NETFUTURE Technology and Human Responsibility -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Issue #80 A Publication of The Nature Institute November 24, 1998 -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Editor: Stephen L. Talbott (firstname.lastname@example.org) On the Web: http://netfuture.org You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes. CONTENTS -------- Editor's Note Quotes and Provocations Can We Learn to Speak Again? Toddlers as Geometricians When Childhood Should Rule The Tyranny of the Gene (Craig Holdrege) The dream of total control What is The Nature Institute? A brief introduction DEPARTMENTS Announcements and Resources A Centennial Celebration of Owen Barfield Words Past and Present About this newsletter --------------------- ** From the NETFUTURE Archives ** "The computer is our hope if we can accept it as our enemy; as our friend, it will destroy us." (For an updated context, see "Words Past and Present" below.) ========================================================================== EDITOR'S NOTE I've been under a heavy lecturing burden for the past several weeks, which is why there hasn't been an issue of NETFUTURE for a month. I expect to turn out the next few issues at a fairly rapid clip. Occasionally I've dropped the name of Owen Barfield in NETFUTURE, perhaps piquing the interest of some of you. Barfield, whose life spanned nearly the whole of this century (1898 - 1997), will, I am certain, someday be recognized as one of the most profound and important figures of our time. A philologist and semantic historian, he spent a lifetime exploring the evolution of consciousness, and thereby helping us to find a context for ourselves. If there is one thing the twentieth century has lacked and the twenty-first century will need, it is historical context -- the kind of context that (unlike standard evolutionary theory) enables us to discover -- from the inside, so to speak -- who we are, where we are coming from, and where we might reasonably choose to go. I mention this now because on December 4 - 5 there will be a major cele- bration of Barfield's life at Columbia University (Manhattan) and Drew University (Madison, New Jersey). I'll be one of more than a dozen speak- ers at the conference, which will open with an address by historian John Lukacs. See "Announcements and Resources" below. SLT Goto table of contents ========================================================================== QUOTES AND PROVOCATIONS Can We Learn to Speak Again? ---------------------------- We are becoming more and more a society where words converse with words; no speaker is necessary. It's not only that we cannot trace the author of much of the text assaulting us on or off the Net every day. More and more of the text coursing through the world's dense tangle of communication channels has no author in any traditional sense. Words just rattle about, like artificially sustained thunderclaps endlessly re-echoing long after darkness has quenched the last lightning bolt's revelation. Most of us are already accustomed to email exchanges with list servers and calendar programs, not to mention our verbal heeding of devices ranging from ATMs and gasoline pumps to our own computers. If you query a major website, chances are the response you receive will be composed by software. This month both Aptex Software and Brightware announced email management packages featuring "automated personalized responses". (Some marketing folks have no shame.) These packages attempt to read incoming messages, classify them, route them to appropriate service agents (with suggested answers), or respond directly to them. The responses may draw on company databases to satisfy customer inquiries. This trend continues and accentuates the detachment of word from speaker that was previously encouraged by the printing press, and before that by the invention of writing. In fact, the same trend was already evident in the "disenchantment" of the ancient world -- the progressive loss of the experience of the world as the speech of the gods. The eventual conse- quence of this disenchantment was the modern explanation of the world as consisting of mathematically conceived, featureless "particles" moving in the void. The ancient view doubtless needed updating. But what's overlooked in the new explanation is that, for all its remarkable utility, it lacks something crucial: the ability to make sense of the world we started out wanting to understand. The mere rearrangement of qualityless particles can tell us nothing about the qualitative, phenomenal world that is the sole and final source of our questions. This world is speech, it is wordlike, since qualities as such are irreducibly expressive. Which, of course, is why a science with nothing but disenchantment on its mind was forced to ignore qualities. Which, in turn, is why this science must sacrifice the reader's understanding for the technician's manipulative power: just rearrange those particles, and to hell with whatever expressive sense (or nonsense) these rearrangements speak into the world. You may wonder why I'm ranging so far afield. But, really, this isn't far afield at all. I've been talking about what happens when words are cut off from their speaker. It looks very much as if human speech in the digital era is suffering the same fate as the speech that once sounded through ensouled nature. First the speaker becomes irrelevant, then he