Shattering the glass bell
As our lives are made simpler by mechanical and technological means, our thinking seems to become more and more complicated by the results of the processes we have discovered. Much of the complication is derived from the vast amount of information we have to store to keep up with these simple devices.
But somewhere along the line we have forgotten that machinery was originally invented to serve us, make us feel better, release us from drudgery and toil. We were supposed to be in charge of our creations. It doesn't always seem to work out that way.
"Intelligence," says John A. Wheeler, the noted physicist, "arises because of the need of the universe to be comprehended and the universe arises because of the need to bring forth intelligence. Neither can exist without the other."
We have supposedly passed out of the age of mythology, but intelligence in our technical abilities has produced a mythology all of its own. We assume, for instance, that computers actually readm the number "5," but in actual fact they do not. They "add" five single blocs of information until 5 is reached. They do not multiply as we think they do, but arrive at the answer for 5 times 5 by the same process of addition. The intelligence is in the adding; the mythology is that we think the computer adds; to make it worse, we call it "reading." Must we assume that some kind of mythology is needed by us? That a sense of mystery is required to keep us balanced against the hard facts of knowledge and information?
"We do see in other countries and in our own," wrote Thomas Carlyle in 1829, "signs infinitely cheering to us, that Mechanism is not always to be our hard taskmaster, but one day to be our pliant, all-ministering servant. . . . If Mechanism, like some glass bell, encircles and imprisons us; if the soul looks forth on a fair heavenly country which it cannot reach, and pines, and in its scanty atmosphere is ready to perish, -- yet the bell is but of glass; 'one bold stroke to break the bell in pieces, and thou art delivered!'"
Does not much of our thinking lie within the "glass bell" of mechanization and technical progress? Because we see clearly through the bell, we are not always aware that we are inside it; indeed, we do not always know which side of the glass we are on, and we wait for the elevator, forgetting completely about the stairs.
Mechanics substitutes seeing for vision; hearing for listening; touching for feeling; remembering for thinking; and reaction for responsiveness. I wonder, perhaps, if we give authenticity and authority to technology where there is none , and find ourselves in great danger of becoming a purely responsive rather than a creative force. Most of us are aware of this, but within all the information we are fed about our technology, nowhere is there anything that tells us how to dismantle it if it ever becomes redundant to our thinking. We forget that the bell can be shattered.
One of the difficulties is that the individual feels so helpless because he has accepted the fact, in part or wholly, that his creations are more powerful than he is. Not only have we created new mythologies, but unlike the old legends, we cannot explain them!
The latest news from the computer world informs us that a new breed of computers will actually "think," but will they be inspired?The principle of technology lies in repetition, and true inspiration cannot emanate from a repetitive process. No man is an exact replica of another, and even identical twins eventually assume unique and individual qualities, based not on prescribed intelligence, but on original intuition and revelation.
Almost everyone agrees that TV has a profound influence on the TV-watcher, but few seem to come up with a basic premise from which to understand TV. If you agree that a facsimile of something is not the original, TV basically lies. It did not give the truth but a reasonably good impressionm of it. Once the fact is accepted, it is easy to see the impact of TV upon our thought. It became easier to switch off, or ignore, because we are not impressed by a secondary presentation of truthful actuality. In effect, intelligence revealed the myth.
Another loss is that the individual thought does not have the sway or influence upon society that it did in the 19th century, for example. Today, man , especially in Western societies, feels he is part of a consumer mass, pushed to and fro by world influences, sensational news items with which he feels he has no part. We may not live by old legends, such as King Arthur's Round Table, but they are often full of heroism, courage, and exploration that reinforced man's hope in himself. Man's new mythologies give him a poor opinion of himself.
Man is not an involuntary creature. His inheritance has always been in the realm of vision and imagination. It will have to be assumed that technology, in whatever form it takes, will always be a kind of pleonastic edification of what the universe is; that most of what we see is some kind of mimicry of the true substance of things. Technology can turn us from a sense of real accomplishment to a facsimile; from procreation to re-creation. The heart and soul of our existence lies not in how we can copy, or re-create in mythology, but in a simple, pure, and original thought.
So what options do we have? John Fowles suggests that, even in a democracy, our choices are not that great. If this is true, then we need to see that the choices we do have, have meaning and substance.