RE-VISIONING OUR TOOLS
by ARMAHEDI MAHZAR
I have a task to give a short course on Philosophy of Technology by the Salman Campus Mosque in ITB Bandung next June. They called the course “Techno on the Spot: Revisioning our Tools.” That’s why I asked my self: what is the essence or the true nature of my Philosophy of Technology? I think this is a tough question. So I asked my self: How come you like to think technology philosophically? This is is a more easy question. All I have to do is to tell a story. This is my story.
In the beginning, early in the 70-s of the last century, one day, in the Campus Auditorium Hall, we do the communal Friday prayer, because the campus mosque have not been built yet. I was really frustrated because my favorite preacher, an electric engineer, told the audience the technology is really the great Satan himself. I knew he talk metaphorically, but that made my mind disturbed, because it means that technology is actually evil. That’s diametrically opposite to my optimistic belief that technology is actually good, the Saviour Angel if we talk metaphorically. I think this philosophy is influenced by Richard Buckminster Fuller concept of Anticipatory Comprehensive Design Science.
That’s why, later on, I began to read all people has written about technology and found out that many people talked about technology as neutral. The evilness of nuclear bomb in Nagasaki and Hiroshima by United States is because technology served the military destructive goal. The nuclear energy technology can also be used to built nuclear reactors for generating energy for peaceful purposes and that is good. So the technology is neutral, its value lies in its purposeful utilization. Technology is like a knife that will bad in the killer’s hand but is good in the surgeon’s hand. I think that my new philosophy of technology is the knife philosophy.
I think many people will agree with my knife philosophy of neutral technology. That philosophy is really a happy philosohy and I got a peace of mind. But’s that philosophy is not staying in my my mind for a long time. I am impressed by Marshal McLuhan to see tools historically. So not all tools the same. In his book Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan focused on technology as media of information which historically evolved from oral speech, visual script, visual print to tactual electronic media. McLuhan see technology as the extension of human organs and as the media of social interaction. I interpreted the extension as the external organs of human organisms as individuals and the media as internal organs of human society as the collective external body of man. So the knife metaphor is replaced by the organ metaphor.
Other striking observation of McLuhan is that we as humans are the sexual reproduction organ of the media to reproduce themselves. We for the media are like bees for the flowers. This metaphor suggest that the technology is like an organism. It is rather puzzling metaphor, if we see technology as individual tools. But organism metaphor will be enlightening if we a collection of tools related to each other form a system which is self-reproducing, evolving becoming more complex, automatic and autonomous. This is the view of Jacques Ellul the French Jesuit sociologist with his book “The Technological Society.” In this book he said that the State is metaphorically an big technical organism with politics as its digestive system, economy as its circulatory system and citizen as its cells. I think his metaphor is enlightening, so I change my view from organic to the more comprehensive view of technology as an organism .
The other enlightening idea of Jacques Ellul is that he focused his view on technique rather than machines. Technique is the ensemble of methods and practices humans do to achieve their goals. So tools are not used by men, but by technique itself. Human use technique to use tools, different tools requires different techniques. But the diverse techniques has the same structure. It simplifies and routinizes. Borrowing the terms of the computer scientists, the general characteristic of technique is algorithmic. So in fact, the essence of technology not in the material tools, but in the techniques human use to produce and utilize tools. Techniques seems to be the soul of technology.
Techniques direct and form human behaviour in his interaction with their tools. Some of the tools are static, but there are also dynamic tools which are having moving parts: the machines. Every machine has their own mechanism. So the technique is adapted to the mechanistic properties of the machines. The totality of humans -the technicians, the engineers, the managers and the ivestors- who are related to each other to make the machines function usefully is called technostructure by the economist John Kenneth Galbraith. Technostructure is the real organ of technology. The humans is the cellular tissue of the organ and the tools are the organelles of the cell. So if technique is the soul of technology, technostructure is the body.
So with the added soulful element to my organismic metaphor of technology, I have to change my organismic metaphor to the more complex personal metaphor. See, I have been revising may metaphor of technology from angle to tool to organ to organism to personal. But that’s too anthropomorphic, so I have to change the metaphor immediately if I have to promote my view of technology publicly. So I have to concentrate on the tools once more. Now I do not see the tools as individual things, but I see them as a totality. The totality of the tools can be called techno-sphere, borrowing the practice of biologist to add suffix ‘sphere’ to name the collection of similar things.