is denied, and then the orphaned words lose their quality as speech, becoming empty mechanisms -- "particles" moving in the cyberspatial void. We have no shortage of cognitive scientists today busily tracing the syntactic arcs of the word-particles of human speech in order to explain this speech as speakerless mechanism. You can be sure that this explanation will be beautifully precise while explaining nothing meaningful -- an eventuality the theorists will find tolerable only by concluding that the world of meaning they set out to explain in the first place was never really there. As words increasingly converse with themselves, you and I will become superfluous players upon a mechanistic field of interaction-without- expression -- a field perfectly adapted for various practical manipula- tions, but leaving no room for values, desires, meanings, hopes, new ima- ginations, or human strivings. Yes, on such a field our words can perform quite well without us. But then, their declarations are no longer our own. The decisive question for the future is whether we can learn to speak anew at a higher level -- effectively, out of the present moment, and in brutal competition with all those dead, inertial artifacts of speech rumbling through the world, awe- some in their power, but devoid of light and warmth. (It is the central mission of The Nature Institute to contribute toward a science and technology that avoid the limitations described above. See "What is The Nature Institute?" later in this newsletter.) Toddlers as Geometricians ------------------------- "We may think ... that we need to get children to memorize the idea that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points", John Alexandra writes in Mephistopheles' Anvil: Forging a More Human Future. "But even one-year-old children already know this: when frightened, they will run to their parents in the straightest of straight lines." Alexandra goes on: At that age, however, they know it only in their legs, where this knowledge is unconscious, asleep. The mathematics teacher's task is to draw out and make conscious what children already know unconsciously, rather than to push concepts into their memories. Teaching through movement and art does not reduce the accuracy of the resulting intel- lectual concept. It enhances the concept so it can be experienced through the whole human being. Art thus becomes a fundamental medium of education, even for academic subjects. Alexandra emphasizes the contrast between an artistic and beautiful educa- tion, on the one hand, and the all-too-common childhood experience of alienation, disengagement, and boredom, on the other. To read a boring description of a historical event is one thing; it's quite another to "read, or preferably hear, a rousing description of it and then act it out. It may live with us a lifetime." In general, everything that is colorful, active, warm, beautiful and diverse involves us, because it is alive and ensouled. Mechanically presented material is dead and alien to us. It remains outside of us. (pp. 156-57) In her new book, Failure to Connect, Jane Healy notes that "children who have trouble keeping a rhythm seem to have learning difficulties with reading, writing, and other skills". Several recent studies have created a bit of a sensation by suggesting that music training for young children can improve cognitive skills in other arenas, including mathematics. (You'll find some pointers to the literature at http://www.musica.uci- .edu.) Historically, of course, science traces its roots back to artisans of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. There is every reason to think that teaching arts and crafts to young children is not an alternative to sci- ence; properly done, it is science itself, at the stage where art and sci- ence have not yet split apart. And whenever the split becomes too radi- cal, there can be neither art nor science, but only arbitrary "self- expression" on the one side and mindless manipulative technique on the other. Meanwhile, as Alexandra reminds us, two-thirds of public elementary schools in New York City have no art or music teachers. With the number of expensive computer labs skyrocketing across the nation, you can be sure that the arts are not currently making a comeback. Neither, therefore, is science. When Childhood Should Rule -------------------------- In NF #76 I offered several pieces of advice to those promoting the Inter- net for children. Among them were these: Tip #2: We won't ask children to become adults before their time -- adults who can detach themselves from their own feelings of discomfort and react "objectively and reasonably" to those feelings. Tip #5: We won't push children unnecessarily or prematurely into environments where we must ask them to be wary of shadowy, unseen human beings who are vaguely suggested to be capable of dark and unmention- able crimes. It invariably seems to happen, when someone makes such statements, that someone else replies, "I prefer not to shield my children artificially from reality". This always puzzles me. Why is it so difficult to see that protecting children is exactly what we must do? In fact, the need to shield the child from the fatal consequences of premature exposure to the world -- and to do so for an extraordinarily long time -- is one of the things that distinguish humans from the lower animals. The relation of the nurturer to the one nurtured is not