By Irene F. Starkehaus -
We're living in the Age of Science and Technology or so we're told. The construct of philosophy seems increasingly superfluous as we piece together the scientific analysis of our own origins and adapt the human story to meet the demands of twenty-first century realities. It would seem that we no longer need ethos because we've got it all figured out now, and we're late, we're late, we're late for the next evolution for mankind.
It's moving pretty fast these days, and we're all craving new innovations at a neck breaking pace. The next big thing is always just a moment away from being discovered, so the twenty-first century can't be bogged down with the whys that filled the hearts and minds of our ancestors with ethical quandaries...doubts, that is to say, are for the weak minded. The superstitious. Self-doubt is too tedious a position to be in when new frontiers are this close at hand.
Modernism holds that ethos constricts our ability to think abstractly, so we replace those whys that we find so archaic with more ethically pliant how's which never require us judge.
As an evolving species, we find that we are swapping philosophy and metaphysics with the heightened certainty of the here and now and the unquestionable genius that buttresses the material world. We deprive ourselves of the transcendental and the doubt, and in our emaciated philosophical state, we plant our flag on truth like we own the place. You know, real truth based on real science and not that other truth which is fuzzy around the edges and therefore a myth.
Excuse me? Smell? Like how?
Well, I don't know. Maybe conservatives smell like twenty dollar bills, Chick-fil-A waffle fries and gun powder. And liberals smell like Priuses, government buildings and free contraception? It leaves one visualizing less about the study's findings and more about the grant money that was obtained to get this little WPA off the ground, but if it's for the greater good of scientific employment, then I suppose it's okay. Just don't look too closely at the details. Instead, read the article and think, "Huh. Interesting. Who won the football game?" Having fed that portion of the brain that craves knowledge, you can believe yourself to be well-informed and move on. Isn't that worth half a million all day long?
Real science…like this. Did you know that scientists have successfully spliced human DNA with the DNA of mice so that mice can learn faster? Seriously. Because it turns out that twenty-first century reality demands smarter mice. Who knew?
Oh, no-no-no. Not smarter mice. No one's looking to produce smarter mice. We want smarter people. So we're using mice to achieve that goal. And when we say "smarter people" what we mean to say is…? Fill in the blank with your favorite sci-fi dystopia. Because those stories all start with that exact same line of reasoning.
It's a tortured experiment, actually, coming from the very people who will convince you that cutting down a tree from a pristine rainforest in Central America will melt the polar ice caps and cause penguins to drown. You'll notice that particular error in linear thinking regarding cause and effect only if you take the time to ask why on Earth we think splicing mouse genes is a good idea, and which particular branch of the Frankenstein family came up with such a genius hypothesis in the first place.
Twenty years from now when the human race is battling some random deadly virus that until that moment only infected rodents but managed to jump species and bring you closer to fulfilling your copay for your free healthcare, you will have long forgotten the gene splicing thing, and we can blame the event on an act of God who may no longer be relevant in the eyes of pseudo-scientists but will always be there when we need a scapegoat.
But let's think about this. What are we actually going to do with the knowledge gathered about stinky conservatives and smarter mice anyway? Where does it fit into the anthropological equation? Will we improve the human condition? Do you think it's likely that a marked improvement in malodorous conservatives or mouse ACT scores will be brought to us by the Flowers for Algernon wing of MIT? Or do you think we're just cataloguing and tweaking the misery. Shifting it. Automating it? Making suffering more predictable and therefore more in line with our own time tables?
I read an article yesterday about artificial intelligence. Apparently by 2050, AI will surpass the human ability to contain it, and…oh, by the way, this could lead to human extinction if Ebola doesn't do us in first and also, it may already be happening. So that's what we have on the subject, isn't that interesting and please feel free to return to your pumpkin latte that is already in progress.
Now rather than follow this discussion into a predictable "science is bad" meme that we are told shall be expected from a conservative…goodness knows we'd all smell that coming a mile away…please note that this general ennui regarding human knowledge and culture is actually paralleled in other well managed industries like music, film and television and that exact trend ought to be something to which experts should pay attention. Maybe think about. Ponder. Wonder why.
It's frankly the same cultural disconnect that science is experiencing and with the same solution no less. Is television trash? No, television isn't trash. The people who are producing TV shows are simply so caught up in whether they can say or do something over the airwaves that they never stop to wonder whether they should...and where is Michael Crichton when you need him to point out that petite conceit?
Can I get an amen? But if we've learned nothing else from this slow motion lesson in materialism, it's that if the human mind can conceive of an abomination then this is all the validation that we need to see what happens when we bring a maladroit theory to fruition.
If it's possible for scientists to produce a supercomputer with an artificial intelligence that can kill humans, don't we owe it to ourselves to put the scenario to the test and hope that Matthew Broderick is still around to teach the blasted thing tic-tac-toe? I'm sure we're all looking forward to an imminent Sting reprise that soulfully wonders whether HAL 9000 loves its children too.
Come to think of it, where is Stanley Kubrick when you need him most?