Philosophy

Is the progression of technology a paradox for our demise?

The philosopher Marshall McLuhan once claimed that:

The most human thing about us is our technology

Our cities can be viewed as extensions of our physical body, our electronic networks such as telephones, radio and television as extensions of our nervous system, and the computer can be seen as an extension of our cognitive functioning. With big data and cloud computing, we are now in the age of consciousness being the latest symbolic gesture for how we manifest technology as an expression of our physical selves.

However, many people misunderstand, or outright ignore, the hand-in-glove relationship we as human beings have always had with technology. Arguably, such a relationship has been detrimental to both our evolution and survival as a species, but we tend to think of technology as something that exists ‘out there’ as either an object or an artifact in the world that is somehow separate to us as people. In current contexts and narratives, we also tend to limit technology to only constituting computerized technology. In reality, technology is so much more than what we currently give it credit for.

Humans + math + nature = technology

Since the emergence of modern civilization we have protected and perpetuated certain human practices, such as war, religion, sport, politics and business. Technology is present in each and every practice as our cities, houses, ability to hunt and even our clothing are all forms of technology. Such technology is nothing more than our use of applied physics and/or mathematics in our direct relationship to mother nature, in which we use material from the earth in order to exist within those social practices.

Although technological advancements have enabled us to change the scenery of the world, we have seldom changed the situation associated with our human practices. In this regard, technology often propagates a false sense of progression even though, thanks to advances in science, we now live longer and are supposedly in our most ‘intelligent age’. We evolve in one regard, thanks to technology, but are bounded to the physical world and our social practices in another regard.

For example, landing a man on the moon spawned a whole range of new technological inventions and, in turn, helped us see what we were capable of both producing and achieving as a species. The technology also enabled us to further explore the cosmos and our place in it. This would have us believe, however,  that we as humans use the tool of mathematics in order to manipulate nature in order to understand the world ‘out there’ as though it stands outside and separate from us. We tend to think of ourselves as coming into this world as opposed to ‘coming out’ of it.

Technology = humans are both the marble and sculptor 

Imagine that four billion years ago, aliens stumbled across earth as a lifeless rock and so kept travelling on in search of life. Yet in today’s context, the earth is very much alive and full of life. All that life came from a lifeless rock – from nothingness. The rock itself was never ‘static’ as nothing in the universe ever is, as everything vibrates with energy. After eons of time and various processes, the earth cooled and then transformed, thanks to evolution, to eventually arrive at human beings. If everything originated from the big bang, then we are all an expression of the big bang as it continues its seemingly never-ending expansion in creating the universe and elevating its own consciousness.

In this view, everything in existence is the same one universal thing fragmented into different forms and expressions. In fact, everything in existence is made of the same ‘star stuff’ of atoms and elements. We as humans came out of nature, just as the earth came out of the cosmos, just as the entire universe came out of nothing. We cannot live without both the micro and macro of everything that currently is in the cosmos. In terms of the technology we create, this therefore means we are both the marble and the sculptor of life itself. When we sacrifice and destroy nature for our own desires, such as our creation of cities, we in turn also destroy ourselves.

Technology + people = the slow elevation of consciousness and the eradication of the physical world 

The philosopher Alan Watts noted that nature is wiggly and wild, whereas humans like to ‘smooth things out’ with technology. We like order and structure, such as buildings that are aligned and compartmentalized, or we like to automate processes that are mundane and routine but for which are necessary to our survival; such as the harvesting of food or the collection of water. Mankind’s use of technology is in a way the manifestation of ego versus nature – of man versus everything we deem not to be man and, as a result, we create technology to engage with nature at an arm’s length. This technical world helps, to some degree, elevate the suffering associated with part of our physical existence, whilst also allowing our brains and thinking to expand.

However, if you look back at the evolution of technology, and look forward to where people think it might be headed, you will notice something both alarming and strange. On the one hand, we forever keep our social practices in-tact whilst consciousness grows and we change the scenery of the world thanks to technology, but on the other hand, technology is also slowly becoming more and more integrated into our lives. We are now in the age where technology is both on and under our skins. For example, a telephone used to be a singular device mounted on a wall in someone’s home. Now we all walk around with computers in our back-pockets that just so happens to be able to make phone calls, and for which we also call a mobile phone. Technology used to be viewed, naively, as an object that was ‘out there’, but its usage these days reminds us that it was, and always will be, an expression of ourselves and the thing we rely on in order to live our lives.

In more advanced scenarios, however, researchers have been able to link a human brain to the internet and others are turning to CRISPR and bio-hacking to make us more aligned to a cyborg reality. In such a scenario, technology is changing the physical realities of humans. Previously, we only ever changed the physical reality of nature in response to our social practices. In the nature context, the creation of technology has ended up destroying the very thing that gave it life. Current uses of energy for technology that fuels our social practices has lead to a climate crisis and sustainability risk for our survival. We use nature to create technology and in turn that technology is also destroying nature.

The same, it is feared, is true for technology at the heart of human nature. This is in addition to the realization that it is not the climate we are killing in our thirst for energy for our technology usage but, rather, it is ourselves. We cannot live without nature, which means that as we destroy nature in technology that changes nature, we are at the same time destroying ourselves in our pursuit for technology that also changes our physical human nature. For example, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, as our respective science and tech evangelists, fear that our latest technical creation of artificial intelligence (AI) poses an existential risk for humanity – that we are creating a machine that will destroy life. Interestingly, Musk looks at Mars in a similar way the flying aliens looked at earth, except the only difference is that Musk sees the rock as potential for life, much like earth as a rock also had that same potential from which we all emerged.

So although our progression of technology helps us learn more about ourselves and our place in the universe, as well as change the quality and standard of our physical living conditions, its progression is also slowly suggesting that our ultimate goal may in fact be destruction – to eradicate the physical world entirely. In this scenario, we have to continue to evolve, split and advance just so we can, paradoxically, eventually return to a state similar to that of before the big bang – where nothing physically ever existed in the first place.

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