This special volume on Philosophy of Technological Culture explores questions such as what is to be human in the era of technological culture? How human actions and perceptions influence a technological culture? How a culture is being influenced by technological developments and vice versa? How will new artifacts or technologies impact our culture and vice versa? How do different cultures interact during human-artifact interaction?
Technology often looks like it is autonomous and rampaging around the world. But is there a sense in which technology is driven and controlled by economic interest? How do we make sure that human values are in the driver’s seat when technology decisions are made? (see Mitcham’s interview on Philosophizing About Technology: Why Should We Bother? in 2001). As soon as we start to use technological devices and gadgets, our body changes speed, conduit and uniformity. New technological assemblages change our way of acting in and transforms our world. How do we understand the transformation made by technological devices, gadgets and apparatuses we are using?
The question of the contemporary relevance of Heidegger’s reflections on technology to today’s advanced technology is explored in Babette Babich’s paper on “Heidegger on technology and Gelassenheit: wabi-sabi and the art of Verfallenheit” with reference to the notion of “entanglement” towards a review of Heidegger’s understanding of technology and media and modern digital life by Babette Babich. Heidegger’s reflections on Gelassenheit have been connected with the esthetics of the tea ceremony, disputing the material esthetics of porcelain versus plastic. After all, Babich argues, philosophers of technology, like philosophers of science, ought to know their subject matter—and how much technology could there have been in the years before, during, and after the two wars, i.e., years that span Heidegger’s Being and Time, his reflections on “The Age of World Picture”, and all the way to the postwar Bremen and Munich lectures that became The Question Concerning Technology? Given such modest non-modern technologies, Babich asks “what could Heidegger know of the modern world in which we today text and tweet, a world of the new future in which we travel by plane and rail and automobile?”
In his paper on “Explanation in philosophy and the limits of precision”, Rebecca Bendick and Albert Borgmann argue that “Anglo-American philosophy show that precision of presentation is a commendable and widely pursued goal. There is a trade-off, however, between precision and richness of presentation.” As precision gets sharpened, impoverishment of subject matter advances, often without recognition of the price that is paid for precision. A precise way of illustrating the trade-off in question is to take a precise meteorological model, consider how little it tells us about the weather, enrich the model, and see how precision loses its edge. They have mentioned the works of Heidegger and Rawls as exemplars of balance between precision and richness.
In their paper, authors want to show that computational modeling gives us a clear picture of the limits of precision in explanation—there is always a trade-off between the precision of explanation and the richness of the phenomena that are captured in an explanation. In American mainstream philosophy, often called analytic philosophy, these limits are frequently concealed, and that concealment leads to the unwitting impoverishment of philosophy in the pursuit of precision.
Mark Coeckelbergh’s paper on “Language and technology: maps, bridges, and pathways” argues that contemporary philosophy of technology after the empirical turn has surprisingly little to say on the relation between language and technology. Coeckelbergh’s essay describes this gap, offers a preliminary discussion of how language and technology may be related to show that there is a rich conceptual space to be gained, and begins to explore some ways in which the gap could be bridged by starting from within specific philosophical subfields and traditions. One route starts from the philosophy of language (both “analytic” and “continental”: Searle and Heidegger) and discusses some potential implications for thinking about technology; another starts from artifact-oriented approaches in philosophy of technology and STS and shows that these approaches might helpfully be extended by theorizing relationships between language and technological artifacts. Coeckelbergh’s essay concludes by suggesting a research agenda, which invites more work on the relation between language and technology.Footnote 5
Coeckelbergh says, if philosophy of technology needs to engage with philosophy of language, therefore, it should be clear that there are roughly two options in relation to which it must position itself: either an analytic approach which usually assumes that language is an external object and instrument, or a Heideggerian approach which sees language as what Kusch has called a ‘‘universal medium’’ as opposed to language as “calculus” (See Coeckelbegh this volume). Coeckelbergh makes the plea that “contemporary philosophy of technology has done much to “bring together” humans and machines (cyborg metaphorFootnote 6), humans and things. There is also a lot of other interesting thinking through technology (to use an expression by Mitcham, See Mitcham 1994, 2001).” But we also need to realize that this is also always thinking through words, says Coeckelbergh.
Siby George’s essay “Total enframing: Global SouthFootnote 7 and techno-developmental orthodox” articulates about Heidegger in the context of Global South and sketches Heidegger’s philosophy of technology in the Indian perspectives. Siby George argues that Martin Heidegger describes technology in essence as the late modern Western understanding of Being which is planetary in its reach. Succeeding the long phase of colonialism after World War II, the history of the global spread of this understanding of Being is intertwined with the developmental and globalization eras in the Global South. Techno-capitalist development crowds out alternative forms of economic and social life, which have been meaningfully prevalent in the Global South. Moreover, the monistic metaphysics that powers developmentalism makes alternatives impossible. However, alternative political possibilities still exist, which are post-metaphysical and post-techno-developmental.
Taking the Heideggerian critical ontology of technology as its base, Siby George looks at postcolonial modernization and development in the global south as the worldwide expansion of the western metaphysical understanding of reality.