So the Ellulian technique is the soul that move the Galbraithian technostructure who is in turn moving the technosphere. The technique is informational, the technostructure is energetic and the techno-sphere is material. The totality of technosphere, technostructure and technique is more like a computer system rather than a person. It has program which is techniques, it has power system which is techno-structure and it has processor which is the technosphere. Here we go, we finally have a metaphor which I think more acceptable by the young people who live in the Third Wave civilization if we borrow from Alvin Toffler to describe our current technological civilization. For Toffler, the First Wave is the agricultural civilization, the Second Wave is the industrial civilization and the Third Wave is the super-industrial civilization which others called post-industrial.
Now I see the technosystem is the tool of the civilization, like the computer is the tool of a person. So the mega-person is the civilization. Well, the technosphere is not an external tool of the civilization, it is an internal tool or organ. It is internal but it is artificial made by the civilization itself. It is a machine. As the consequence the civilization is hybrid of of organism and a machine. It is the cybernetic organism or the cyborg: megacyborg exactly. Probably this is my last view of technology. Technology is the internal megatool of the civilization. But if we agree with the vision of James Lovelock who see the living earth as a megaorganism Gaia then the technological civilization itself is the megatool of Gaia.
Now if we follow the Lee Smolin organismic vision of the universe, then we will see that Gaia it self is the microtool of cosmos as a superduper megaorganism. But Cosmos is only one of so many many parallel universes in the vision of Lee Smolin of Darwinian mulltiverse. Perhaps the multiverse is just another superduperhyper Organismic Megacosmos.
Now I think I can answer the first difficult question in the first paragraph. Technology is collection of tools forming the technosystemic tool of the anthropic civilizational tool of the organic gaian tool of universal cosmic tool of the mutiversal megacosmic Tool of God as the Greatest Creator. See it is a fractal view of technology. In fact is also a technofractal view of reality.
Such is the materialistic view technology as tools. But I can also see the tools as letters, technosystems as words, civilizations as sentences, Gaia as paragraph and the universe as chapter and the multiverse as the Book of God as the Supreme Author. Speaking in the computerese language, the tools are bit, the technosystems are bytes, the civilization are subroutines, the Gaia is the operating system, the universe is the aplication programs and the multiverse is the Information System of God as the Ultimate Programmer. Whatever the metaphor you choose technological, literary or informatical the similar structure is there: the fractal. That is the essence of my philosophy of technology. Thank you for reading this crazy musing on technology. Hopefully you will find it amusing.
RE-VISIONING OUR TOOLS
I have to think about the content for my short course the philosophy of technology in Salman Campus Mosque of ITB. In my last blog, I discovered that technology is a part of a giant hierarchy of tools. I called the structure as technofractal. I think it is functional fractal, not just a structural fractal. But what is a tool anyway? Tools are artifacts use by human in his activity to various goals. Yes, tool is a mean to an end. An end is a terminal state of a process. So tools are just means in a goal directed process.
In my last entry in the blog I concluded that the collection of tools forms a technosystem which is actually a Tool for the Civilization. But what is the purpose of a civilization? Generalizing Ellul description of state as technical organism, I can posit that civilization is socioorganism. Seeing with this perspective than civilization is a giant cybernetic organism or megacyborg. OK what is the end of the megacyborg? I don’t know.
CIVILIZATION TECHNOLOGY SYMBIOSIS
But let me change the cyborgian metaphor to the more familiar organism metaphor. In the organismic view of the technosystem is an organ of the civilization as a socioorganism , but what organ? Every organ function for a specific ends. Technosystem seems to have many functions. It is not an organ, but an organ system. So technosystem is not just a tool or an organ, it is a complete technoorganism which has many organs. As a technoorganism it develops in the womb of civilization. Let us first examine the anatomy of such technoorganism.
First of all it has a metabolic system. The mines, agricultural and horticultural fields seem to be functioning as mouth of the techno-organism. Then the factories seems to form the stomach of the technoorganism.. The waste disposal system and wasteland seems to be the eliminatory organ. The power system generators and transmission cables seems to be the heart of technoorganism.
The transportation system such as the pipelines, electric cables, railway, highway and airway systems seem to be the arteries of the technoorganism. The telecommunication system comprising cables and satelites and all radio , TV stations and internet cafes seem to me as forming the nervous systems of technoorganism. The global telematic information system internet as global collection of computer servers seems to be the brain of the technoorganism.
If technosystem is seen as a giant organism and the whole human civilization is seen as another giant socioorganism, then the combination of both seem to form a symbiotic system between two organism. Both are symbionts. The symbionts are living together with their own identity and mutually dependent on each other, mutually helping each other forming a complementary pair of living systems which one can not survive it existence without the other.
