The Technology is the problem: An answer to Asimov

This essay is a reply to an assertion made by Isaac Asimov in which he claims that “the only solution to new problems is by further advancing technology” (Numrich, 2002, p. 72). In order to refute Asimov´s assertion, bellow I will define what modern technology is, in contrast with what ancient technology was, according to Martin Heidegger´s reflections on technology on his essay The Question Concerning Technology. Later on, I will reject the Isaac Asimov´s assertion by relating it with the state of modern technology today, again, using the philosophy of Martin Heidegger as a toolset. Concluding, I will point to a possible break of paradigm as far as technology is concerned, a break that can solve the new problems that Asimov has referred to, problems that cannot be resolved inside the old paradign, as pointed out by the heideggerian philosophical view.

According to Martin Heidegger, technology is widespread but it is not neutral. It is a big mistake to think technology as being neutral:

Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it. But we are delivered over to it in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral; for this conception of it, to which today we particularly like to do homage, makes us utterly blind to the essence of technology.”(p.3) Heidegger (1954)

He infers that in order to understand what technology really is, we should investigate its essence, and the essence of technology has drastically changed from the ancient times in Greece, when the science was born, to the modern times on which we live on. The basic idea is that in ancient times technology was used in a way so as to bring to the surface the essence of an object, or it´s Being in heideggerian terms, whereas in modern times technology is used in a way that causes the oblivion of the object´s Being.

On the ancient times, according to the German philosopher, technology was used as a mean to reveal the essence of an object. The goal of the craftsmen or the scientists at that time was not to impose themselves or to dominate an object, but to bring to the surface it´s essence, in order to take advantage of it. Heidegger names this ancient scientific work as “poetic”, because Poiesis in Greek means the act of bringing to the surface something the way it is essentially. In this case, the goal of the craftsmen or scientists was to free the essence of Beings from the “Lethe”, forgetfulness in Greek. Not by chance, the word for truth in Greek is “Alethea”.  As an example, Heidegger remembers the Water wheel, a technological object used in ancient times to generate energy; it was designed so as to reveal the nature of the waterfall in its essence, or its Being. In other words, the Water wheel made the waterfall more “waterfall like” or its river more “river like”, that is to say, more like they are on their essence.

In contrast with the ancient technology lies the modern technology. Modern technology, according to Heidegger, in its essence is manipulative. Its goal is to transform the Nature in a natural resource to be manipulated. As a consequence, modern technology dominates and turns into oblivion the essence of Beings.  (On the evolution of History, it was inevitable to humankind to make technology to be this way. It was a “necessary evil” to dominate nature like that in order to foment the development of large numbers of people.) The main goal of modern technology is to dominate the nature. Nature is transformed into a natural resource that must be manipulated and optimized in order to serve the society. According to Heidegger, the essence of modern technology is to com-pose (Heidegger uses the German ge-stell) the natural recourses so as to be manipulated, processed and optimized for maximum exploration. Following this way, the oblivion of the Being is inevitable. As an example Heidegger remind us the waterfall again. This time a hydroelectric power plant is built and completely destroys the waterfall, turning its essence into oblivion. The goal is not to unveil the essence of the waterfall or the river to generate power anymore. The goal is to transform it in a natural resource, in this case to generate electric power. Even in others perspectives the essence of modern technology is the same here. For instance, the tourism company sees the same river as a natural resource to tourism. The food company sees the same river as a natural resource to create fish. The department of Human Resources of a capitalistic enterprise sees the human being at the same way, as a resource to produce something. How a hospital does see its frozen embryos? It sees it as a “thing”, as a resource to generate revenue. The oblivion of Being is total due to the essence of modern technology.

Isaac Asimov´s assertion must be rejected because the modern technology being the way it is condemns to oblivion the essential meaning of the being and transforms it in a resource that has to be explored. That view of technology is ultimately responsible for recent historical facts very unflattering for our technological society that not long ago was proud to be “Enlighted”. The cruelties of mass killings of innocent people by machines that transform them into videogame-like characters or the frozen embryos´ manipulation targeting the creation of enhanced humans are good examples of what a manipulative technological paradigm (in which in its core manipulate beings into natural resources and turn their being into oblivion) can do.  In fact, modern technology can generate new problems, instead of solving them. These new problems can be psychological, existential, humanitarian, and so on, due to the fact that human beings lost touch with their essential Being. In fact, the human beings know less about their essence now than on the ancient times.

