So, we watched a very interesting video in a lecture for emergent technologies today. It was called ‘Connections’, and it consisted of this remarkably 70s looking man named James Burke, complete in a kind of elvis-like white suit, giving a very structured insight into the future (of science) and exactly how it progresses (by looking at the past). Among other things. Anybody interested in reading a very long ramble triggered by the video, feel free to read on, but be warned I’ve only read it through once to make sure it’s not complete nonsense and I’m remarkably tired. It feels like I had to get this all out before I could sleep, well so be it.
There are a variety of interesting topics Connections touches upon. Burke points out in an interesting and engaging way how there is no way to tell what a key trigger is going to be in our current time, and how past events have hinged on a single thing which at the time seemed perfectly insignificant. It’s an interesting, non-linear history of practical science on one level. On another it’s almost about the philosophy of science. It also deals with the problems technology has caused, and the three different standard ways people react to this. That’s very interesting actually. Should we :
- shut down everything and go back to a rural society,
- stay where we are and stamp out all technological advances (no more research, no more upgrading),
- or carry on as normal?
The possibilities of each are touched upon. Honestly, it’s an excellent programme to watch for anybody at all with even the remotest interest in the world around them, and I can’t recommend it enough. Of course the language seems slightly patronising (I believe it’s aimed at older children), the style is slightly ridiculous (but charming!) and the computer specific scenes are laughably out of date (in a cute way!). But still.
It concludes :
The key to why things change is the key to everything. How easy is it for knowledge to spread? Change comes from knowledge. Communication between scientists is important, and possibly most important of all is a willingness to learn and understand everything we can. The scientists and technologists are the true driving force of humanity.
But what of art, philosophy, politics, literature?
Burke suggests that at best the products of human emotion are interpretations of the world, second hand views of the world. Art is easier to accept, understand and perhaps delight in. “Scientific knowledge removes the reassuring crutches of opinion, ideology and leaves only what is demonstratably true.”
This is very worrying to me, because although I keep trying to pick it apart, it seems to stand firm.
Perhaps you could argue that art and philosophy and so on all have their function in keeping our society a healthy, developed one – mentally at least. I mean, they must exist for a reason right, other than to make life more complicated? Since the dawn of human consciousness there has been art, it must be something the human brain needs to do – either to enjoy and take in and understand or to create. It helps develop the minds of the young, I’m sure it’s not possible for a human being to never take in any form of art (books, film, music, etc) or philosophy or politics and not suffer from it.
That’s all a bit wishy washy, and ironically I don’t have any scientific proof to back it up. Maybe science and art/philosophy/etc are interrelated, are co-dependent. Leonardo da Vinci is one famous example of course, a brilliant engineer and inventor as well as artist and all the other things he excelled at. Of course, geniuses don’t come along every day. Most people seem to have more natural aptitude for either one side or the other. [This begs another question I’m deeply interested in of course – are women in general better at social and artistic academia because of gender roles or because our chemical balance and our brains are more adapted for certain things? I’ll leave this for the moment.]
I think what I’m trying to work out is how the human brain works. Maybe, um, scientists are more interested in the world at large (as well as humanity), and artists are more interested in how the mind works. My thoughts are running round and round in circles and I think that as a human race we’d better damn well find ourselves a point and a reason for being so I can stop thinking about it! Um, to go in another circle, I suppose that’s part of what philosophers are trying to do. At this point I often start to think about us being a TINY little blip in space/time, soon to vanish away forever without a trace (apart from radiowaves maybe). This is a particularly useless thought loop I seem to so often get stuck in, so I’m going to leave it now.
Maybe it’s coincidence, or in searching for a suitable topic for a third year project I have become remarkably sensitive to what people say about thought processes. That episode of Connections in a way is all about trying to find ways to translate the knowledge, to teach ourselves to ask the right questions. Several different sources in my life have all emphasised that it is important to know where you’re trying to get to, and what you are trying to achieve, when you set out to do something. Of course this is self evident, this is the sort of like that which had me gritting my teeth through Systems and Computing in first year, on account of it’s painful obviousness. And yet. And yet. It jolts me each time I hear it because I truly don’t know what I’m setting out to do. I’m not a naturally decisive person I don’t think, and without wanting to sound pompous I think I’ve got quite a broad set of interests. It’s very hard to pick something when there is so much interesting stuff to explore and play with! (And yes even though the paragraph above this was fast approaching a blunt statement “What the hell is the point of it all”, I can’t but help delighting in everything even so.)
Well, maybe it doesn’t really matter, in the grand scheme of things, seeing as I don’t seem to have any idea in which way I want myself to head (knowledge-wise). Perhaps I should do something I’m more interested in than lots of other stuff, and something I think I will enjoy. And really it’d be a real shame to spoil that run of straight As I’ve lined up so nicely to point towards getting a 1:1, so maybe something which will get me a good mark too.
To go back to Connections, James Burke notes that ‘we’ (the audience in the 70s) are on the cusp of a revolution in human communication, and essentially if we don’t learn to use the tools we will be left as good as deaf, dumb and blind.
I think there’s something very sad about maybe one day not being interested in finding out stuff. I’m quite scared of the idea of that. And I love learning so very much, and I’m so glad to be back at university, with my awesome lecturers who can show us so many cool things like that Connections video, and who are kind enough to share what they’ve managed to find out in life so far.