Sunday, January 27, 2013

Science, Technology, and Being Human

'If God had meant us to fly, we'd have wings.'

In my youth, folks with that attitude sometimes showed up in jokes:
A little old lady on an airliner was obviously uneasy. Asked what troubled her, she replied: "We should all be where God intended us to be, at home watching television!"
(December 3, 2012)
That's not my view of airliners. I've traveled by air a few times, and enjoyed the experience. I particularly liked having a window seat, just behind the wings. It was a treat, just before landing: watching a smooth wing come apart, becoming a sort of pop-art sculpture of control surfaces.

Fear and Change

Not everybody is as fascinated by wings, or other technology, as I am. Tech, particularly anything new, seems to make some folks nervous. I've seen grim warnings that:
Sure, we need to be careful with technology. This is nothing new. Being careless while flint knappng can hurt someone as surely as inattentive driving.

I think some of the all-too-common uneasiness about technology is how often we see new gadgets today.

It took us something like a million years to go from burning our fingers on fires to getting shocked by electric appliances. About the same time that electric power was changing how folks live, some of us were learning why carrying radium in one's pocket is a bad idea.

About a hundred years later, someone learned why it's a bad idea to turn off a nuclear reactor's cooling system. Remember Chernobyl?

Learning the Right Lesson

The lesson from these experiences isn't that fire is bad: just that we need to use our brains. I think it's also prudent to remember that we almost certainly haven't stopped developing new technology:

Change and Choice

Folks have quite a few options where it comes to our attitude toward change. Some are more sensible than others:
"Nothing endures but change."
(Heraclitus, Greek philosopher, via The Quotations Page (540 BC - 480 BC))

"During my eighty-seven years I have witnessed a whole succession of technological revolutions. But none of them have done away with the need for character in the individual or the ability to think."
(Bernard M. Baruch) US businessman & politician, via The Quotations Page (1870 - 1965))

"In a recent lecture Lord Kelvin expressed alarm at the waste of oxygen by modern manufacturing processes. If this continues he estimated that in the course of 500 years there will be not enough of the gas left on the earth to support life."
(The Evening News, via Google Newspapers (July 16, 1901))

About Lord Kelvin and oxygen: don't worry, we're not running out. Lord Kelvin's math was accurate, but the former president of the Royal Society didn't have all the facts about Earth's oxygen cycle. We probably have a few things to learn today, too: and that's not another topic.

Blink, and You'll Miss Something

My father spent his early years in a corner of America where the family's horse pulled the plow, and a kerosene lamp was the latest thing in high tech. The year I was born, a professor said that all the calculating England would ever need could be handled by three computers.1 My family sometimes has that many in one room, if you count laptops.

It's no wonder that some folks seem a trifle overwhelmed by technology. The way we live has been changing: fast.

Two Centuries: Steam Locomotives to Web TV

Around 1800, we didn't have Novocaine. Pain management during surgery was usually biting a leather strap. Two centuries later, we're developing better brain implants.

A short list of new tech, 1800-2000:
  • 1801 to 1899
    • Anesthesia
    • Antiseptics
    • The Jacquard Loom
    • The McCormick reaper
    • Steam locomotives
    • The telegraph
    • A variety of electric lighting devices
      ( 1800s)
  • 1900 to 1950
    • Air conditioners
    • Computers
      • Analog
      • Digital
    • Kidney dialysis machines
    • Penicillin
    • Talking motion pictures
    • Radio transmitters and receivers
    • Zeppelins
      • Okay: so not all inventions caught on
  • 1951 to 2000
    • Bar-code scanners
    • Digital cellular phones
    • Fortran programming language
    • Optic fiber
    • Radial tires
    • Transistor radios
    • Web TV
    ( 1900s)
If anything, it looks like the rate at which something new comes has sped up. I don't mind: like I said before, I like tech.

Faith and Science

Besides, learning about this vast creation, and developing new ways to use it, are part of what makes us the sort of creature we are. We wouldn't be human, if we weren't studying the world and making tools. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2293) How we use science and technology is where ethics come in. (Catechism, 2292-2295)

Science, honest research, seeking truth in this creation, can't threaten my faith: "...because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God...." (Catechism, 159) It's like Psalms 19:2 says:
"The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky proclaims its builder's craft."
(Psalms 19:2)
Related posts:
More, in other blogs:

1 The professor had 'done his math,' and determined where England's three computers should be installed: Cambridge, Teddington, and Manchester. This was in 1951:
"...I went to see Professor Douglas Hartree, who had built the first differential analyzers in England and had more experience in using these very specialized computers than anyone else. He told me that, in his opinion, all the calculations that would ever be needed in this country could be done on the three digital computers which were then being built - one in Cambridge, one in Teddington, and one in Manchester. No one else, he said, would ever need machines of their own, or would be able to afford to buy them...."
("Only 3 computers will be needed..." Forum post by Mark Brader, (July 10, 1985). net.misc. Citing Lord Bowden (1970), American Scientist, 58: 43–53; via "Thomas J. Watson," Famous misquote, Wikipedia)

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.