Actually there are two internal organs of the socioorganism which is vital for the living technoorganism. The first organ is economy as the metabolic organ and science as the cognitive organ of the socioorganism. The output of science is needed for developing more complex system. The output of technosystem is needed by economic subsystem and by the science subsystem to make progress. The output of economic system has to be feed back to both science and technology to develop them. As the result of such double positive feedback channel both technology and civilization evolve to an higher ang higher complex system. They are both evolving in harmony, forming the socio-technological co-evolution.
If we forget the existence of the socioorganism, we will see that the technoorganism develop in a clear pattern from the material through the energetic to the informational.Next the agricultural revolution is forming the material system for processing food as material input for humans. Industrial revolution is forming energetic system for converting, distributing and utilizing energy forms to augment the skeleto-muscular activity of man. Lastly, the information revolution is forming the information system for storing, processing and distributing information to augment the human brain functionality.
It seems to me that the technological evolution is repeating the pattern of biological evolution on earth. Biological evolution itself can be seen as the development of the giant geoorganism Gaia. We start with emergence of unicellular organisms which process chemical minerals on earth. Then plants emerged as multi cellular organisms which can use the light from the sun as the source of energy. Later on emerged the animals which develop sense organs which utilize the smells, sounds and reflected lights as the source of information. So both technoorganism and geoorganism develop in a strikingly parallel pattern: matter to energy to information.
Well, there come humans which are building culture and civilization by developing, preserving, utilizing and expresssing values in a way animal can not do. So the development of geoorganism Gaia is following the pattern: matter to energy to information to values. The earth evolve by firstly developing microbiosphere of microbes, following by the development of phytosphere of plants and later the development of zoosphere of animals ending in the development of anthroposphere of humans. The anthroposphere itself with the development of technosphere is becoming more and more unified ultimately forming the scientific technological planetary civilization.
Now if we see all the spheres as the part of the geo-organism Gaia. The microbiosphere forms the stomach of Gaia. Phytosphere forms the lungs of Gaia. Zoosphere forms the heart of Gaia and anthroposphere is the brain of geoorganism Gaia. Seeing earth with this organic view, I think human is the miniature of Gaia. So anthroposphere is not only has to harmoniously live together with technosphere. S/He should be living with other organs harmoniously. That means that anthroposphere must control technosphere such that they are not becoming cancer in the body of Gaia.
NOW: THE ENDING IS …
OK that is my thinking aloud in the front of my computer before constructing the syllabus for the 8 weeks course on the Philosophy of Technology. I think for now I found out that technology is part of the fractal universe. I think that’s the spatial structure. Temporally it is part of the great cosmic evolution. I see they are co-evolving with their partner the human civilization. People see the coevolution as the cultural evolution of the anthroposphere. So the evolution of culture is the continuation of biological evolution which coevolving with the earth. The geo-biological coevolution is preceding the socio-technological coevolution. Both coevolutionary process is the continuation of the creative cosmic evolution itself. It is part of evolutionary fractal.
Well now I conclude that techno-evolution is part of anthropo-evolution which is part of bio-evolution which is part of geo–evolution which is part of cosmo-evolution. See, technology is not only part of spatial tool or organic fractal. It is also a part of temporal evolution fractal. So the universe is a spatio-temporal fractal. Now we can answer to the question in the opening of this blog. What is the goal of the technological civilization? I think the goal is to reproduce many living Gaias to the edge of the universe giving birth to the gigantic cosmoorganism beyond Gaia which is identical to the living techno-fractal. The space technology program is only only a small part of such step to reach the gigantic goal. Do you believe it? For myself, I am not so sure. See you later.
- Brown means geological
- Green means biological
- Blue means sociological, cultural, anthropological
- Red means technological
- Purple means cosmological
- Yellow background means process
RE-VISIONING OUR TOOLS
In my first blog posting on Re-Visioning Our Tools I used the term techno-system for the collection of interrelated tools and metaphorically said that it was the Tool for the human civilization. In the second posting, I said that it was the internal organ for human civilization considered as socio-organism. So in the first blog entry I used the biological metaphor for technology and the second blog posting I used the technological metaphor to see the world.
Using the biological metaphor, human civilization itself the organ of the earth geo-organism Gaia. In the other way around, using the technological metaphor, we can also see the human civilization or socio-organism as a kind techno-system. Now, if we generalize the view, then we can see that any kind organism, including human, is a kind of techno-system or machine.
BIOMACROMACHINE: THE BODY
Yes, we can say that human individual as organisms is also a kind of techno-system which has three subsystems each related to matter, energy and information respectively. In an organism the three technological subsystems are the intestine (the material processor) , the lungs/heart (the energy processor) and the senses/brain (the information processor). Each can be seen as material bio-machine, energy bio-machine and information bio-machine respectively.
