Homo technologicus: What’s in a name?
Mankind mistakenly bears the species name Homo sapiens, or “wise man.” The title gives us credit for wisdom, which Webster defines as “deep understanding, keen discernment, and a capacity for sound judgment.” Who else but man would have credited himself with such admirable, yet inflated, qualities? That’s what a scientist recently asked at a seminar table in Aspen, suggesting that our species was misnamed in an anthropocentric fit of hubris.Mankind is not nearly as wise as we think. Deep understanding, keen discernment and a capacity for sound judgment are not the phrases by which many of us would define our species today. We keep making the same mistakes in our relationships, whether interpersonal or international, all of which bear huge costs and untold pain. We wage destructive wars, destroy the life support system of the planet and defile our own bodies with the toxins of our industries. Then we lament our flawed decisions in waves of universal sorrow while pointing the finger of blame at one another. Our collective wisdom is sorely lacking, and yet we go on as if our so-called wisdom – sapiens – was infallible. This was the topic of a sobering discussion between participants at an Aspen Institute Executive Seminar last week. I audited the final session, where the group weighed the merits of science on mankind. A scientist in the group asserted that human wisdom has done little to advance the embrace of critical values since man began exploring his inner truths thousands of years ago. Our challenges in the choices we make, individually and as nations, have not changed in gravity since the readings used in the seminar curriculum were written over 2,000 years ago. “We are not truly Homo sapiens,” concluded the scientist. “That’s the wrong name for us. We should be called Homo technologicus, since technology makes us what we are, not wisdom.” Consider the atom bomb, a technological achievement of such indiscriminate, devastating destruction that its use contradicted our moral and ethical codes. And yet, we used it, casting permanent shadows on walls where human beings were literally vaporized. Technology, of course, means more than ills and shames. Technology is a tool that enhances the senses, the perceptions, the human understanding. The early Greek philosophers relied on basic observation as they methodically revealed what makes us tick. We rely, perhaps excessively, on technology for perspective. “Human beings are explorers,” the scientist stated, “and our explorations are enabled and enhanced by technology. The empire of man exists in our dominion over things through technology.” Morality, ethics, good government and a just society were topics familiar to the Greeks, topics whose relevance is germane today. Yet technology often distracts us in our pursuit of the good life, for which man forever strives.”The drive for human understanding foments a quest,” asserted the scientist. “Technology, the sum of science and engineering, is the tool by which we pursue that quest. Wisdom is what we do with it.” Homo technologicus has created brilliant tools, many of which he employs ruthlessly in the ceaseless struggle for dominion. An obvious lack of wisdom in many of our choices supports the “technologicus” title, ironically impugning the species that still has the wisdom for revealing deep truths.Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.
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