Humans strive to realize limitless potential. Unfortunately, at various stages of the development of civilization, higher achievement for some has been bought at the cost of the degradation of others. Being associated with technology was not always highly regarded. In fact, people involved with the practical arts and vocations of technology have been viewed, in the past, as inferior.
In Western civilization, ancient Athens is noted for the contempt of its philosophers for those whose pursuits were other than ethereal. Aristotle would have denied them the rights of citizenship (Aristotle 1958, 107-9). Plato would have denied citizenship to peasants, artisans, and mechanics and would not have wanted his daughter to marry one of their sons (Plato 1960, 234-35; Plato 1952, 89). The attitude toward those who worked furnaces that made the metals for Iron Age Greece was one of even greater scorn. Xenophon said those who tended the fires carried "a social stigma" and were "rightly dishonored" in the Greek cities (Farrington 1944, 28).
There were two reasons the Greek philosophers felt the way they did. Mechanical arts were unpleasant to perform and debilitating to those who carried them out. Working with fire meant "blood, toil, tears, and sweat" (Farrington 1944, 26). Given their unpleasantness, such tasks were carried out by slaves. The stigma of this association carried over to free men engaged in manual technological endeavors. No wonder that, in Greece and elsewhere, higher pursuits were preferred by those who were able to follow them.
In India at the turn of the twentieth century, scholars blamed "the estrangement of the hand from the mind for the decline of science"(Ghosh 1994, 6; Ray 1902-3, 1909). Alsop (1982) says that in the early centuries of Chinese civilization, "any work of art smelling too much of technical training, including technically skillful painting, tended to be looked down by many Chinese art theorists as being too close to artisans' work. On the other hand, a proper Confucian gentleman could not conceivably work with his hands-except to use a writing brush" (Alsop 1982, 223). Thus, for many hundreds of years, there was a strange dichotomy as the "incredible fertility of Chinese art was simultaneously enjoyed and disdained by serious Chinese art lovers" (223). Alsop notes, "The marvelous porcelains, the magnificent lacquers, the wonderful metalwork in gold, silver, and bronze, even the incomparable architecture and the vigorous sculpture-all these were thought unworthy of discussion by the numerous Chinese writers on art until a very late date" (223).
The consequence of this snobbery was that only the works of famous calligraphers and painters were "collector's prizes" for close to a thousand years. The brush that was used by the painters and calligraphers was also the tool of the scholars and therefore acceptable to them. "So it was both easy and natural for scholar-officials with a bent that way to begin using their skill with the writing brush to create paintings." Painting was then no longer "mere artisan's work" and could become accepted as a major art, a transformation that Alsop believes was paralleled in the rest of art history (Alsop 1982, 222, 223).
In their disdain for technology, the elites of various cultures have failed to recognize that it was past technological change that created the conditions that allowed them to pursue their higher calling. It was continued technological change that would free an increasingly larger proportion of the society from the necessity of physically debilitating work. The importance for scientific inquiry of enhancing the respect for the crafts, such as those who worked the furnaces, cannot be overstated. Whatever the particular medium, technology gives form to a part of human awareness that does not exist in nature or at least is not part of the direct unaided human experience of it. The "entirely novel phenomenon" that technology creates, "from molten metal to fired clay," often requires new "technology specific principles" (Schiffer 1992, 47).
This elitism, or artificial cleavage between thinkers and doers (who allegedly are not thinkers), has been widespread in human cultures and still can be found in modern Western society (Burkhardt 1952). However, in the European Renaissance, things began to change. There was an "erosion of the barrier between the scholar and the craftsman," which was a significant factor in the ensuing scientific revolution (Berman 1981, 57). The goldsmiths and other artist/craftsmen were perceived differently in the Renaissance. They gained respectability and were united with larger enterprises of the intellect. The artificial separation of mind and body was breached to the benefit of all human inquiry.
It is often argued that the Greeks and later the Romans stood on the threshold of the modern world. As Farrington (1944) points out, they stood on that threshold for several centuries and therefore "demonstrated conclusively their inability to cross it" (303). When the Renaissance and, later, scientific and industrial revolutions crossed that threshold, it was in part, at least in the opinion of J. D. Bernal (1971), because they broke down the social barriers of "ingrained intellectual snobbery that had barred the learned from access to the enormous wealth of practical knowledge that was locked in the traditions of almost illiterate craftsmen" (267). Chattopadhyaya (1986) makes a comparable observation for India on the social barriers to change resulting from the snobbery and elitism that separated workers from the world of knowledge (41). Ferguson (1992) speaks of the "historical significance of workers' knowledge" in fashioning and sustaining "the technological lead that Great Britain had over the Continent during the Industrial Revolution" (58). He adds, "The tacit knowledge and skills of workers may not have been the determining factors in Britain's leading role in the Industrial Revolution, but they were essential components of it" (59).