The three altogether form an individual human body as techno-system. But the individual human body itself is also functioning as the cell of the civilizational socio-organism. The human civilization can not function well if its cells are not functioning well too. The socio-machine is running well if its bio-machine units are running well too.
BIOMICROMACHINE: THE CELL
Analogously, any biomachine can not run well unless its cells as microbiomachine is not running well too. The cells of any organism are very small technosystem: the cellular micromachines. The human body itself is nothing but a network of 60 trillion micromachines working together in concert.
As a technosystem, the cell has material subsystem, energetic subsystem and informational subsystem. The material processor of the cell is ribosome. The energy processor is mitochondria and the information processor is the nucleus.
Within the many mitochondrion power plants there are many engines creating power. Each engine cycles by burning the shipped-in fuel & air supplies. The cycle takes in glucose & oxygen, and in the process of generating energy, creates exhaust fumes & waste products. The exhaust fumes are carbon dioxide. The waste product is water from cellular respiration. The rate at which these engines rev, or the rate at which these engines cycle, is called metabolism.
BIO-NANO-MACHINES: THE BIOPOLYMERS
I think if we observe the cell mechanism more closely the it is more than a simple machine. It is in itself is a huge collection of smaller machines the molecular nano-machines. For example the protein is a molecular material nano-machine. The DNA is the molecular informational nano-machine.
So, ultimately, human organism is the Machine for protecting, supporting and reproducing the extremely small molecular nano-machines. In extreme informational view all the nano-machine is the hardware for the gene as the software in the DNA for replicating themselves. This is the extreme view of neo-darwinist biologist Richard Dawkins
RE-VISIONING OUR TOOLS
In my previous blog entries it seems that there is two major metaphor to see technological system or biological system. We can use biological system to view technological system and the other way around, we can view biological system as technological system. If we use biological metaphor, then we can see technological system as external collective body with many extrasomatic organs of human individuals or we can see techno-system as becoming the internal organ of civilization as the mega-organism. So thinking structurally, both metaphor will give us many insight to see the essential function of technology.
Now thinking dynamically we can see the history of technology as the development of technosystem as an organism if we use the organismic metaphor. using mechanistic metaphor, we will see that the development of human organism is following the pattern of development of technosystem. In fact as we discuss in the last posting, some philosopher see human organism as the war-machine for cellular microorganism which in turn is the technology for protection and reproduction of the molecular nano-machines DNA and Protein.
If higher organism is the technology for the smaller organism, then we can view human civilization is also the protection and reproduction technology for human individuals as it cells. Furthering the analogy then we can view human body as the protection and reproduction of human thought and ideas which function as reproducing meme analogous to the gene in the DNA. Seeing in this viewpoint then all instruments and media is the external organelles for human body as cells of the human civilization as the mega-organism.
The other way around we can also see the human civilization not as an external body of human individuals but as an internal organ of Gaia which is the living earth as the bigger megaorganism. We can see human civilization as the brain of Gaia, the totality of animals as the sensory and motoric organ and the totality of plants as the lungs of Gaia and the totality of microorganisms as the flesh of Gaia.
If our brain is the tool of human consciousness then the human civilization is the tool of Gaian consciousness. Now, the human individual consciousness is developing in stages from the body oriented consciousness in the womb of the mother to the sensory-motoric consciousness in the infant through the semiotic verbal consciousness of young kid and the operational concrete consciousness of older children to abstract logical consciousness of young person and systemic pragmatic consciousness of mature person and finally the visionary transpersonal consciousness of the old person.
Perhaps the human collective consciousness as the Gaian consciousness is also in paralell manner to human individual consciousness. It began with the palaeolithic primitive consciousness which is paralelling the in the womb consciousness of the human embryo, Then came the neolithical agricultural which paralell the sensory-motoric consciousness of human infant. Afterward came of the urban royal consciousness which is paralelling the concrete operational consciousness of human child. Later on came the national industrial consciousness which is paralelling the formal abstract personal consciousness and the transnational corporative consciousness, which is paralelling the systemic pragmatic personal consciousness, that hopefully can be replaced by the transhuman Gaian consciousness in the future.
By using technological and biological metaphors alternately we finally conclude that our technology is subsystem of human civilization which is functioning as the brain of Gaia the living planet earth. As a consequence to control our technology we should rise our collective consciousness of human civilization to the holistic Gaian consciousness. We can do so by arising our personal consciousness to transpersonal visionary level. So we have to transform our ego-consciousness to the holistic eco-consciousness which ultimately sould be raised to the cosmic-consciousness and beyond. So that is the framework of my short course on the Philosophy of Technology in Salman Campus Mosque of ITB which has been postponed to July next month. Thank you for listening my thinking aloud.
Criticism, comments and suggestions please.