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Friday, June 09, 2006



a reminder of a past age of technological marvel surfaced again this week when it was announced that highly detailed tomography of the antikythira mechanism had revealed more hidden text and confirmed finally its purpose -- as an analogue astronomical computer.

part of the conceit of western hubris is to imagine that we in our civilization are massively advanced, so much so as to truly be the harbinger of the dawn of technology. in some ways, this is true. but the antikythira mechanism helps to illustrate also how this is not so -- indeed, it is becoming apparent that the ancient hellenic world was not only a brilliant artistic, spiritual and political light but a highly technical one as well. the mechanism demonstrates the detailed knowledge of the organization of the universe known to the greeks, including an awareness of the heliocentric universe, and a refined ability to mimic its movements in mechanical clockwork of a kind not seen again in europe until the 17th century.

as we in the west have grown more acutely aware of our technology over the last century and so have started to see it in all things, it has come to be realized that an underappreciated hellenic technological explosion infused the rising byzantine and islamic cultures of the east with a tremendous amount of knowledge -- the kitab al-hiyal, for example, detailed such "modern" inventions as camshafts, piston engines and automata that are thought to have roots in ancient greek designs. this knowledge eventually made its way back to europe through the genoese and venetians, finding renaissance italy and having a profound effect on the nascent rebirth of technique in a society just beginning to seek such solutions.

the antikythira mechanism, is seems to this writer, is a reminder of the cyclicality of technology -- indeed, of the place of technique in the fall of civilizations. a reliance on technique implies by its nature a reliance on the management of problems, as opposed to finding their solutions. no technical solution ultimately reduces the number of problems facing the society -- technique indeed begets further complexities and problems, which in the end require more solutions and more technology. so it is that we have found ourselves seeming to fall down a well of technology, with life ever accelerating in accordance to moore's law while the more sensitive feel the parallel growth of confusion and a definite distance being put between us and the happiness we might have sought. it is no accident that technology and industry spark spiritual backlash among many. although those who would oppose the overwhelming wave of technology can often find no rational root to their discontent, their soul is aware that problems are being multiplied in management and not solved in spirituality and ethics. it is not enough to be told to live as a animal -- to struggle, fight, adapt and change to survive -- for we are more than animals in our sentience and have greater needs to fulfill as well.


gm - Great post, I often wonder about our fascination with technology and belief in its ability to transform our lives. I cannot cite the author but once heard a lecturer state that there was real concern following WWII that there would not be enough work to do (labor saving devices!) and that it was imperative that citizens learn how to use leisure time (hence PE classes in school). What a laugh, lack of leisure time is the common complaint of most, no? Though this problem in its current form is mostly the product of our choices as consumers. Allocation of finite resources and all that.

Our present day is one of engineering and not of invention which, imho is what seperates true genius from functionaries. Whoever solves the battery issue will be a rich person and will likely change life as we know it.

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