Noble throws out many heavy hitters of Western civilization, the major figures contributing to Western thought. It isn’t our goal to be familiar with all of them. Instead, they should remind us of the extent to which Noble has traced his thesis and that there is a pattern, a debatable one, but a pattern nonetheless.
Usually, I list main quotes and give you page numbers for articles we cover. We’d need several hours to delve that deeply into this reading. Below is just a sampling of the arguments and proof Noble uses in his book.
Main Points to Consider from Part 1
- The early Middle Ages saw a change in how society, specifically the elites, viewed technology: “Technology came to be identified more closely with both lost perfection and the possibility of renewed perfection, and the advance of the arts took on new significance, not only as evidence of grace, but as a means of preparation for, and a sure sign of, imminent salvation” (p. 12).
- The politics of religion in the 10th and 11th centuries “pioneer[ed] in the avid use of windmills, watermills, and new agricultural methods” (p. 14).
- The clergy supports the pursuit of “the useful arts…for salvation” (p. 15).
- The coming apocalypse: millenarianism or chiliasm.
“[T]he expectation that the end of the world is near and that…a new earthly paradise is at hand” (p. 23).
- 9th Century Carolingian “Erigena insisted that knowledge of the arts was innate in man, an aspect of this initial endowment, but that it had become obscured by sin since the Fall of Man, and was now but a dim vestige of its original perfection” (pp. 16-17).
- I’m not going to link to any of these sites, but there are folks who say all our ideas were implanted by beings from other dimensions.
- “Goldsmiths and ironsmiths…the making of coins, jewels, and weapons” was considered exalted (p. 18).
- 13th Century Michael Scot: “‘the primary purpose of the human sciences is to restore fallen man to his prelapsarian position'” (p. 20).
- Pursuing perfection “encouraged…the ideological wedding of technology and transcendence” (p. 22).
- Slight suppression of millenarian belief prior to Middle Ages, but that didn’t last (pp. 23-24).
- Roger Bacon in 13th Century: “technology as a means of recovering mankind’s original perfection….preparing for the kingdom to come” (p. 26).
- Columbus sets sail to do more than explore…(p. 29-34).
- “Columbus’s own mentality reflected the medieval millenarian expectations of 15th-century Spain” (p. 31).
- “Columbus believed himself guided by divine prophecy” (p. 33).
- “Columbus identified the New World as the Garden of Eden” (p. 38).
- So why didn’t they have the “perfect” technologies millenarians believed existed in the Garden of Eden?
- Spread of printing press allowed more to come to know the millenarian beliefs (p. 39).
- Humans should stay engaged in their crafts, their jobs (p. 40); hence, this is the establishment of a work ethic.
- Rosicrucians want to “‘the reform of the whole of mankind,’ through…the cooperative advance of science and technological knowledge” (p. 41).
- Religion wasn’t necessarily “used as a ‘cloak’ to cover ‘real’ secular motives.” The bible as a common text for Western society (p. 44).
- “Th[e] unprecedented millenarian milieu decisively and indelibly shaped the dynamic Western conception of technology” (p. 48).
- The advancements over nature and technological advancement would put humans in control of the Earth.
- Does this idea–that humans own the Earth and can use the Earth however they want–apply today?
- Francis Bacon believed “the restoration of mankind’s original powers was part of the divine plan” (p. 51).
- Education’s goal is to become one with god and right the wrong done by Adam and Eve” (p. 56).
- Ch. 5: “Heavenly Virtuosi”–the rise of technical and scientific societies in the Age of Enlightenment.
- John Evelyn and Robert Boyle founded “the Royal Society…’to improve practical and experimental knowledge….There was also a strong connection between the scientific pioneers and early capitalist enterprise” (p. 58)
- In addition to metallurgy and textiles, “other early Royal Society members were involved in such industries as tobacco, distilling, and trade” (pp. 58-59).
- “For Boyle, who is usually identified as the father of both experimental science and modern chemistry, empirical investigation was a form of spiritual experience, and knowing was at once a form of worship and an anticipation of millenarian resurrection” (p. 60).
- Can one have it both ways? Can you hold a belief in positivism and spirituality?
- Joseph Glanville claimed scientists and inventors were “lent to Earth” (p. 62), which follows the myth that ideas exist out there and humans discover them or they’re implanted in them.
- Not to be confused with the Granville Inn in Louisville, KY.
- “[T]rue knowledge of something was the preserve of its maker, the artisan’s sure knowledge of his artifact was the result of his having made it” (p. 63).
- Eventually, scientists weren’t satisfied with getting back to Adam, the tool user; they “raised their sights from Adam to his Father, from the image of God to the mind of God” (p. 63).
- “For Newton, then, to uncover the hidden logic of the universe was to understand, and in that sense identify with, the mind of its Creator” (p. 65).
- “Henceforth, nature was to be understood by the way it was made, which required of the scientist a God-like posture and perspective” (p. 65)
- Social construction (and control) of religion: English scientists in the 18th century continued the quest to restore humanity to paradise because “the new science demonstrated an ordered, providentially guided pattern in nature that reinforced social order and stability–including the Church’s authority, which was in their view a necessary precondition for millenarian advance” (p. 68).
- At least James Burnett makes a pitch for Humanities education and the well-rounded “man” (yes, he would have excluded women): “‘[scientists] must have cultivated his understanding by arts and sciences, and so have prepared his mind for the more perfect knowledge which he will have in a future state'” (p. 69).
- Joseph Priestly’s view of the French Revolution was that Louis XVI was the first of “the ten crowned head of Europe” to fall (p. 70). The political upheaval of the time was also seen as the beginning of the end times.