The importance of the workers' "tacit knowledge" did not end with the Industrial Revolution but continues to our present use of technology. Today, says Ferguson, "the knowledge and skills of workers-sensual nonverbal knowledge and subtle acts of judgment-are crucial to successful industrial production" (59). He believes engineers can learn "important lessons about latent possibilities and limits of craft knowledge and skills if they will but watch experienced workers in their expert, unselfconscious performances. And ask them questions" (59).
Many scientists and philosophers recognize the importance of tools (and machines) and experimentation in advancing science and knowledge of all kinds. To one philosopher, "science arises out of great leaps of practical ingenuity that enable scientists to acquire new data." There are practical struggles that determine whose machine gets built or whose theory gets tested. Once decided, says Galison (1997), the "experiment goes forward. The result is determined by tools and nature, not by the ideology of the experimenter.... Like theoretical concepts, these knowledge-producing machines acquire meaning through their use ... and in complex ways through their material links" to machines in other areas of inquiry (51). Dyson (1997) aptly speaks of "tool-driven" revolutions in science and argues that in some fields, such as biology and astronomy, the preponderance of scientific revolutions has been tool driven. "The effect of a tool-driven revolution is to discover things that have to be explained" (50-51). He explains, "If the tools are bad, nature's voice is muffled. If the tools are good, nature will give a clear answer to a given question" (1999, 34).
Romantics and Reductionism
To romantics, science is scorned, along with technology. Frank Kermode (1985) says the romantic writer William Blake "cursed Newton for ruining England by destroying the imagination." Yeats had similar criticism of Huxley and Darwin. Kermode (1985) adds, "to rich minds, magic, mystery, pseudo science, and apocalypse afforded considerable satisfaction." The real decadence was the "work of the men who imposed on the world what Blake called 'single vision'" (93). In contemporary academic parlance, "reductionist" science has been blamed for every sin imaginable.
Everyone accepts the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts, including modern scientists labeled "reductionists." What is ignored by the critics is that the whole, to be worthwhile, cannot be assembled from defective parts. Good scientists seek to get the parts right in order to construct the whole, and they look to the most heuristic theory (the whole) to guide them in their particular research in interactive process. The charge of reductionism is simply false, says Dawkins (1985). In fact, from the perspective of the layman looking into a field of inquiry through quality popular sources, scientists seem to be interested primarily in grand theories such as the cosmologist's quest for the "theory of everything." In truth, scientists are both reductionists and synthesizers, as the attempted construction of grand theories is based upon a vast assemblage of research rarely comprehensible to the nonspecialist. For the nonscientist or for the scientist who has not succeeded at peer-reviewed research, the false criticism of reductionism is a simplistic way of substituting an ideological shibboleth for a knowledgeable, substantive analysis that requires technical competence and an understanding of the issues involved.
A central theme of the philosophy of John Dewey (1934) was that of breaking down the false dualism between thought and action and reestablishing unity and continuity to the human life process. The task, he says, "is to restore continuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience that are works of art and the everyday events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognized to constitute experience" (3).
What Dewey and subsequent thinkers have been trying to do is reconstruct a unity of experience that has been inherent in the human endeavor ever since we became Homo sapiens. Dewey argued that artificial divisions of experience, the separation of practice from insight and imagination, are not a product of human nature but of "institutional conditions" (21). The role of thought is active, not passive. Mind is "active and eager" and "lies in wait and engages whatever comes its way so as to absorb it into its own being" (264).
