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Backup copy of phot of praying mantis and mate by Catherine Chalmers, in NYT, September 5, 2006, Science Times section, p. D1.
Photo by Catherine Chalmers

A Leap of Faith
Risking all, the male jumps onto the female's back.

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: September 8, 2006
Latest Update: Setpember 8, 2006

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Index of Topics on Site This Can't Be Love

This essay is based on an analysis of a New York Times article by Carl Zimmer on Tuesday, September 5, 2006 in the Science Times: This Can't Be Love, at p. D1. Backup with Highlights, reflecting these notes. The analysis is based on Pieter Tijmes, Albert Borgmann: Technology and the Character of Everyday Life, Chapter 1 in Hans Achterhuis' American Philosophy of Technology: The Empirical Turn.

I happened to have been reading the Philosophy of Technology at the same time as This Can't Be Love appeared in the NY Times. I was struck by the beauty of the mantises, with full knowledge of the horror represented by their mating. Technology made it possible for me to see them, to wonder at the beauty, to wonder at how much there is we do not and cannot yet know. I'm thinking of framing these two version of the mantises mating, and hanging them as art to remind me of the spiritual aspect of so much of life that we risklosing sight of as we redefine reality as technical and structural and humans as machines. I'm wondering how Albert Borgmann would feel about that. jeanne

Concepts we'll need to understand:

  • "focal things" - A "focal thing" is something, like the wilderness, that draws us through a power, awe, beauty in its own right. Technology helps us survive the hazards presented by the "focal thing", protect it from our own destructive practices which may have damaged the "focal thing, and helps us appreciate through aids to our senses and creative abilities to recording and reproducing some of its wonders, as in photography, species regeneration, toxin removal. (Pieter Tijmes on Albert Borgmann, ibid., pp. 23-25.)

  • technology - "At the heart of reform of technology lies the attempt to make life hospitable, withing the technological universe, for focal things and practices. . . . so that focal things and practices receive a central place." Borgmann describes "focality" as a kind of "meta-narrative" placing constraints on technology when it goes beyong the bounds that would allow us "to care for the safety and well-being of human beings and the environment." (Pieter Tijmes on Albert Borgmann, ibid., at p. 25.)

    Discussion Questions

    1. What's the social issue here?

      Consider the importance with which environmental protection is reaching our consciousness today. Environmental harm is only one aspect of technology, which 19th and 20th Century modernism and enlightenment led us to believe would solve all our problems, making this the most wonderful of all possible worlds. (Reference to Voltaire's Candide.) From 2001 to 2006 most of us have had to face that we haven't turned this earth into Paradise.

      Albert Borgman is a philosopher of technology who has captured the attention of the Europeans. They consider him one of a few important philosophers who are taking new paths to understanding technology and discovering where and how it might fit in with our everyday existence. He does not suggest throwing technology out. He suggests understanding where and how it undermines our focal things and the meaningful practices for us as humans. Then he suggests working with technology to balance its effects and damage to our meaningful things. Not a bad idea for starters.

      The social issue is whether technology will control us or whether we will control technology. Welcome to the Twenty-First Century. This, I suspect, is in large measure what so depressed Horkheimer and Adorno.


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