- Establishing the New Adam, the engineer, through the Freemasons (p. 79).
- Auguste Comte believed “positivism represented the third, transitional stage…described as the “‘transition towards the true and final doctrine'” (p. 84)
- Marx and Owen: machines don’t change society; people do (p. 87).
- “machines did not by themselves change society, only people did, but machines did promise (if only they were put in the right hands) an Edenic respite from labor”
- American progress (pp. 89-90)
- Edward Bellamy on the future from 1888: “‘The United States of the year 2000 is very much a technological utopia,'” which he thought would be complete with technologies and Fordist/Taylorist management science (pp. 98-99).
- No explanation for why Americans love the new–technologies included–even if what’s new contributes to our misery.
Obviously, that last point is debatable, but why do we love new things?
Main Points to Consider in Part 2 of Noble’s book
- “[A] more secular view of mankind’s unending evolution” (p. 103).
- Leo Szilard saw atomic energy as a technological solution for human liberation (p. 105).
- Szilard believed humans need to leave the Earth (p. 105)
- Interstellar anyone…
- “[R]evival of evangelical expectation” following the Soviets acquiring a nuclear bomb: “Billy Graham…assailed the Antichrist of godless communism and warned the wayward of the imminence of Armageddon” (p. 109)
- Science Fiction excites the minds of astronauts and others: Ray Bradbury claims “Verne is the verb that moves us to Space….Without Verne there is a strong possibility we would never have romanced ourselves to the Moon” (as cited in Noble p. 119).
- Referring to Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon.
- What other ideas and/or technologies have been “dreamed up” by sci fi writer?
- Science Fiction is also part of the discourse surrounding technology and, therefore, important to both technical communication and the Rhetoric of Technology.
- Lots of military support (here and abroad) for technological advancements (p. 122)
- Many Christians at NASA (p. 131)
- Much like those who win the Big Game, people claim the Apollo missions’ successes were only possible because of god (p. 136)
- Descartes’s philosophy on how he knows god exists (paraphrasing): The only way we can conceive of a being that’s perfect is if that being let us know it exists. The mortal mind cannot know the immortal without the immortal’s help. Because god is perfect, all things come from god (p. 144).
- “Nearly all of the theoretical developments that made possible the design of computers…stemmed from military-related experience” (p. 152).
- “Linguistic theorist Umberto Eco has suggested that AI computer languages are ‘heirs of the ancient search for the perfect language,’ the pre-Babel universal language of Adam” (cited in Noble, p. 155)
- Has anyone read Snow Crash?
- “[C]omputer-simulated realities readily evoked the familiar refrains of the religion of technology” (p. 158)
- With the above quotation in mind, explain what Noble means using his evidence and, perhaps, your own thoughts. This is a great question to call on someone…
- The allure of cyberspace (pp. 158-160)
- Artificial Life as the next evolutionary step–not through natural selection but through engineering (p. 163)
- What would it mean to truly transcend one’s body (p. 165)?
- The agenda of Artificial Life over the next century (p. 168).
- Major philosophers and scientists want to create a human being (p. 173)
- Schrodinger on Western science: “We have inherited…the keen longing for unified, all-embracing knowledge” (as cited in Noble p. 179).
- What might we say about “all-embracing knowledge” in light of our understanding of Postmodernism?
- What is Science’s and Technology’s grand narrative?
- Biotechnology: not just studying life–improving it (p. 182)
- The new eugenics (p. 187).
- What are some ethical issues that arise when you hear talk of designing plants, animals, humans, etc.?
- Ready for homo superior?
- Prevalence of Christian thought in Western culture (p. 192).
- Noble’s big claim: “The millenarian promise of restoring mankind to its original God-like perfection–the underlying premise of the religion of technology–was never meant to be universal” (p. 201)
- 20th-century advancement financed mostly through “the state” for the “enlargement of state power” (p. 205).
- “[T]hese technologies have not met basic human needs because, at bottom, they have never really been about meeting them” (p. 206); instead, they are “inspired more by prophets than by profits” and not the betterment of humans or the Earth (p. 207).
- Aren’t sure where Noble stands: “[T]he technological pursuit of salvation has become a threat to our survival” (p. 208).
Appendix: A Masculine Millennium
- “[I]f the religion of technology elevated the arts, it at the same time masculinized them” (p. 209).
- [I]t was only when the arts came to be invested with spiritual significance that they became worthy of the attention of and identification with elite males” (p. 212).
- “The same early-modern moment that spawned the intellectual ferment of the scientific revolution was also the ‘burning times’ when countless women were persecuted as witches and perished at the stake” (p. 218).
- Harry Potter, anyone?
- Jules Verne on why girls should avoid science and technology (p. 225)
Same definitions that might help when we discuss Noble’s arguments about masculinized technology:
- Feminism: the social and political philosophy advocating the equality of all people regardless of gender.
- Patriarchy: male dominated society; the powerful group in a society elevates male privilege and subordinates women.
- Sexism: attitudes, assumptions, and stereotypes directed at a particular sex/gender; especially when these are related to women.
- Heteronormativity: the attitude that recognizes heterosexual relationships as the societal norm and ignores other possibilities.
- Heterosexist: the belief that the only valid form of relationship is the heterosexual union between a man and a woman.
- Phallocentrism: power is held and wielded by those in control of the phallus, the site of male power; male superiority based on the legitimate use of the phallus
Let’s take that last one, phallocentrism, and think about the ways in which technology is male dominated. Can we agree with Noble? After all, don’t women use technology, too? What’s the bigger picture concerning gender and technology? (Don’t worry, we’ll be coming back to that throughout the semester).