This active dynamic human mind is facilitated by language, which is a dynamic, open-ended process in the sense that we can continuously use it to create new combinations of words and ideas. Any sentence can be a combination of words and ideas that has never been previously expressed. What is almost miraculous about this process is that communicating can take place not only in the present, but also in the future with unknown others via writing and recording. In contrast to language, signs and signals are static, limited in what can be communicated and incapable of generating novelty. In my analytical framework, the relationship of language to signs and signals compares to the relationship of technology to tools. An individual tool, whether created by humans or other animals, expands the resource base of its user but is inherently limited and implies a finite set of resources. Other animals have tools, but only humans and chimpanzees have "tool-kits" and "tool-sets." Tool-kits exist when the same tool is used to solve different problems or different tools are used to solve the same problem. A tool-set exists when "two or more tools are used sequentially to achieve a single goal" (McGrew 1993, 158-59). Only humans have tools used to make other tools and have the kind of foresight and planning to transport raw materials, thus creating workplaces and tool caches (McClellan and Dorn 1999, 8). This same foresight made tools an integral part of complex hunting strategies (Mithen 1996, 96, 104, 167). Only humans keep tools, rather than discard them. Tool-sets and tool-kits are important differentiating characteristics; taken alone, they do not constitute technology.
Insofar as a tool is part of a larger technological process embedded in a web of ideas, there is a creative combinational potential in which technological possibilities and resource capacities are open-ended and limited only by human imagination or the lack of it. This larger process of technology involves specialization, social organization, and a social process of learning and knowledge transmission. "It is precisely this type of socially organized and cooperative division of specialized labor that is never seen except in human tool manufacture and use" (Wilson 1998, 171). Wilson adds, "No matter how clever chimps may be-or how much they watch and learn or interact with one another-they do not cooperate in the construction and use of tools" (171-72).
In my scheme, technology is first and foremost ideas but does not exclude hands and the material manifestation of a tool or technology. The hand has been the primary pathway for the material embodiment of these ideas as tools. Pinker (1997) says, "Hands are the levers of influence on the world that make intelligence worth having" (194). The hand has been the mind's instrument for the creation of the plastic arts and for the performance of music. The interactive processes of tool using and the evolution of protohominids to humans involved concomitant transformations in the hand and the areas of the brain that control the hands. Sherwood Washburn (1960) has described an interactive process by which those protohominids with a larger area of the brain controlling the hand and improving the ability to create tools had a survival advantage. Reciprocally, improved tools gave a survival edge to those with a larger area of the brain controlling the hand in an ongoing evolutionary process of technological and human evolution (DeGregori 1985, 12). Though the changes in the hand and the brain may have been random, tool using defined the selection and survival mechanism, giving a direction to the process that is nonteleological. In many respects the hand evolved as a somatic instrument that creates and uses the extrasomatic instruments that were the joint product of the hand, mind, other extrasomatic instruments, and social organizations working together.
Bernard Campbell (1982) calls the hand a "marvelous tool" and argues that it is "used to full value only when it manipulates other tools" (47). Today we can understand the relationship between the hand and the brain better than those who have expressed disdain for people who worked with their hands. In fact, the hand is a magnificent instrument. It has twenty-five joints and fifty-eight distinctly different motions. Campbell asks us to "imagine a single tool that can meet the demands of tasks as varied as gripping a tool, playing a violin, wringing out a towel, holding a pencil, gesturing, and-sometimes we forget-simply feeling" (47).
Implicit in all these actions of the hand is the fact that the hand is a vital mechanism by which humans learn about the world. The brain sends messages to the hand to cause it to act. The purpose for these "messages going to the hand in the first place" was so that the hands could "reach for, grasp, touch, turn, weigh, join, separate, bounce, and so on, whatever it was that came into their possession." In other words, the hands were obtaining "information that could be obtained only by acting on the object being held" (Wilson 1998, 275-76). Succinctly stated, "the hand speaks to the brain as surely as the brain speaks to the hand" (Davies 1985, quoted in Wilson 1998, 60, 276).
The idea that we learn through our hands has antecedents but the attribution was generally not complimentary until recent times. Until very recently, writing on the American Indian reflected these biases. At the beginning of the twentieth century, W. J. McGee argued that the hand as a learning instrument was a mark of primitivism. He said, "experience has shown that among all the aboriginal peoples, the hand leads to the mind" (Dilworth 1996, 151). At about the same time, a distinguished anthropologist writing on the Indians of the American Southwest established a hierarchical taxonomy in which the mental stage of human development was the highest (Cushing 1892, 289-91). Cushing "postulated three stages of intellectual development: the biotic, the manual, and the mental. The biotic was the earliest stage, where humans were barely human but had developed hands, which they used in climbing and fending and defending. The next stage, the manual, was when humans began to develop 'extranaturally,' when they acted upon (made) the environment" (Dilworth 1996, 151-52).
Excerpted from BOUNTIFUL HARVESTby THOMAS R. DeGREGORI Copyright © 2008 by Thomas R. DeGregori. Excerpted by permission.
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