Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Rough Draft; Comments Welcome

It is part of human nature to ask questions. These questions could range from why are we here to how did we get here to where do we stand in the scope of the universe. Ever since mankind has started to ask these questions, we have always come up short. In doing so we often leave the confusing topics up to religion to answer for us, be it topics on evolution to the creation of the universe. But now, human society has gotten to a point where we understand some answers to these questions. We got here through the use of science and technology. However, science and technology often contradict what religion has taught us for millennia. The hunt to discover the answers is what drives technological innovation. It is the human nature.

Before I get started on this idea of human nature, let me first do some housekeeping. When I talk about technology, I want you, the reader, to think about not only the modern concept of technology-that is powered machinery, but also take into account the Greek root of the word technology, techne’, that roughly means technique (Johns). Think of the technique of science and how it has evolved as well as how it parallels the development of technology.

Let us take a step back in time to pre-modern religion times, the age of the ancient Greek philosophers. People still asked questions such as those set forth in the first paragraph and they were often answered by Aristotelian answers. Take for example a question such as where do we stand in the universe. Well, an Aristotelian would reply that we are on a stationary Earth located in the center of the universe. The sun, moon and all of the wanderers (we now know these as planets) revolve around the Earth in perfect, uniform circular motion on crystalline spheres made out of aether. But, how does everything move you may ask? Aristotelians believed there was an eternal mover, an angel sent from the deity, that kept the outer most sphere, that of the stars and heavens, moving and thus kept all of the interior spheres moving as well.

Looking back and studying the Aristotelians, it is hard to say that they got it right, but when you considered their technique of science, they did the best that they could. Aristotelian natural philosophy later evolved into what we now know as modern day science. Before the evolution occurred, Aristotelians did not think that experiments could answer questions. They believed that the way to discover the cosmos and all other aspects of life was through the art of reasoning and argument. Nowhere was there room for mathematics in the natural philosophies (Palmieri).

As we approach the Scientific Revolution we witness a drastic change in the way we ask and answer the questions set forth in the first paragraph. No longer are we studying and enhancing natural philosophy through reason and arguments. We are looking more towards observation and experimentation to study the natural world and answer the questions of where did we come from and how did we get here. Galileo was a major driving force. He took the already invented telescope, enhanced the lenses so that the magnification increased from about 6x to roughly 30x and aimed it at the sky. He discovered that the moon was not a perfect ethereal sphere, but it had mountains and craters like Earth. He discovered Jupiter had four moons orbiting it. He discovered the phases of Venus (Galilei). All of these discoveries challenged the major religious doctrines of the day.

Ever since the dawn of modern man we have been asking these questions that we will never find the answers to, no matter what religion or method of science we incorporate. It is these answerless questions that Lyotard says we must stop asking. There is no point to asking these questions because as we talk the sun is getting older (Lyotard 8). The sun is halfway through its lifetime. In 4.5 billion years the sun will expand past the orbit of the earth and nova, destroying everything for light years. But, we cannot just quit asking these questions. It is against the human nature. We want to know everything. We want to one-up the generation before us. It is natural competition amongst animals.

We run into trouble when we start questioning things at limits. Sure we have science that has proven what had happened to the millionth of a second after the big bang. But what happened before the big bang? Or we know how the sun will die, but what will happen to us after the sun dies? In all my studies of science I have not once learned of someone’s opinion of what will happen to humans after the sun dies. Most of them do not think we will even make it. They have the idea similar to that of Bill Joy in his article, Why the future doesn’t need us. Joy says, “Our most powerful 21st-century technologies – robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech – are threatening to make humans an endangered species (Joy).” However, it is these technologies that make it possible to answer some of the answerless questions. It is like a double-edged sword. Humans use technology for their own advancement but it could be technology that ultimately leads to their demise before the sun’s death.

I keep coming back to when the sun dies. What is the importance of this? It is important because “with the sun’s death your insoluble questions will be done with too (Lyotard 8).” When the sun explodes, there will be no more searching for why are we here. There will be no more technology. We won’t be using technology to help us understand our religions. When the sun explodes “…there won’t be a thought to know that its death took place (Lyotard 9).”

So it is human nature to ask questions. But what is going to happen to human nature when the sun explodes. Will it vanish like the rest of our known solar system? Maybe, it is also human nature to survive, just like any animal. I know humans will not go down without a fight. This animalistic tendency is hard wired into our DNA. On the skin it is human’s nature to ask questions, but underneath the skin there is more to it. It is also human nature to survive through any means possible. In fact we are creating this technology to answer the so-called answerless questions. We invent technology to cure polio, HIV, and other ailments to help us survive. So what if, subconsciously we are inventing this technology to get closer to a way of surviving the sun’s nova? That could be our actual goal.

