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On technological progress


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While slowly advancing along on a bit of sci-fi writing of my own, I got some characters involved in a debate about scientific and technological progress. A paragraph I wrote for one of those characters struck me as a good starting point for a real debate. As you might expect, it reflects my own views quite well:

"Human progress is horrendously inefficient - of all the great progress that humans have made, only a small part actually serves useful goals. If the goal is to increase human happiness and improve the human condition, then the only genuinely useful progress is the advancement of medicine, food production, and security from accidents and disasters. Food, health and safety are the only components of human happiness that science can provide. All the other things that make you happy - friendship, love, sex, personal achievement, and the vague concept of "fun" - do not depend on your society's level of progress. If you want happiness and a better life, then technological progress should focus entirely on providing people with food, health and safety. The fact that your society has not done this, the fact that instead of using technology to make your lives more enjoyable you have used it to create an endless stream of new problems, new work, new reasons to compete and envy each other - this is why human technological progress up to the present time has been inefficient and irrational. Yes, even irrational progress is better than no progress at all. But that is not a good enough excuse."

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True the technological progress has caused more problems.

Agricultural revolution has brought greater diseases as they were passed on from the animals to humans more easily due to constant interaction with them.

Industrial revolution has brought even more diseases due to pollution however it also blamed fro increase in diseases of the mind.

However, safety could not just be interpreted as safety from mother nature, what about the safety from your jealous neighbor who wants to steal your food. So this is where the weapons come in.

Development in entertainment as yous said have fun have also made it easier for people to relax. sure people had fun before computers and TV and radios, movies, theaters. In paleolithic humans just stared at the stars. But man that is not an option to me. I can't see stars at night (light pollution). Plus I'll get bored easily they hold less mystery to me thna they did for the paleolithic man.

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The thing about new forms of entertainment, though, is that you wouldn't miss them if they had never been invented (the way you'd miss food if you didn't have enough). I enjoy computer games as much as anyone here, but if computer games had never been invented, I would have probably just found something else to do for fun.

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You bring up an interesting point. It is true that people found a way to entertain themselves before the TV. However how relaxing was that entertainment would be a better question. Since ability to relax pushes up possibilities of productivity maybe such an issue should be explored to see the forms of the entertainment and their effect on productivity.

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First, why should we consider happiness to be a criterion of efficiency of technology?

When I am far from civilization and eat dry bread once a day, I may feel happy for satiating hunger. When I return and eat as much as I can, I don't even think about it. But on the other hand, I can focus on other things than food, because the problem of hunger does not bother me anymore. And that's provided by civilization and progress, we don't have to care much for pain and other corporeal problems. We may at least choose to work by mind or by hand, and having this choice makes me happy as well... There are other values, which are created by progress, even if they are independent or subordinate on the "eternal" ones.

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  • 1 month later...

@Edric O

It's not really entirely fair to assert that human progress is horrendously inefficient.

Consider food. Humans are ever more numerous and yet food problems remain concentrated in the same regions (mainly where war forces migration). So progress is actually quite efficient in the food department.

More generally, I suppose no progress at all could be even worse than inefficient progress.

However, you certainly have a point, progress is much a quantitative notion, qualitatively we still live a moody life than progress has largely failed to enlight. Even worse, what once was miracle at Edison times can now be lived as new forms of electronic slavery. The positive side is technology always promises new horizons that ever revive the Edison dream.

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Although my English vocabulary is not of high enough standard to contribute wisely and with clearly supported arguments to this electronic discussion, that without human technological progress would not have taken place, I do have one small presumable supporting comment on the quoted text below.

Even worse, what once was miracle at Edison times can now be lived as new forms of electronic slavery. The positive side is technology always promises new horizons that ever revive the Edison dream.

Nice put. :D

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