Creation has given a particular direction to our technological developments.

Technology and Values

The assertion that all technology has values needs little support but maybe some clarification. It is an almost universally agreed assumption of the philosophy of technology that technology has values. By values here we are meaning embedded assumptions, meanings etc. Clocks for example give a distinct value and meaning to a particular understanding of time.

Take these quotes from Schuurman (2013: ), as an example only because it is the latest thing I am reading.
"Neil Postman explains the non-neutrality of technology as follows ' embedded in every tool is an ideological bias, a predisposition to construct the world as one thing rather than another, to value one thing over another, to amplify one sense or skill or attitude more loudly over another'. Postman goes on. 'new technologies alter the structure of our interests: the things we think with. And they alter the nature of community: the arena in which thoughts dvelop' ".

As Schuurman continues he points out Marshall McLuhan went even further with his claim that the technology not the content of the technology is the message.

Postman's analysis was itself non-neutral while the direction of the statements are largely beyond dispute, Postman was writing from a disposition of being largely negative and pessimistic regarding modern technology.

It is worthwhile to note here, as Schuurman does along with other writers, that the 'values' of technology are not always easy to discern and the rationale for developing the technology is not always in line with the values that emerge with the use of the technology.

Creation values

How, without taking the step of understanding the technologicalness of the natural world we have not quite understood our own technological history appropriately. If creation (the natural world) is technological, then logically we can analyse it using some of the same philosophical tools we apply to our own creations. This is a continuation of a blog series started here. I will repeat briefly that I can accept both creation and evolution as the process of that creation.

The created world has biases, particular constructions etc. It facilitates certain activities and hinders others. Our world does not allow us to float unaided for example.

What values can we see embedded in the technology itself:
  • massive heterogeneity - multiple ways for achieving the same ends (seemingly)
  • at times incredible complexity
  • at times elegant simplicity
  • virtually no waste - reuse, reduce, recycle
  • scales across the micro to the planet wide
  • creation is non-neutral it has a purpose it has values, it has meaning.
Now my imagination is a bit limited others can probably extend this list. With what values does the creator imbue the creation. Here it matters whether you broadly accept evolution or something quicker.

If evolution.
  • If this world took billions of years - then your understanding of Yahweh is one which emphasises exuberance and joy in the process for creating. Why not wait millions of year to watch your designs change if time has a different meaning.
  • Not all 'imperfections need be due to fall, creation being good does not have to mean 'perfect'
    un-improveable as we understand that concept.
If quick creation.
  • This is a God in a hurray, its all perfect from the beginning no change no history, far less joy in the actual act of creating. The point is the end, lets get this messy in between period over quickly. 
  • All imperfections as we currently see them are due to our sin and the fall.
If we are image bearers and we enjoy our small creations so much, why can't we allow God the same privilege.

Wolters in ‘Creation Regained’ suggests that creation has a ‘structure’ and ‘direction’. As I understand him he uses structure to distinguish moral responsibility (e.g humans have more than other creatures) and presumably as well, his structure of norms as they apply to humans (justice, economic management etc) and physical laws as they apply to all of creation. Direction is simply creation, fall and redemption. But, these words of structure and direction triggered another association in my head. Technological studies discuss structure a great deal, particularly the notion of modularity with computers. Modularity, is the idea of building different components that fit together, rather than each new device being built from scratch like cars used to be when they were first produced. DNA is quite modular and biologist are using the analogy of technological modularity in learning more about it..

Technology studies have also discussed direction a great deal although using the word 'trajectories'. The idea of trajectories is that if there is enough momentum for a particular technology then changing 'course' is very costly. It has been argued that trajectories exist at all levels from micro (the QWERTY keyboard) through to the macro (cars). There are arguments about meanings and logics of course but for QWERTY, for example, the argument is – once it established dominance it kept keyboard dominance for reasons of essentially sunk human capital costs. Petrol driven cars as another example require an entire technostructure that is different to that of electric cars. Further on, automated piloted cars offer the potential to reconfigure urban landscapes with changing parking patterns for example.

We can apply this idea to creation, it has structure and direction (or architecture and trajectories). There are ‘easy find’ technologies such as glass (heated sand) through to much harder ‘finds’ such as DNA through to the massively complex interactions. Science is the way it is because of this structure. We are still following the rabbit down the hole – ever deeper levels of structure. Ecosystem studies remains largely theoretic because it relies on interaction data and that is monumentally challenging.

Compare these views with Heidegger who made a distinction between pre and post industrial technologies or alternatively, Cassirer who appears to have a more continuous fluidity of development in mind. Each new aspect of the world revealed by the use of tools opens up a new aspect of our inner world. [Roberts p30 discussed in this blog

My problem with Heidegger’s position is that it does not reflect history terribly well. The industrial revolution as much as it is has been mythologised as occurring with a very limited time frame actually evolved over centuries. The ‘age of discovery’ (meaning western expansion) opened the way for the scientific revolution, which opened the way for the industrial revolution. Throw in the mix of Christian reformation and there is a twisted tale to tell – everything co-dependent on one another. Without people like Galileo and Newton and many many others, the technological experimenters of later times may not have emerged till much later. As for Galileo, some of his works may have never been published except for the reformation and freedoms in Holland especially.

The confusing part is that within the chaos, accidents and disorder of human discovery, nature itself is ordered and structured. We find discovery difficult because like a jigsaw without the box cover you can’t see the picture until you have enough pieces and you can’t get the pieces in order without some sort of picture of what you are doing. Sometimes (often) that picture turns out to be wrong.

Creation’s technologies have values just like human technologies and we can begin to get some tantalising glimpses of these in their architecture and trajectories.

In the third blog in this series I will focus on the link between human technologies and creation and attempt to reduce the gap between the two. Human technologies have not evolved in a vacuum they exist firstly within a set of physical rules that allow them to exist, second, they have started actually in many cases based on the natural template and third there is a social dimension where we project onto the world our technologies and the created world rebukes our immaturity. We have talked of brains as machines or railway networks and then computers but they are none of these. The reality challenges our concepts and our results. And so the process continues.

Christians have the important message that we are more than machines but I am beginning to think we as Christians need to see the machinery in creation as well as defending it as being the IP of someone else. 

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