When translating the Greek term techne, the word ‘technical’ gradually reduces its semantic content. If in the ancient thought that precedes Plato, the general meaning of ‘technique’ can be distinguished neither from science nor art “nor from any procedure or operation suitable for obtaining any effect” (Dictionary of PhilosophyNicola Abbagnano), now the technique is first and foremost occupation. In this sense, technique differs from art useless unless it is organized as an industry. Instead, it enters into an ambivalent relationship with science, both foreign and familiar. Technology as work differs from science because it is not contemplative knowledge, but precisely for this reason it is able to ally itself with it and change its status. Technology is becoming the target of scientific research, and science is increasingly an applied knowledge aimed at production.
We asked Manuela Giordano, a philologist at the University of Siena, among the speakers and speakers of the XIII edition of the “Remo Bodei” Summer School of Philosophy in Roccella Jonica (July 22-29, 2022, organized by the Cultural Association) Scholé), to share his impressions of the technique between pre-antiquity and postmodernism.
Each civilization establishes its own relationship to techne and on this basis develops a specific reflection. Our link with techne can it be compared to the old ones or is something turned upside down?
Every historical and sociocultural context adapts and shapes constantly techne based on its values and socio-political structures. In this sense, I believe that so-called technological determinism does not work: to think that if technology is the same, its impact will also be the same in terms of cognitive, cultural and social changes, is a form of reductionism. At the same time, not all claims about technological determinism can be rejected in advance. Although it sounds like a truism, it is crucial to remember that we as humans all use the same ‘built-in’ cognitive gift, the so-called embodied cognition. We can try to think there techne as thought + tool, a system that works synergistically and forms an ‘extended mind’, to use the philosophers’ terms Clark and Chalmers. But until a little more than a decade ago, the hierarchical relationship between thought and instrument remained unchanged, thought commands, uses the instrument, and expresses itself through it. With the introduction of digital technologies, and in particular with smartphones (we are talking about a decade of history), we are making an unprecedented change: If the instrument per. definition serves the person who controls it is the relationship with the latest generation of digital machines. baking.
It is the tool that orders and the thought obeys: updates, registrations, insertion of strictly personal data. That’s important we’re talking about devices not digital tools. A device is something that disposes, ultimately orders. But also from a cognitive point of view, thinking is increasingly delegated to the instrument. Let us take the example of physicians who in recent years have increasingly abdicated diagnostic skills (thinking) from tools (exams, screenings, etc.). The gap between us and the ancients is enormous, we belong to an electronic era, those to a mechanical era, in between there is the typographic era to which we still belong, to take up McLuhan’s way of thinking. The technique of the ancients was much inferior to ours, but their way of thinking was incomparably stronger and more complex. The Greeks, for example, have developed more than any other techniques of speech and memory, one techne ‘internal’ to the mind, by using very simple tools, thus implementing an extraordinary human potential that is expressed in philosophy, in Attic tragedy, in the works of historians, in epic and lyrical poetry. And if we continue today to quote and study the Greek philosophers, it is not because they had the right answers, technical or scientific, but because, as Bertrand Russell says, they knew how to ask the right questions.
IN techne of the ancients we also find the Latin idea of years, which makes it perhaps less material than one understands today. There is still one years in techne Contemporary?
In general, what was possible then is still possible today, new technologies are not bad in themselves if we know how to limit them and limit them to the role of instrument. Nothing prevents us from rediscovering the use of our basic tools, hands, and language. With respect to the materiality or insignificance of techne I would like to ask the question in the following terms. If we continue the image of the expanded mind, we can say that it is composed of an inner mind (our body with the nervous system at the center of the system) and an external material mind (the instrument). Now, I think it can be said that there is an inverse relationship between the simplicity of operations associated with the instrument and the complexity of operations associated with the inner mind.
What do you mean?