symmetrical. It means one thing to receive nurture and quite another to give nurture. Moreover, receiving nurture is not merely an unfortunate necessity, to be gotten over as quickly as possible. That end of the relationship will, by its own qualities, determine the eventual fullness of the life of the adult. In "Beyond Ecophobia" (NF #33), David Sobel pointed out how pictures of baby seals being clubbed might stir adults to constructive action, but for young children up to third or fourth grade they prove destructive. He cites research suggesting that children exposed to this kind of thing tend, at a later age, to become cynical and uncaring about environmental problems. These children do not yet possess the firm sense of self and the detachment from the world required for activism. And when they do gain the necessary detachment, they will find they do not love the world -- what, after all, is to be loved in those pictures of brutality? What's important [wrote Sobel} is that children have an opportunity to bond with the natural world, to learn to love it and feel comfortable in it, before being asked to heal its wounds. Yet our educational system seems largely founded on the assumption that there is no kingdom of childhood containing essential life of its own. Rather, the teacher's task is nothing more than to bring out the adult in the child as quickly as possible. All the gifts to be won in that earlier kingdom are ignored. As the diffuse, all-embracing consciousness of the young child slowly con- tracts from the wide world into its narrow, sharp, wakeful focus in the mature ego ("out of everywhere and into here") how much world wisdom will it bring with it? Actually, the "shielding from reality" isn't that at all. It is an attempt to preserve, before it fades away entirely, the fuller reality that adults in our era all too often lose. It's an attempt to cultivate the childlike, playful, innocent, and imaginative qualities of human life so that they can produce their fruit for the adult. Viewing children as nothing more than small, undeveloped adults yields absurdities. When the very young child wants to hear the same song, the same nursery rhyme, the same story over and over again, what is going on? If it's just a matter of "getting the information across" (as we adults would like to think, although we're wrong even for ourselves), then the repetition is superfluous. The child listening to the repeated story already has the information, such as it is -- and will let you know in no uncertain terms whenever you deviate from it. So it's some other need that is being fulfilled, and we'd better try to understand it, rather than simply project our own psyches into the child. Interestingly, Joseph Chilton Pearce relates the young child's love of calm, reassuring of repetition to the forming of those neural networks thought to be essential for the development of an integrated embrace of reality. The orderly repetition of the same, he suggests, is necessary in order for the networks to stabilize and endure. (See his "Introduction" to The Children of the Cyclops by Keith Buzzell.) Interesting, yes -- and perhaps a little scary when set (as Pearce sets it) against the chaotic over-stimulation of television. But I doubt the reference to the brain helps all that much -- and it can do much harm to our understanding. Why not just listen to the child? He will tell us directly what he needs -- in the way of repetition and much else. It is true that the child must increasingly confront ugliness, pain, evil, and falsehood. Virtually all human growth comes through suffering. Almost everything worthwhile in the world is the fruit of suffering. I am the last person to say we should protect people from the grace of their own suffering. But if the sufferer was not allowed to discover what is every child's birthright -- the truth, beauty, and goodness that stand prior to and above all suffering -- and if he was not allowed to thrive within that bright kingdom, where will he find the courage to endure his suffering? SLT Goto table of contents ========================================================================== THE TYRANNY OF THE GENE Craig Holdrege (email@example.com) (The following article is reprinted -- with some revision -- from the journal, Biodynamics. For more about the journal, see the note at the end of the article.) The Dream of Total Control -------------------------- Genetic biotechnology is becoming an increasingly powerful force, not only in agriculture but in modern culture in general. It is based on a geno- centric world view that sees genes as the primary factor of life. As Princeton biologist Lee Silver states: While selfish genes ... control all other forms of life, master and slave have switched positions in human beings, who now have the power not only to control but to create new genes ... Why not seize the power? Why not control what has been left to chance in the past? /1/ The ideal, then, is to control life through genetic engineering. This striving is a refinement of the mechanistic approach that has guided sci- ence for the past four hundred years and gradually taken hold of agricul- ture during the past century. Control is sought by concentrating atten- tion solely on those aspects of organisms that can be considered mechan- istically and quantitatively. This leads to more effective manipulation of living systems. The development of industrial agriculture illustrates the