I’m going to be spending the foreseeable future doing something different. Well, most of you probably don’t even know what “different” would be since you hardly know anything about me to begin with. The most crucial things to know are that I am primarily trained to be a computer scientist and software engineer, have a passion for philosophy, and love long walks through the forest.
Okay — maybe that last part isn’t so important.
Regardless, there’s a very interesting intersection between technology and philosophy that I’ve recently become enamored with. While I say enamored, it’s spoken with a tinge of fright. I’m enamored in the sense that I think I’ve found something that is so important that it gives my life a whole new meaning. Meaning, for me, feels like a serious drive that I’ve never felt before: a drive to protect; a drive to inform — to create.
I tend to read a lot, watch a lot of interviews with thinkers that I relate to, and generally love learning new things that inform my world-view. As nerdy as it sounds, there’s nothing like having your preconceived notions shattered (or at least fractured) by an incisive piece of philosophy. Through my adventures into the sphere of knowledge, it’s become very obvious to me that the world is going through some significant changes. We all in the U.S. need look no further than our politics to see how strange the world of the early 21st century is. In fact, all over the Western world, similar things are happening. Globalization has profoundly transformed human structures that had existed more or less unchanging (when they did change, in ways that were slow or predictable) for centuries, and it’s transformed them faster than it seems many can keep up with.
Modern technology can be pinpointed as one of the key factors driving a much more rapid pace of change. We all are so much more connected than we have ever been. Companies and governments know so much more about us than they ever have. There is so much information flowing around, being harvested and thrown back at us in new ways, that I believe it has begun to overwhelm us. Change has a tendency to alienate in that it brings some along with it, and leaves others behind to catch up slowly. I’m in no way arguing that all changes are good; especially in the realm of modern technology. However, you would have to be pretty out of touch to be able to deny that some have been able to keep up with rapid modernity while others have been shamefully left behind by the wealthy, privileged, and technocratic elite.
If I could do anything with my given set of skills and talents, I would strive to educate and enlighten people about these changes in hopes of allowing as many people as possible to have some say in their lives and avoid being left behind. I feel a strong need to use my time in a way that helps others understand why the world seems so messed up; why it seems so complex seemingly overnight. My aim is to satisfy a need to express and guide through information in the form of a new endeavor: Poiesis.
Wait a minute… “Poeisis”? What does that mean?
Is that an obscure type of fish or something? Well, no, but it’s true: “poeisis” is not a common word. In fact, it’s a Greek word that is primarily used these days in philosophical works. I stumbled upon it as it was used by philosopher Martin Heidegger in his book, The Question Concerning Technology. Heidegger was in turn borrowing the word from Plato and Aristotle as he tried to understand the nature of modern technology. In a very tiny nutshell, part of the argument is that technology should be understood as a “bringing into existence” or, “revealing”. For example, the requisite materials to build a wooden cup have always existed, but the idea of a wooden cup comes into being as a revelation. Subsequently, all technologies can be viewed as revelatory exercises. So, how does “poiesis” factor into this all? Poiesis means revealing, or bringing something into existence that did not exist before.
I think that this is a very useful way to look at technology in our modern, technological world. Indeed, our world is dominated and run by changes in high-tech products, military equipment, you name it. Technology has always shaped the course of history, but our moment in time is more unique than ever before. We have both the privilege and responsibility summoned by living in an era where the pace of technological innovation and its power to influence people is unprecedented. Think about it: companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook have touched billions of lives with their inventions and innovations. Banks’ trading software could be responsible for the prosperity or collapse of the world’s markets. Artificial intelligence is breaking into the consumer scene, and has the potential to radically change the way that people live; even potentially making humans obsolete. All of these implications load each of us with huge responsibility because we, as both users and creators of these powerful technologies, are playing with forces that typically, humanity has not been so good at mitigating. Often, our natural impulses and biases leak into the way we use technologies that are truly amoral. We need look no further than the technology involved in splitting atoms to see the short-sighted effects of human folly.
In these complex times, I have personally found solace and plenty of answers within the realms of history, science, and philosophy. A combination of the three often lends useful insights into problems that at first seem intractable. Better yet, some technologies don’t even look as if they present any problems at all. It is the duty of these three disciplines to then shed light on potential futures these technologies could adopt, and reveal non-obvious real and potential effects they could have on humanity. This act of revealing has become more important than ever; especially since it seems that critical thought is being pushed aside to make room for speed, efficiency, and profits.
I welcome you to join me on this journey as we explore the hidden depths of human creativity. This Medium series is just one of a few media that I plan on utilizing in order to spread different lines of questioning to the masses. As each topic requires a lot of research, I will format both these articles and a podcast to be the long-form expression of the information — each explaining technological nuances and histories over the course of an hour or so. In conjunction, there will be supporting videos on YouTube under the account Poeisis that will each detail a smaller portion of the broad topics discussed here. I will always post my sources and credits to our website: poiesisacademy.com, and keep a repository of content all linked centrally through the site.
As we embark on this quest for understanding together, I very much encourage anyone to send me feedback or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. I believe that it’s important to build understanding through empathy, listening, and questioning, so I look forward to hearing from others who are inspired to think deeply about complex topics. In the meantime, thanks for reading, and keep thinking.