Wednesday 17 May 2017

Freedom and the internet/ computers (and the limits of epistemology without metaphysics) - from Stephen Talbott

(Edited from an essay Computers, the Internet, and the Abdication of Consciousness by Stephen Talbott - square brackets indicate my addition.) 

Freedom only seems to make sense as a name for the movement towards responsible wakefulness, and not as a name for a presumed ideal state. 

The ideal of freedom applies only to a state of [directional] transition. We are works in progress. 

Every move towards health is also a move towards wholeness and integrity. Insofar as the Net succeeds in distracting us from ourselves, it will prove a personal and social disaster. 

The temptations for distraction and sleepwalking [our lives away] are on every hand. But we should not forget that these temptations are also invitations to discovery within ourselves a higher power of wholeness and integrity. 

The computer is our hope if we can accept it as our enemy. As our friend [i.e. if we trust it] the computer will destroy us.


Stephen Talbott is an Anthroposophist (follower of Rudolf Steiner) whose work was much appreciated by Owen Barfield. He is indeed extremely insightful and interesting, and makes many vital suggestions which ought to be adopted; and I would recommend browsing his copious writings.

However, Talbott is also one of those frustratingly incomplete writers - because he restricts himself to epistemology (the philosophy concerning knowledge) without ever clarifying his metaphysics (his fundamental assumptions); in particular - he apparently never references Christianity or even God.

Therefore, ultimately, Talbott's only argument for changing 'the way we know' is that this would be better for our here-and-now health and happiness - as when, above, he references our ultimate goals as integrity and wholeness, and our ultimate ills as personal and social disaster (implicitly suffering).

Lacking a basis in metaphysics, and indeed God; this is all that can ever be argued in favour of anything.

And modern people will simply, and rationally, be able to respond that they, personally, happen to feel differently about their happiness and what they need to do to avoid suffering.

But a Christian discussing epistemology or any kind of fundamental philosophy can and should reference to the fact that we are God's children and we inhabit God's creation - and our ultimate purpose in life (our reason for living) is not, therefore, health and happiness - but the co-fulfilment of God's purposes for creation.

Only thus can we get outside of the modern ethic of utilitarianism, with its absurd assertion of arbitrary, labile and manipulable personal feelings as the bottom-line justification and purpose of everything.


lgude said...

I have read the interview at the first link and browsed Talbott's writings and they are indeed promising, but I end up ambivalent in a different way. I would probably miss the relationship between epistemology and metaphysics that you see. What bothers me is characterizing computers as somehow different or new ways of remaining unconscious. Nonetheless, I recognize that I have a bigger problem with computers taking too much of my attention than I do with, say, alcohol. I think humans use anything they can find to distract themselves - to pursue their own will and not God's. This is not a new problem at all, just a new form of distraction. I thought immediately of Alypius who Augustine tells us in The Confessions was addicted to gladiatorial spectacle. He resisted it successfully for a time, but fell totally back into his former condition and "revelled in the wickedness of the contest, and was drunk with lust for blood". Tonight I found myself drawn once again to the political spectacle unfolding in Washington DC and came over to this blog to change my consciousness. It worked.

Bruce Charlton said...

@I "I think humans use anything they can find to distract themselves - to pursue their own will and not God's. This is not a new problem at all, just a new form of distraction."

I am much aware of that of God which is within us; so I would not contrast our will with Gods so much as our true will - tha is the thinking of our true/ divine self being Good

- and against this computers/ internet/ and media generally (also superficial or competitive socialisation) create false selves, false, wills, and automatic behaviours... and this is that which is in competition with/ displaces what God wants/ hopes us to do.

Distraction is not just a waste of life (which ourght to be ablout becoming more divine) - it may actually prevent Real life (not least by its implicitly nihilistic metaphysics).