Creating unrequited dichotomies

We tend to draw lines, even with the things that seem inseparable. In the case of technology and science, it get’s even blurrier for our dear 21st century minds. Science feels like the grand master, the roof over our head, the guide to everything out there. But to be frank, technology came first.

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Francis turbine group III of the central Seira, manufactured by the Swiss company Escher Wyss & Cie. (1926)

This all depends on definitions (as always) so now I will borrow the definition made by Stephen Wilson that is “Technology is seen as “knowing how”, while science is seen as “knowing why”. Formalizing the “why”s happened quite later as language allowed us to ask question not only to ourselves but to people around us. Technology should probably be seen as a broader one, something as human attempts to shape the physical world.

Similar to the dichotomy that roomed through the 19th century art world, trying to figure out for whom/what the art was for, same goes with the research nowadays. Should the research be for the sake of the technology or for the sake of science?

The research for the sake of technology was disregarded since the beginning and it can be traced back through the history of Western Culture. For Egypytians and Greeks, the act of making was for the slaves. The material world thus the time being spent producing the material was somewhat low, less important and the focus were more on the essentials.

This distrust towards making continued through the Middle Ages, until the renaissance where this notion was questioned by philosophers for the first time, in the Western world at least. All the meanwhile the artisans were praised in the Eastern World, maybe through view of beauty and craft being the representations of divinity.

Enlightenment ignited the positive approach towards technology and innovation, as Francis Bacon proposed a reconstruction of science to produce “a line and race of invention that may in some degree subdue and overcome the necessities and miseries of humanity”.

Making another leap in time and concept, it shouldn’t be hard to link arts and science in this sense. If we were to say that both of them require abstraction and aesthetic consideration as an intellectual bridge, they are surfing on the similar waves.

This sea of waves of course gives birth to a fountain of optimism, which we can’t really stick with, at least not anymore. Being familiar with the influential “Two Cultures Theory” by C. P. Snow, the linguistic aspect of these fields drifted away from each other every passing second like two lines in an infinite universe. (You know where this metaphor is going, I suppose)

I would argue that in the case of this radical distance developing between humanities/art and science, we have to accept that either

a) these two met in the same spot sometime in the past .

b) these two are destined to meet at some point in the future.

The second option is the one I’m hoping for. But even in the case of a, we can throw in the entropy argument here and hope that they will eventually end up in the same spot, one way or another.

Personal side note: This dichotomy has been bugging my mind for some time already, but as I’m currently participating in a workshop held by Kodwo Eshun and Doreen Mende, organized by e-flux on the works of Stanislav Lem and particularly his book Summa Technologiae, I am more and more convinced every day.

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