Mother Technology: A Solace against “Alzheimer”

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Certain canonical texts, like the Quran, claim that we are living in an artificial world, where senses and instinct can barely allow us to see, feel, and touch what the “real” world is all about. In chapter 29: verse 64, the Quran says: “What is the life of this world but amusement and play? But verily the Home in the Hereafter that is life indeed if they but knew.” Perhaps if there is one single hermeneutic to this verse it could be that Man’s deepest experience with this life is no longer with nature, but rather with “things” and technology. This hermeneutic represents a dialogical reality, of authenticity and travesty. In other words, at the center of this technical milieu, human conscious has become “thingified” or chosifié.

With the advent of modern technology, this dualism has been reinforced and rarely anyone has escaped this free relationship to a virtual world. But, has mankind become the new creator of a different and artificial life from the one meant in the canonical texts? If by creation we mean reconstruction of a substance or a being then the answer is yes, because technology makes us pretend to be and have a different veracity. Facebook and video games remain glaring examples here. Millions of Internet or “MUDs” users interact in a virtual interface, using a pseudo-identity in which you can play a role as close or as far away from your “real self” as you choose. Things one has never had in “real” life from medieval fantasy to playing in Real Madrid soccer team, technology constructs whatever captures one’s imagination, both by playing a role and by participating in building a world.

In the same line of thought, social networking captures this essence of withdrawal to a world that reduces nature to a set of manipulable powers. It presents an attempt to make the human image appears more elastic than what physical presence suggests. It simply leaves behind what you are and makes all things new. In other words, it allows you to imagine yourself anywhere in the world at any time, doing anything or just about anything. So, there is an unparalleled opportunity to play with one’s identity and to “try out” new ones in that the latter becomes not so much an alternative but a parallel life.

This life, emptied of old meaning and enlivened with a new one—any psychotherapeutical meaning you can find—to witness the death of events, of memory, of unresolved personal issues and more generally, of the nature of self. The same dialogical emptiness and representation of reality could be projected on the painter and cameraman. While the former maintains in his work a natural distance from reality, the latter “penetrates deeply into its web”. Yet, there is a tremendous difference between the pictures they obtain. (Benjamin, 14)   

While the essence of “amusement” and “play”, as illustrated above, could be reproduced in video games, social media, painting, etc. The very notion of an inner, “true self” is called into question.

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Logic & the Design of Digital Computers

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From time immemorial, logic has been at the back of several facets of knowledge—humanities, science, technology, engineering and math. But wait! What is “logic”? Is there a way to measure the extent of our logical thinking? Are there principles of valid logic? If by the latter one means coherence, deductive inferences and syllogism, several philosophers and mathematicians, from Aristotle, von Neumann, to al-Khwārizmī, to Gottfried Leibniz, to Alan Turing, used such concept to decipher and manipulate the symbols of a mechanical language of thought. But, “logic”, as a principle of arithmetic, could also mean the construction of large edifices from small bricks (divided categories) using a binary language which consists of just two digits 0 and 1. But it seems, with the breakneck rapidity of computing and mathematical language, the role of logicians remains questionable.

Regardless, the use of logical concepts has been central not only in answering big questions and regulating daily matters, but also in designing and creating new technology like the map, the printer, digital computers, etc. It would suffice to refresh one’s memory of high school math drills and a number of nostalgic moments would be recalled. I was taught to equate people’s intelligence with solving math problems. The math-nerd your are, the better logician you become! It went on to frame my perception of assessing people’s logical thinking and computational literacy.  At that stage, one would have assumed that there is a strong connection not only between logic and math, but also between logic and modern digital machines.

Tracing the intellectual lineage of digital computers is not as recent as one might think. In fact, as Martin Davis argues, computers are in many ways the culmination of the glorious and powerful mathematical tradition we now call logic. Nevertheless, Davis traces biographical sketches of the lives of several contributors, a la Shakespearian tragedy, where each suffered an ill-fated dream. While logicians, such as Leibniz, grasped the broader significance of systematic logic and mechanizing calculation in fixing difficult problems and completing Aristotle’s project of codifying syllogisms, his doctrine of optimism of creating an encyclopedic compilation and reducing human reasoning to a purely mechanical and symbolic task, lingered myopic.

That being said, their conceptual marvel of logic and how it laid the ground for the design of modern technology is impeccable. Take the computer, for example and how it can perform so many different things simultaneously. It is remarkable that my ingenuous gadget on which I am typing this blog is equally adept at generating solutions to partial differential equations—the various input we enter and the kind of output we expect to obtain. So, the ultimate test of a theory of logic that aims at completeness is whether it encompasses all mathematical reasoning is relative and finite. But, at the end one still wrestles with the “engineers” vs. “logicians” dialectic or “who shaves the barber?” This dilemma demonstrates the existence of infinities that are higher than the infinity of the integers.