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    Rob from NJ's Avatar
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    Technological advances

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    After reading Mark’s newest book, The Primal Connection, I wanted to learn more about the timeline of human evolution and came across Brian Fagan’s book, Cro-Magnon. As I understand it, “humans” as a genus evolved over 2.5 million years ago with our current anatomy arriving around 200,000 years ago. But it was not until sometime shortly after 71,500 years ago following the explosion of Mount Toba that we devolved a capacity as innovative and spiritual beings with our mental capacity being essentially as it is now. I guess my question/observation is that in looking at this basic timeline of human evolution encompassing 2.5 million years with major milestones at 200,000 and 71,500 years ago, there been an exponentially puzzling increase in innovation and technology over the past hundred plus years? Although these past decades are a grain of sand in the shore that is human evolution, the technological advances we have made just seem to be too much for the timeframe they have occurred in. Hope this paragraph is somewhat coherent and any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks, Rob

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    Lewis's Avatar
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    That was interesting to read and think about -- thanks. I hope this isn't the only response.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob from NJ View Post
    I ... came across Brian Fagan’s book, Cro-Magnon.
    Yeah, he's good, isn't he?

    ... there been an exponentially puzzling increase in innovation and technology over the past hundred plus years? Although these past decades are a grain of sand in the shore that is human evolution, the technological advances we have made just seem to be too much for the timeframe they have occurred in.
    Absolutely. You hit the nail on the head.

    Modern technology (which is really applied science) is a runaway "success". (So, from a historical P.O.V. look for the rise of modern science in the early modern period, which is tied to moving away from Aristotle and seeing the importance of the quantitative: as Voltaire said, "Newton taught men to weigh and measure".)

    I put success in inverted commas above, because I think there are genuine questions around whether technological advance has made us any better or happier. And it has its downside.

    Tolkien, among others, expresses those doubts well. Tolkien was distressed at the destruction of the landscape (and aspects of the traditional way of life) of the English West Midlands:

    Once it had been green and filled with avenues, and groves of fruitful trees, watered by streams that flowed from mountains to a lake. But no green thing grew there in the latter days of Saruman
    Americans might find it closer to home, and therefore more relevant to them, to read some of the accounts of North America in the early colonial period, and reflect on what European colonization in the long run has meant. I don't mean that U.S. civilization is all bad -- there are many worse things in the world -- or that what preceded it was some kind of perfection -- that had it's narrownesses and its brutalities -- but it seems to me that when all's said and done there is a kind of force to the thought that people went into paradise and trashed it.

    America As Seen by Its First Explorers: The Eyes of Discovery (Dover Language Books & Travel Guides): John Bakeless: 9780486260310: Amazon.com: Books

    But that's a digression.

    To return to the main theme, the fact, and pace, of technological advance can't be doubted. I think people often make the mistake of thinking that as with science and technology so with everything. I don't believe that's true. It's not clear, to say the least, that there is any "advance" in culture. Is Aaron Copland better than, say, Bach just because he comes later in time? And how about the genius who wrote Sir Gawain and Green Knight? I'm looking at that not just as a work of art, but as a reflection of the best of that age. The 14th century could be crude and violent, but there you have a serious-minded culture where piety, moral obligations, and courtesy really could mean something, and conflicts arising from what might be expected from a man are explored with great intelligence, sensitivity, and feeling. Many of our contemporaries, including perhaps ourselves, might looks like louts in comparison.

    Science and technology are different. There there definitely is advance. There are occasional setbacks -- glassmaking can go into abeyance for a few hundred years, for example. But in the long view, it moves in a straight line. And, yes, it accelerates with time. It's like a snowball rolling down a hill. Take communications. If you compare how long it took for radio, from its inception, to spread with how long it took television to do the same, with how long it took the internet to take off, that can be clearly seen.

    Part, at least, of the explanation for that would be that technological knowledge is cumulative. Those who come later are able to easily take possession of what were originally impressive hard-won achievements.
    Last edited by Lewis; 02-19-2013 at 12:14 PM.

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    Thanks for the response, Lewis.

    Nice recommendation with LOTR/Tolkein along with the colonization of North America (another great read is Champlain's Dream by David Hackett Fischer).

    Is the technology that we are privy to has causing a disconnect with thoughts that we ought to be having? I recently read a book called The Magic Circle of Rudolf II, who was Holy Roman Emperor during the 16th century and was struck by the mysticism and search for truth they were having at the time in Prague.

    There must be certain thoughts that humans have had since at least 71,500 years ago which have kept recurring through the ages. There are aspects of the universe in which we know more about through science than our ancestors did, but there are also questions where they knew as much as we do. I imagine that some form of the Cosmological Argument must have been pondered by them.

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    I don't know Champlain's Dream. It sounds like it would be interesting.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob from NJ View Post
    Is the technology that we are privy to has causing a disconnect with thoughts that we ought to be having?
    Yes -- is it even simply getting in the way of our experiencing nature? Our inventions sit around us like a cocoon. They get between us and the world; they insulate it from us; they distract us. The guy at Exuberant Animal is interested in that: do you know his stuff?

    http://blog.exuberantanimal.com

    Going on from that -- we move in built environments. And these days that means not even in built environments that respect our basic nature, but ones that merely fulfil criteria of cheapness, ease of building and so on. Architects used to go out and draw facades to learn how the light falls, and what the emotional effects of that are. Now they draw accurate plans of floors and stack 'em up like a chest of drawers. And herein is another, but less attractive, side of the move to the quantitative: maybe we lose a sense of the qualitative.

    Millimetre-accurate blueprints on paper, but no sense of how the finished building will affect people's emotions!

    Lecture No. 6 in the 2010 Gifford Lectures, entitled "The Face of the Earth" is good on this:

    Listen to the 2010 lectures - Gifford Lectures

    There must be certain thoughts that humans have had since at least 71,500 years ago which have kept recurring through the ages. There are aspects of the universe in which we know more about through science than our ancestors did, but there are also questions where they knew as much as we do.
    I'd agree. And, in the end, science only gives us a window on the world. You don't have to take a mystical view of things to see that either. A set of readings on a measuring device is just that: one should never forget that that's not the phenomenon itself but merely an abstraction.

    Raymond Tallis, himself a hard-headed sceptic and atheist but an alert and not hasty one, is very good on such things:

    Amazon.com: Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity (9781844652730): Raymond Tallis: Books

    I imagine that some form of the Cosmological Argument must have been pondered by them.
    I don't know. I think something as articulate as that might not go back so far. Also, that's a thought (or apprehension?) of God. But it seems to me that hunter-gatherers tend to think in a ways that might be classified as "sorcery" rather than "religion". They seem for the most part to have envisaged spirits that the adept controls and procedures seen as efficacious in themselves -- magic, IOW. That seems distinct from a belief in a God whom we can petition but not control.

    However, I think experiences of "the numinous" are probably coeval with humanity. (C.f. it seems likely there's an ecstatic element in the cave paintings.) Rudolf Otto is the writer on the topic of the numinous:

    The Idea of the Holy: R. Otto, John W. Harvey: 9780195002102: Amazon.com: Books

    But if that is there to experience, then it doesn't mean that those experience it necessarily know what they're experiencing. They may see only "Ungit" -- as in C. S. Lewis's final novel (and masterpiece) Till We Have Faces:

    Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold: C.S. Lewis, Fritz Eichenberg: 9780156904360: Amazon.com: Books

    And it's always open to anyone to write such things off as merely "psychological" phenomena.

    But we've strayed a long way from the question of technology and its advance ...

    Look forward to any further comments you, or others, have on any of these topics.

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