power of abstraction. At the beginning of the century most animal and plant breed- ing was done on farms by the farmers themselves. Varieties were developed in connection with the local conditions and a rich multiformity was the result: 690 varieties of corn, for example, were grown in the United States at the beginning of the century; today there are about 60. /2/ Industrial agriculture has led away from the concrete, local situation. Scientists in university, governmental and agribusiness research stations breed only a few varieties, designed for global use. For a global variety to thrive in different parts of the world, it must become less dependent on local conditions. Therefore, industrial agriculture supplies, as it were, key parts of the environment along with the plant. Irrigation and fertilizers make it less dependent on local soil conditions, and the use of insecticides and herbicides also minimizes contact with other organ- isms. Global varieties are, moreover, bred to be less sensitive to the local light rhythm. So widespread cultivation is achieved by insulating the crop from local conditions. This globalization does not arise from a web of local contexts in healthy interaction, but rather assaults those contexts by insinuating self- contained, foreign worlds into them. McDonald's and Burger King provide a vivid example of the same tendency on the retail side (and, of course, such global fast-food restaurants, where the food tastes the same in New Orleans as it does in Tokyo, are dependent upon industrial agriculture). The tendency is clear: uniformity in place of diversity; power central- ized in a few hands instead of spread out in a decentralized network of farmers and consumers. It's not difficult to see why genetically engineered organisms appeal to the abstract, mechanistically thinking intellect intent upon controlling the world. Biotechnology itself has arisen out of this way of thinking. In Mendelian genetics organisms are atomized and considered as composites of individual traits. The concept of the gene was introduced to organize certain experimental results conceptually. It was gradually reified and viewed as the cause of traits. DNA was then discovered to be the substance that most closely corresponds to the concept of the gene. It can be iso- lated out of cells, and analyzed and modified in the lab, so that today thousands of genes and their corresponding DNA segments are known and can be transferred into host organisms across species and kingdom lines. The ideal transgenic plant would contain DNA from different organisms, tailor-made with: * resistance against as many pests as possible * resistance against herbicides * optimal utilization of fertilizer * minimal susceptibility to changing local conditions * maximal expression of the trait desired Transgenic organisms apparently fulfill the dream of total control, not only in plants, but in animals as well. You need only to think of geneti- cally engineered, cloned animals raised on factory farms and functioning as commercial bioreactors, producing substances the multinational com- panies desire. Once again, the picture of uniformity and control. It is characteristic that governmental agencies in the United States -- sometimes tacitly and often overtly -- support the trend toward abstrac- tion and centralized control. When the FDA tests transgenic products such as rBGH, the criterion for safety is "substantial equivalence." The biochemical composition of normal, non-genetically engineered food is taken as a comparison, and if the transgenic product is found to be biochemically "substantially equivalent" to unaltered food, then it is deemed safe. The foreign DNA and other new substances in the transgenic product usually make up quantitatively such a small amount of the total biochemical composition of the food, that these small differences are con- sidered negligible, especially if one is dealing with substances that get broken down anyway in the process of digestion. As logical as this way of viewing may seem, it is completely one-sided and inadequate. Food arises out of a whole ecological, agricultural, economic, and social context. This context belongs just as much to the food as does the biochemical composition. It is very comfortable to operate with a narrow concept of safety and biochemical composition, and, without question, worthwhile information can be gained. But to use this criterion as the sole basis for labeling foods is patently absurd and flies in the face of the rights of producers and consumers. Similarly, the USDA's striving to control the term "organic" reveals the will to forbid plurality and to concentrate authority beyond the reach of those actually most concerned -- farmers and consumers. The government's policies serve very nicely, of course, the interests of the huge agribusi- ness companies. The Illusion of Total Control ----------------------------- With the advent of genetically engineered organisms, it would seem that agriculture will become more and more the perfect, smoothly-running fac- tory that the mechanistic worldview envisions. Rephrasing Silver's quote above: genes have determined life on earth for eons; now we can determine genes and thereby control life. But do genes really control organisms? Let's look at a few examples. Corn produces male flowers at the top of the plant, while the female flowers on the cobs form lower down. These positional relations would seem