The ancient Greeks and civilizations before them started us on this ultimate journey. The technique of creating this technology or knowledge about the world has changed and evolved but the ultimate goal has not. How are we going to survive this nova? It is as uncertain as a weatherman predicting the weather two weeks in advance. No one really knows what will happen. What I do know is that we are getting somewhere. We are asking questions of light and electrons at the quantum level. Electrons can either be seen as a wave or a particle otherwise known as a photon. Take for example; we measure an electron as a photon, why is it then that it will not show evidence of it being a wave anymore? Some may think this is a pointless question now, but remember that before you could run, you first had to learn how to walk. This could be the learning how to walk stage in developing a technology that will enable us to travel close to or as fast as the speed of light. To me, that is the only feasible way of surviving the sun’s explosion. The explosion will be so powerful that it will break apart molecules and even atoms! There is no chance of creating a substance or hardware device that will house a software system comparable to that of the computing power of the human brain that will be able to survive the nova, so we must run. We must run fast.

Today it is understood that nothing can go faster then the speed of light. Also, today no mode of transportation even scratches the surface of coming close to the speed of light. So if we can understand the properties of electrons and light, we might be able to conceive a machine that will enable us to travel at or near the speed of light to escape the explosion and continue the human nature of survival.

I want to get back to the idea of a double-edged sword. Sure this technology we are creating has unlimited potential to do amazing things, but it also has the unlimited potential to annihilate us before we reach our ultimate goal of surviving the nova and beyond. Scientists in France and Switzerland have built the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Its goal is to smash protons together at 99.999999% of the speed of light (LHC). Some physicists argue that it can inevitably create a black hole that will swallow the earth and everything around us (Large). This is just one way of technology leading to the end of humans and human thought. There is always the potential for a nuclear war or some genetically engineered disease that can eliminate humans on earth.

Ultimately, it is human nature to ask questions. It is human nature to survive at any means possible. Although we may not actually think it, subconsciously as a species we know we are going to die. We know that there will be a time when there will be no human beings left. There will be no human thought left. But this idea goes against our nature. We then end up asking questions to try to formulate answers and each answer is just another stepping stone to our ultimate goal of surviving the nova and beyond.

Works Cited
Galilei, Galileo. “Sidereus Nuncius or the Sidereal Messenger.” Trans. By Albert Van Heldon. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1989.

Johns, Dr. Adam. “Narrative and Technology Syllabus.” [photocopy].

Joy, Bill. “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us.”

"Large Hadron Collider fired up in 'God particle' hunt," CNN 10 Sep 2008. 13 Oct 2008

"LHC Machine Outreach." LHC Machine Outreach. 13 Oct 2008 .

Lyotard, Jean Francois. “Can Thought Go On Without a Body?” [photocopy]

Palmieri, Paolo. "Galileo 6.1." Gallieo and the Creation of Modern Science, University of Pittsburgh. Cathedral of Learning 213, Pittsburgh. October 9, 2008.


das said...

Technology educators are expected to help students interpret technology in the context of society. Consequently, Bennett cannot be considered an adequate guide to the heritage of technology education. Furthermore, technology education claims a wider scope of content and more explicit reflection on solving problems than industrial education. Thus, a history of industrial education is not adequate for understanding the heritage of technology education.

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onscrn said...

I have to take issue with this statement:"Some physicists argue that it can inevitably create a black hole that will swallow the earth and everything around us"

There is not a single physicist in the world making such an argument. There are some that think microscopic black holes that would almost immediately evaporate could possibly be created, but without any danger whatsoever.

There is one non-physicist with an MD, who has put forward such a doomsday scenario, but his background is not one to give anyone confidence in his statements.

For anyone interested in more info on the two eccentric (let's call them) scientists raising black hole dangers (the other scenario has the black hole exploding), I recommend my blog post Large Hadron Collder: What's the Risk?

Nick Testa said...

there were only a few issues I had, otherwise, it was a very well written paper. The suns "explosion" would not actually reach lightyears away, but because of its size (it is about a size 4 out of 10), it will expand to a red giant (most likely engulfing the earth), lose most of its mass, then contract down into a white dwarf (no real explosion like Lyotard claimed). Also, I think you may be able to squeeze in more material we used in class (it's always a good idea to use more sources to strengthen your argument).