Let’s look at the example of memory. The Greeks invented mnemonics, the ars memoriae, it consisted almost exclusively of technique pertaining to the ‘inner’ mind, as it happens in a purely oral culture; the outer, ‘material’ part is small, signs can be used, semata, as a mark in the human or natural landscape (a notch on a tree trunk, a mound associated with a burial). In this case, the inner mind, our brain, will be very strong, widespread, complex and articulated. Where the external mind, however, as it does in this historical period, offers extremely rich, comprehensive, and complex tools, memory of electronic devices, the inner mind will suffer the consequences. This is one of the greatest risks of today’s technologies, and it is one of the responsibilities of politics that continues to ignore an issue of enormous importance. If I do not have the cognitive, logical-linguistic, but also mnemonic, internal tools, I will hardly be able to support and defend an idea, and I will be more easily manipulated.
In our online conversation, you said in a paraphrase of Marx that machines are society’s new opium. The old promise that machines strengthen our abilities and free us from fatigue has not been kept.
Yes, electronic devices are the digital opium of our time, the architecture of the various social media, but also the network is designed to create addiction through stimuli that evoke a dopaminergic reaction, the one associated with pleasure. It is ten years ago that a German neuroscientist, Manfred Spitzer, published Digital dementia, with alarming data on the effects of prolonged exposure to screens. Spitzer demonstrates, among other things, data in hand that long-term use of these devices is not only addictive, but that their use in childhood impairs brain development. The idea of progress is wrong, today we are witnessing the opposite. Instead of freeing us, as most believe, electronic tools enslave us. Not only. As has long been known, both social media, YouTube and the various web services earn their profits through an invaluable product where the heads of the people who use them are actually being used. I refer to ads, data profiling and induction of needs. Some will say we are honestly selling our soul in exchange for something … dopamine rush!
This is modern capitalism: more and more lives are bewitched by devices, platforms, algorithms. More than technique, it looks like magic: how can we get through this magic? Can the classical world help us?
It is the victory of neoliberal thought, the idea of unlimited growth, of individual profit, not of personal or collective wisdom. The old can help us as much as generations, like mine, born before the 1980s, if they had not also become addicted to digital opium to varying degrees. We return here to the question of the limits and limitations of the body and our embodied cognition. Regardless of my values and my awareness, I can not avoid that repeated daily exposure to screens will be addictive. What awareness and values can actively do is … turn off the screens and stay away from them by using these devices as tools. I believe that turning off the screens today is also a political act. We need to take to the streets, discuss, socialize, confront in real, living contexts, exercise our neurophysiology. political animals. This is also crucial in school and in the family: Let us remember that there is learning when there is activation, not when one is passively exposed to screens.
Always in a liberating key, it is worth taking up your initial reasoning about thought and instrument. Today, working with digital machines means knowing how to think and do together, the intellect is no longer separated from technically-productive skills. What does this new form of work tell us about human performativity?
I answer through Hannah Arendt. Inspired by ancient Greece, the German philosopher excelled in the field Dowork, work and action. Work serves to sustain our lives in the biological sense (eating, drinking, sleeping, etc.), this is an action that we share with animals and where we can be replaced by machines. Even the work is animal prerogative, think of the construction of a nest, a cave, to build as many animals also use tools, a kind of techne. It is only action and speech according to Arendt exclusively human being, it is in the exercise of discourse and initiative that our being and our creative abilities are fully realized. Unlike work, production, action is not achievable in isolation, but only through sociality, and this is a fundamental point.
Doing and thinking in the digital age is often isolated doing and thinking solely aimed at production. A few months ago, Elon Musk, the richest person in the world, expressed his intention to acquire Twitter and stated that he wanted to make it the most important thing. digital public space. This is an illusion, the consumption of these platforms takes place in the alienation of isolation, which in fact produces an ever-increasing passivity of thought and its extremization largely due to the lack of an embedded comparison with other people. The strength of the agora, the public space, is that of reality and action. The world is the only physical place where one can truly act, change, and fulfill oneself as a human being.
All pictures are granted by Scholé Kulturforening