to be hereditary, but it was shown many years ago that if corn is grown in a regime of short days (maximum of nine hours' light), then cobs begin to form at the top of the plant. The same effect is achieved by cutting off the plants near the ground late in the growing season and allowing them to grow out of dormant buds; cobs form at the top of the new shoots. /3/ So the plant is much more variable than the schematic picture of inherited traits would lead us to believe. The plant's characteristics arise in interaction with the environment; they are not just given through heredity. Not only is the organism's present environment important, but the environment of one or both of the parents can have significant effects on the development of their offspring. Scientists observed that specimens of English Plantain growing in sunny, open areas produce many small seeds that will only grow under sunny conditions. In contrast, plants growing in shady areas produce fewer, larger seeds that will grow in shade as well as in the sun. /4/ This is one example of a widespread, long-overlooked phenomenon known as parental imprinting. It is found in plants, animals and the human being. If genes were truly the causative factor in development, then one would expect that cloned organisms -- which are essentially identical geneti- cally -- would be very uniform. But clones of sheep and cows have been produced (by nuclear transfer of embryonic cells) and the cloned animals had birth weights that were proportionately higher than normal, and the range of weights was actually greater than in animals of the same breed conceived naturally. In other words, the genetically more dissimilar nor- mal animals showed more uniformity in birth weight than did the genetically identical cloned animals. /5/ This is hardly what one would expect if reality followed the "genes determine traits" scheme. It is not clear what is happening, but in any case something changes in the relation between the cloned embryos and the mother that influences the animal's size. A recent experiment with mice shows the significance of the environment of the womb for an animal not only up to birth but also later on in life. /6/ Scientists used a strain of mice in which all individuals have an autoimmune disease associated with slight structural deformities in the brain. Embryos of this strain were implanted into the wombs of healthy mice, as well as into the wombs of mice with the disease. After birth all mice were reared by healthy mothers. These mice were then subjected to learning tests and in four out of five tests the mice that had developed in the womb of a healthy mother performed better than those that developed in the diseased mother. The tested animals were genetically identical, but the intrauterine environment contributed to differences in their behavioral capacities later. So much for genes determining behavior. These examples -- and there are countless others -- show that the dictum "genes determine traits" is a gross distortion of reality. This becomes even clearer when we consider genes in the context of the organisms themselves. A widespread misconception is that a gene does one thing regardless of its context. When a transgenic wheat plant is engineered to produce more protein, sometimes it does what it is "supposed" to, but often the result is exactly the opposite: the transgenic plant with many copies of the protein gene produces less protein than normal. /7/ What happens is that the physiology of the wheat plant reacts to the manipulation by breaking down the substances produced by both the foreign DNA and its own similar DNA. As a result little protein is synthesized. The organism is not a passive container in which genes simply do their own thing. The organism has its own integrity and vital plasticity through which it interacts with its environment and also regulates the foreign substances that come into it. Fixated on the genes, we lose sight of the organism as a whole. /8/ Surely, our ability to control aspects of the organism will continue to grow, but as long as the organism is merely used as a vehicle to realize specific genetic changes and is not recognized as the dynamic, flexible being it is, there will always be unexpected side-effects. Transgenic organisms will never simply function as the high-tech mechanisms they are proclaimed to be. The producers of transgenic organisms, however, would like to capture us in their illusion of total control, having us believe that laboratory experiments and clearly circumscribed field tests "prove" the efficacy and safety of their products. Calgene spent 95 million dollars developing the flavr savr tomato. It was genetically engineered to stay hard while ripening longer on the vine. The result was supposed to be a better- tasting tomato. But two years after it came onto the market in 1994, Cal- gene withdrew it as a complete failure. The company would have gone under, but was saved when Monsanto bought it out. The tomato failed for various reasons. Calgene used a midwest variety, but it was commercially grown in Mexico and Florida. The yields and disease resistance were not as hoped, and the picking and packing equip- ment adapted to hardball tomatoes damaged the transgenic tomatoes, which often arrived in stores soft and bruised. As if this weren't enough disregard of context, consumers didn't seem to be interested in buying genetically engineered food anyway. /9/ More