Humankind has been successful. From the ancient times to our contemporary society, it has overcome several difficulties, but at the cost of the actual technological paradigm, exposed above. From the ancient unfolding of the Being to the contemporary manipulation of nature, the essence of technology has come a long way. In my opinion, the technology´s essence may be in verge of changing again, for good. That´s because the “necessary evil” of modern technology was only necessary due to the scarcity of means and goods for the human survival that has happened during History. However, nowadays, human civilization has never produced so much, more than the necessity for its survival. Technologies exist to produce almost everything, from energy to electric cars, from food to computers, without the human sacrifice, with machines. Enviromental concerns may force humans not to see the nature as a mere resource. There is a possibility that in the near future we could live a life more in touch with our essencial Being, more in touch with nature and with another technological paradigm.


3 Respostas to “The Technology is the problem: An answer to Asimov”

  1. muito bom Flávio, mas o I.Azimov tem um excelente conto em que analisa o livro como uma maravilha tecnológica incomparável (portabilidade, autonomia, etc). Quando ele fala que qualquer problema pode isso não quer necessariamente dizer que deva ser solucionado pela tecnologia, acho que isso explica a tendência humana de retorno à natureza e onda ecológica, muito salutar. Abç e parabéns pelo blog. Lucas.

  2. Fala Flavio,

    No meu ponto de vista os avanços tecnológicos nem são a raiz de todo mal, nem a salvação. Digo isto pois no lado positivo, os avanços tecnológicos permitem o tratamento de doenças, aumento de produtividade, diminuíção de desperdícios mesmo para diminuir os abusos da utilização da natureza como recurso, que anteriormente era visto como infinito. Atualmente já descobrimos o impacto que isso vem causando a nossa sociedade.

    Por outro lado, todos sabemos que os avanços tecnológicos podem e são utilizados para fins nada louváveis, como o desenvolvimento de novas armas, a destruição da natureza etc.

    Além disso a tecnologia gera rupturas no estilo de vida. Estas rupturas se tranformam em oportunidades que são aproveitadas por empreendedores e capitalistas, que as transformam em lucro. Na prática, não haveria capitalismo sem avanço tecnologico.

    Minha conclusão é que a tecnologia por si só não é boa ou má, apesar de ser intrigante e fascinante. A tecnologia é uma ferramenta na mão dos seres humanos pode salvar ou destruir o mundo em que vivemos. Ou seja, Asimov não está tão errado assim…..

  3. Flavio,

    Heidegger would state that most folks can’t truly comprehend technology because “technology is nothing technological.” NOW, pragmatically, try conveying this message to the average person, who is not akin to intellectual discussions? Is this a dangerous reality? As a pragmatist… Yes, indeed.

    Could it be that the medium is NOT the message? Or more importantly, could it be that the message is the medium and that a few control that medium? Rather than spit facts, perhaps, we should elaborate on the argument that technology isn’t neutral. I can’t be. Life is a panacea, if ceteris paribus. The problem is that things are not the same. If they were, why do we have so much disparity between and among cultures? And more importantly, why is this a definite overtime?

    A dagger was made to kill, regardless if or not was to be used for defense or attack. The essence of that artifact is evil, in the literal sense of the word. It can also be seen as functional… Choice, however, tends to be a sociological decision.

    Flavio, the real issue, in my opinion, is that “technology” has blinded folks to a degree that now, they can’t differentiate. Folks are lost because they don’t understand the essence of issues. We know that most folks believe that technology is a computer, right? WRONG! My argument is also technology! Well, I guess it depends how we define technology.🙂

    Contrary to popular belief, faster processes don’t push us away from use. It increases its use! No wonder why we have a large degree of social revenge going on! They deny, of course! BUT, they don’t see it…

    In natural terms, one cannot choose/act with reason what (when) he can’t see.

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