This week was the final week of the history part of this unit. We continued to discuss Marx and Heidegger in particular.
Kerry began the class by talking about an article about cyborg insects, you can read it here. This article is about scientists fitting a real dragonfly with a small backpack that can directly issue commands to the insects neutrons and can control its flight.
It is hoped this kind of technology could one day be used to treat humans with certain medical issues. A very interesting article.
Back to the philosophy and we discussed Karl Marx and his theory of Political Economy. Marx recognises that the labour process is man and nature participating together and we must obey the rules of nature, we are part of nature. We are transformative beings and we reveal parts of our nature when we are involved in the labour process and the tools that we use. However, we are not truly transformative beings as we still make the same mistakes over and over again. Marx says we are not technology, we design and make something useful, an instrument. We went on to talk about the economy and how it is a social thing, the economy is for the purpose of society. We talked about how economy should be more in the service of society, if everyone had a stake in the economy then we would be more responsible and not waste resources if there was a direct knock-on effect to us. An example is global warming, we are all invested in our planet and future generations.
We then went back to Martin Heidegger and he had some fantastic points about technology. He said that we are most aware of technology when it breaks! This is so true. At its best, technology disappears and is seamless, this is an essential feature of Heidegger.
Kerry’s first example of this was the pencil. The point here is that when you are writing with a pencil you are not really aware of the pencil, it is invisible. The pencil is doing its job and it becomes an extension of your arm. Another example given was a car. When you’re driving you are (sometimes, mostly) not even aware of the car. Reading glasses was another example, when we wear glasses and when we read, watch TV or do work we are not aware of them, they essentially become a part of us.
Present-at-hand means you are aware of the technology, it is disconnected from us. If technology is present-at-hand we get annoyed with it and cast it away or try to fix it. Until it becomes a ‘means-to’ it is of no use to us.
Ready-at-hand means the technology is invisible, it becomes an extension of us, it is seamless and working perfectly. This also applies to the human body, when it is working perfectly we are not aware that we are doing certain things. When we walk we are not consciously thinking about our legs, but if you have a bad foot then you would be thinking about it.
The next Heidegger point was that technology is a method of revealing or concealing.
“The potter’s wheel, the paint brush, the hydro electric plant, the computer, all reveal or disclose something about human beings. Of course humans must have the potentiality to use the technology, however, it is in using technology that these aspects of the human are produced.”
Technology can reveal certain skills that we possess, however, it can also conceal skills we used to have and need. An example is with autonomous cars, we no longer need to learn how to drive a car as the computer inside the car will drive it for us, so our driving skills become concealed. 3D printing can also be seen to conceal skills of arts and crafts, however, other skills may be revealed, such as computer design skills. Email conceals hand writing skills but reveals other technological skills.
We finished the class by reading an article about nano-intentionality. We read that living organisms are intrinsically goal-directed, it is inherent in the behaviour of living eukaryotic cells. So we started to compare biology with computers. We decided that biological beings have conscious, purpose and are self-aware. It is also in our advantage to be aware of ourselves, flight or fight. Computers are programmed, not conscious or self-aware. Machines have no reason to be self-aware.
So this week we finished the history side of the course and now we will start to explore more contemporary philosophy. More to follow next week!