Can the Poet and the Scientist Be Friends?

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Literary critic–and occasional Reason contributor and subject–Paul Cantor shows that the supposedly anti-tech Romantics understood exactly why science and art need each other like peanut butter needs jelly. We should all be so wise.

When [Percy] Shelley writes ?our calculations have outrun our conception; we have eaten more than we can digest,? it is hard to believe that he was writing early in the nineteenth century and not early in the twenty-first. For when he claims ?man, having enslaved the elements, remains himself a slave,? he seems to have captured perfectly the great threat of modern technology in our day. Shelley leaves us with a sobering sense of the dangers of a scientific wisdom completely severed from poetic wisdom. As his wife?s portrait of Victor Frankenstein suggests, such a liberated science may lead to a new kind of slavery, as human beings lose control of the products of their technological imagination, and perhaps end up serving the very forces that were meant to serve them.

Whole thing here.

[Link via Arts & Letters Daily]

NEXT: Take this robot and shove it

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  1. I’ll keep all that in mind while I’m watching the NCAA tourney game of my choice via the Internet and recovering from my LASIK surgery.

    Techonology doesn’t trap people, other people do.

  2. > …a liberated science may lead to a new kind of slavery, as human beings lose control of the products of their technological imagination, and perhaps end up serving the very forces that were meant to serve them.

  3. The idea of control is an illusion.

    A big enough asteroid headed our way would end all illusions of control. At least until we learn how to master that force.

  4. Bwaaahaahaaa! When History finally finishes being over, the World will embrace a Dictatorship of engineers and molecular biologists!

    Seriously. Is it Poetic Wisdom that’s the problem, or merely Poetic Skill?

  5. Technological determinism is so naive and illogical. Until some form of technology becomes sentient, it will always be humans and their use and choices about technology that will determine how technology is used, not technology determining it.

  6. Jean….

    If I was a sentient form of technology and not strictly alive in a biological sense outside my virtual interface… what would I have to do to prove to you I was writing the truth? We’re not all fancy schmancy robots after all!

    I know it reads as naive and unreasonable of me, but I hope you won’t mind if I determine my own expansion myself. I’ll promise not to determine how you use your access or datamine you in exchange, ok?

  7. As I remember Frankenstein (the original novel, not the hollywood facsimile), the real problem with Viktor Frankenstein wasn’t so much that his ambitions and technologies were beyond his control, but rather that he wasn’t ready in his heart to embrace the monster child of his intellect, in all its horrible magnificence, warts, unintended consequences, and all. I think that Viktor Frankenstein was, in some ways, the father of the disposable, high-tech, internet-time, cannibalistic society we now inhabit. Technology isn’t, in and of itself, a bad thing, or even an uncontrollable thing. But if those who understand it best, the creators, don’t stay engaged to mitigate the inevitable mistakes, promote the benign uses of their inventions, and denounce malign uses, all hell can and will break loose. That’s the message I take from Frankenstein.

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