insidious is the blatant undervaluation of the way transgenic crops will affect other organisms and the environment as a whole. A recent report by six entomologists shows clearly that transgenic Bt-crops (that is, crops engineered to produce the Bt pesticide in all of their cells) will most likely lead within a short time to the development of Bt-resistant insects if the practices of the last two years are continued. /10/ These scientists recommend much more stringent practices and better oversight of such crops. At the same time the USDA has adopted rules that reduce the oversight of field trials and make it easier to commercialize transgenic crops, once again playing into the hands of the large companies. --------------------- The foregoing is an (abruptly) truncated and slightly revised version of the original article, which appeared in Biodynamics (issue #217, May/June, 1998), the journal of the Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening Association. A one-year subscription (six issues) costs $35, which should be sent to Biodynamics, P.O. Box 29135, San Francisco CA 94129-0135, USA. You can also refer to http://www.biodynamics.com/. Notes ----- 1. Lee M. Silver, Remaking Eden (New York: Avon Books, 1997) p. 236. 2. Ron Edwards, "Tomorrow's Bitter Harvest," New Scientist (Aug. 17, 1996), pp. 14-15. 3. Rudolf Dostal, On Integration in Plants (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), pp. 29ff. 4. Elizabeth Pennisi, "A New Look at Maternal Guidance," Nature (vol. 279, 1998), pp. 1486-1487. 5. F.B. Garry et al. "Postnatal characteristics of calves produced by nuclear transfer cloning," Theriogenology (vol. 45, 1996), pp. 141-152. Th. A.M. Kruip and J.H.G. den Daas, "In vitro produced and cloned embryos: effects on pregnancy, parturition and offspring," Theriogenology (vol. 47, 1997), pp. 43-52. 6. Alison Motluk, "Womb for Improvement," New Scientist (Mar. 7, 1998), p. 10. 7. Richard A. Jorgensen et al., "An RNA- Based Information Superhighway in Plants," Science (vol. 279, 1998), pp. 1486-1487. 8. For a more detailed consideration see Craig Holdrege, Genetics and the Manipulation of Life: The Forgotten Factor of Context (Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Press, 1996). 9. Martha Groves, "The Cutting Edge," Los Angeles Times (Aug. 18, 1997). Michael Hansen, "Flavr Savr" GENTECH archive (8.96-97; http://www.free.de/gentec/97/msg00370.html). "Flavr Savr Tomato Squashed" The Gene Exchange (Union of Concerned Scientists; http://www.ucsusa.org/Gene/F97.agribusiness.html). 10. Margaret Mellon and Jane Rissler (eds.), Now or Never: Serious New Plans to Save a Natural Pest Control (Cambridge: Union of Concerned Scientists, 1998). Goto table of contents ========================================================================== WHAT IS THE NATURE INSTITUTE? I announced in NF #78 that NETFUTURE has become affiliated with The Nature Institute. I'd like to introduce you briefly to the Institute, whose vision might be summarized this way: Nature around us is whole and interconnected. Though we are part of nature, we do not yet fathom nature's depths, and our actions do not embody her wisdom. A fundamental shift in our way of viewing the world is necessary, if we would contribute to nature's unity rather than dis- solution. At The Nature Institute we seek ways of knowing and doing that are fashioned after nature's own wholeness. Science becomes a participatory dialog with nature, wherein each phenomenon finds its unique, contextual expression. The Nature Institute was created as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization in 1998. It is the realization of a long-time dream of Craig Holdrege and, among other things, it provides a vehicle for his continuing work in genetics and whole-organism biology, as well as his teaching. I reviewed Craig's well received book, Genetics and the Manipulation of Life: The Forgotten Factor of Context, in NF #31. As an example of his work in whole-organism biology, refer to his essay, "Seeing the Animal Whole: The Example of Horse and Lion", in Goethe's Way of Science edited by David Seamon and Arthur Zajonc (SUNY Press, 1998). The Nature Institute takes its place within a movement tracing back to the scientific work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. There is a greatly renewed interest in "Goethean science" today, and perhaps the clearest philosophical expositions of it can be found in Henri Bortoft's The Wholeness of Nature: Goethe's Way toward a Science of Conscious Participation in Nature (Lindisfarne, 1996) and Rudolf Steiner's Goethean Science (Mercury Press, 1988). You might also look at The Marriage of Sense and Thought: Imaginative Participation in Science by Stephen Edelglass et al. (Lindisfarne, 1997). As part of its general mission statement, The Nature Institute summarizes its approach to science this way: Modern science has mostly pursued the quantitative aspects of phenomena, while basing its theories on mechanistic conceptions. The resulting knowledge is powerful and leads to far-reaching changes in the world, but it stems from a narrow base of understanding. The qual- itative richness of the phenomena is left behind, and the question of meaning is separated from scientific inquiry. Since the qualitative human relation has been excluded from the way of knowing, ethical con- siderations can only arise externally and after-the-fact. As a result, they are often powerless