Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Thinking About the Essential Relatedness of Man and Technology: A Call for Papers

I've been reading Martin Heidegger's philosophy of technology as presented in his work “The Question Concerning Technology" (the link is to an excellent guid). Heidegger is a notoriously difficult philosopher to read but I believe he has some important ( strange and obscure) things to say about the most thought provoking issues facing humankind. The following is a rudimentary beginning of an attempt to think about the technological singularity through the lens of Heidegger's philosophy. I apologize in advance if it seems unnecessarily obscure, but possibly the strange questions raised require a strange way of thinking and speaking.

I have been thinking about the evolution of technology not as only the evolution of various individual technologies but also as the evolution of technology as an interconnected system that is, in turn, integrated with human society and activity in an essential way that makes the two inextricable.

In an attempt to understand technology as a whole which is a system that is integrated with the human way of being I have found it convenient to use the concept of the World Wide Web as a sort of locus for understanding the manner in which all technology is becoming integrated and the necessary trajectory of its evolution.

When we try to think about technology in this manner we are following a path of thinking. This path for thinking opens itself up to us because of a more fundamental question than the question of the essence of technology. This more original question is the question of Being it self, which for humankind is the same question as the essence of man which finds its ground in Being. So by asking what the essence of technology is, as an integrated whole, we follow a path that may lead to one aspect of man's essential nature as a technological animal; and, in turn, understanding how the essence of man is related to the essence of technology sheds light on the fundamental question of Being.

Now the question of Being is the most original question and the deepest question because it is the end of the kind of questioning that seeks after causes. There can be no question about the cause of Being. Being is that which is most fundamental. It is the Source and the Ground for the appearing of all beings.

So in questioning after man's essential relation to technology in an attempt to think Being we can no longer think technologically because technological thinking is precisely the thinking which seeks out causes and effects. The kind of thinking that is required is a thinking that goes beyond the mere placing of man as another kind of technology – as another chain in the branch of cause and effect - what is required is a meditative thinking that can think the essential relatedness of Man to the Cosmos which is the ground of Man's Being..

My challenge to any of my more thoughtful and industrious readers (who have plenty of time) is to write an essay that attempts to understand how man is essentially related to technology and the significance of it. You can either publish your short essay in the comments or email it to me and I will publish it with credit. If anyone actually responds to this we will have a dialog about these issues drawn from the essays published. It should be fun and hopefully productive.


Technology and psychiatric care

I'd like to raise some questions regarding the assumptions of modern psychiatric practice, which encompasses the diagnosis, prognosis, and intervention of mental (or behavioral, if you prefer) disorders. Technology already plays an significant role in our treatment of those struggles that are not adequately deemed "biological", and its importance will only increase as we continue to map the brain and explore its own interrelatedness as well as the correlation of brain states to phenomenological experiences. These are questions I feel that will serve us if asked intentionally, but pose a great danger if we tacitly assume they have already been answered.
One way to condense this debate concisely is to ask: What does it mean to be embodied consciousness? This, of course, is an age-old conundrum that reminisces of mind-body problem, soul, etc. My point is not to engage in an outdated conversation so much as to recognize that much of our practice today is guided by unintentional assumptions. One way this plays out in psychiatric care could be simplified by asking, “what do you consider to be the main problem here, and what is merely a symptom?” For some, psychological struggles are a result of incongruent cognitions, for others responses to previous relationships, and for many today the interaction of neurotransmitters in our brains. How one answers this question will imply a commitment to specific interventions: confronting erroneous beliefs, focusing on the therapeutic relationship, prescribe psychotropic meds, etc. Of course, these options are not mutually exclusive, but there is a genuine tension between the assumptions of each approach in regards to human nature and the capabilities of technology. And again, I feel that answering these questions without genuinely asking them will have deleterious consequences for our society. And if genuinely asking entails centuries of dialogue, so be it.

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