in the face of technology. At The Nature Institute we are convinced that science can evolve to encompass the qualitative dimension of the world, reintegrating meaning into knowledge. We must set aside prevailing theories and thought pat- terns, while cultivating open and flexible thinking, adapting our methods to the things themselves. When we study living organisms in this way, we discover them to be integrated wholes that are always embedded in a larger web of relations. Our way of knowing must there- fore become holistic and contextual. And since each living organism expresses life in a different and unique way, each calls for an inves- tigative approach unique to itself. Practicing this phenomena-centered approach opens up a whole new rela- tion to knowledge, nature, and human action. We acknowledge our involvement in the creation of knowledge and our responsibility for this knowledge. When we begin to gain a contextual and qualitative understanding of another living being, we also find perspectives to guide our actions in a manner appropriate to that being. The ethical principle arises within the scientific endeavor itself. This has profound consequences, since responsibility then lies at the heart of our relation to the world and the future it leads to. The Institute is off to a promising start, with support from a number of sources in Europe and America. I will continue to pass along information about it from time to time. If you are interested in further conversation -- or can provide fund-raising leads -- please contact Craig (firstname.lastname@example.org) or me (email@example.com). SLT Goto table of contents ========================================================================== ANNOUNCEMENTS AND RESOURCES A Centennial Celebration of Owen Barfield ----------------------------------------- A conference celebrating the life of Owen Barfield will be held at Colum- bia University Friday evening, December 4 (registration at 5:45 p.m., reception at 6:30, and speakers from 7:30 - 9:00), and the next day at Drew University, Madison, New Jersey. Friday evening speakers will include: * John Lukacs, a historian of international reputation and author of Historical Consciousness, or the Remembered Past, among many other books. Topic: Owen Barfield and History. * Christopher Bamford, director of Lindisfarne Press, editor of Homage to Pythagoras: Rediscovering Sacred Science, and contributor to many other books. Topic: Owen Barfield and Romantic Medicine and Technology. * Stephen L. Talbott, NETFUTURE editor and author of The Future Does Not Compute: Transcending the Machines in Our Midst. Topic: Owen Barfield and Technological Society. * Douglas Sloan, professor of education at Columbia Teachers College, author of Insight-Imagination: The Emancipation of Thought and the Modern World and several other books. He will act as respondent. The larger array of speakers on Saturday will cover such topics as: * Owen Barfield and the Epistemology of Science. * Owen Barfield as a Post-Post-Modernist. * Owen Barfield, C. S. Lewis, and the Evolution of Consciousness. * The Legacy of Owen Barfield. For further information, contact Dean James Pain, Graduate School of Drew University, 973-408-3285 (between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.), or Frederick Dennehy (732-855-6158). Each of the evening, morning, and afternoon sessions is available for $20; fee for the entire conference is $50. (Drew University, incidentally, was one of several North American schools where Barfield served terms as Visiting Professor.) Goto table of contents ========================================================================== WORDS PAST AND PRESENT It was back in NETFUTURE #12 that I concluded the article, "Every Tool is an Obstacle", with these words: By claiming to be master of all tools, the computer dares us to contend for our own mastery. At stake is no longer whether we will learn by overcoming the resistance of this or that tool, but whether we will continue growing at all. The computer is our hope if we can accept it as our enemy; as our friend, it will destroy us. I have since come to believe even more strongly that an acceptance of that last sentence's formulation is crucial to a healthy relationship between man and computer. We have become one-sided creatures, and the computer nearly perfects our one-sidedness. It is therefore necessary for us in some sense to work against the computer whenever we use it. But in that very act of resistance we receive the greatest possible gift from the machine -- namely, a more balanced realization of our own highest capacities. The formulation itself, by juxtaposing the notions of hope and enemy, friend and destruction, may help to encourage the flexible and imaginative qualities that distinguish human thinking from the activity of automatons. At least, I hope so. SLT Goto table of contents ========================================================================== ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER Copyright 1998 by The Nature Institute. You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes. You may also redistribute individual articles in their entirety, provided the NetFuture url and this paragraph are attached.
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To subscribe or unsubscribe to NetFuture:http://netfuture.org/subscribe.html.Steve Talbott :: NetFuture #80 :: November 24, 1998 Goto table of contents