Steffen Steinert’s paper on “Technology is a laughing matter: Bergson, the comic and technology” laments that there seems to be no connection between philosophy of humor and the philosophy of technology. Steinert pursues a twofold goal in this paper: First, he takes an account from one of the seminal figures in the philosophy of humor, Henri Bergson, and brings out its merits for a philosophy of technology. Bergson has never been fully appreciated as a philosopher of technology. However, in the end Steinert fill this gap and shows that Bergson’s account of the comic contains some interesting insights about our relation to technology. Second, Steinert demonstrates that humor and the comic open up a new perspective on technology that may facilitate new ways of thinking about our technological culture.
Danish phenomenologist and hermeneut Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis’s paper on “Gestalt descriptions embodiments and medical image interpretation” argues that medical specialists interpret and diagnose through technological mediations like X-ray and fMRI images, and by actualizing embodied skills tacitly they are determining the identity of objects in the perceptual field. Perception is a hermeneutical act. Friis comments “The initial phase of human interpretation of visual objects takes place during the moments of visual perception before we are consciously aware of the perceived. What facilitate this innate ability to interpret are experiences, learning and training that become humanly embodied skills.” These embodied skills, Friis argues, are actualized during the moments of visual perception. Friis main argument is that biology, society, and instruments constitute unique individual ontologies influencing specialist readings of the technological output, in other words, putting limits on the ‘‘truth-to-nature’’ relation, which is so much sought for in science. Cultural skills account for the radiologist’s developed skills necessary to interpret the specific images of his particular subspecialty. Other skills are innate, like seeing, tasting, smelling, etc., what we smell or what we touch feels like are skills we learn through our bodies, argues Friis.
In his paper on “Ethics of responsibilities distributions in a technological culture” Hans Lenk develops and differentiates some problems of the interaction between corporations, individuals and the general public as well as institutions like the state or international non-governmental organizations as well as super-national organizations. Lenk argues that in our culture, we have to deal with rather ramified types of individual and collective as well as specific corporate responsibilities tending to reach out beyond national borders, specific state law restrictions and even business systems and economies. The traditional personal and individual responsibility and their different forms will not do to cope with all the respective international, intercultural and inter-sectoral problems of modern corporations and their international interactions. Lenk discusses the question: Do multinational organizations and corporations have a sort of specific corporate responsibility, and if so, against whom and for what—except for their share- and stakeholders?
Hans Lenk recognizes that the distributions of ethics of responsibilities play a crucial role in enforcing a paradigm in the critical development of science and technology which seems to open a perspective for the philosophy of technology and culture.
Robert Rosenberg’s paper “On the hermeneutics of everyday things: or, the philosophy of fire Hydrants” explores this question: How the material objects of our world shape our choices and abilities and interactions on one hand, but on the other are also designed and altered and used by us? He notes that sometimes it can be difficult to think about “everyday” objects, those things we are so familiar with that they become taken-for-granted aspects of the backdrop of our world. But what if those objects, despite their everydayness, are politically fraught and call for closer examination? Rosenberger is suggesting that insights from two contemporary perspectives, postphenomenology and actor-network theory are useful for drawing out the experiential, social, and political dynamics of everyday things. In this paper, Rosenberger reviews and resituates several key concepts from these two theoretical frameworks and outline a method for using them together for the evaluation of technology. As a guiding example, Rosenberger explores a paradigmatic everyday device: fire hydrants. Despite their everyday character, hydrants fulfill multiple social roles, some of them loaded with difficult and important political implications.
Rosenberger argues that two particular contemporary theories, postphenomenology and actor-network theory, when used together provide a particularly useful perspective for approaching these issues. More specifically, Rosenberger suggests that the postphenomenological conception of “multistability” (i.e., the understanding that a technology is always open to multiple uses and meanings) is especially important.
Mashelkar’s paper on “Impact of science, technology and innovation on the economic and political power” provides his own perceptions on the way science, technology and innovation is going to determine the economic and political power of the nations. The rapid paradigm shifts that are taking place in the world as it moves from super power bipolarity to multipolarity, as industrial capitalism gives way to green capitalism and digital capitalism, as information technology creates netizens out of citizens, as aspirations of the poor get fueled by the increasingly easier access to information, as the nations move from ‘independence’ to ‘interdependence,’ as national boundaries become notional, and as the concept of global citizenship gets evolved, we will be full of new paradigms and new paradoxes, there is no doubt that the rapid advance of science and technology will directly fuel many of these.
Mashelkar puts forward a thesis “Technology is not always the offspring of science” which has an importance in the philosophy of technology tradition. Quite often, technology precedes scienceFootnote 8. Steam engine came before the laws of thermodynamics were understood. A major part of new technologies indeed evolve from already existing science and technology. Many advances and innovations in technology are essentially incremental improvements in existing technologies. A technology can give rise to new technologies, the so-called ‘spin-off’ technologies. It is not only that new science gives rise to new technology, but the reverse is also true: new technology gives us new science. The interconnection of science, technology and innovation and its enforcement of paradigm seem to open a horizon for philosophy of technology and culture. The world ‘boson’ to describe elementary particles that obey the Bose–Einstein statistics is now a part of language and culture. The paper adds a cultural dimension to the development of science, technology and innovation.
Paul Durbin’s paper “Brain research and the social self in a technological culture” notes that the social problems of our technological culture are numerous, and call out for the cooperation of everyone, of scientists and humanists, as well as of knowledgeable citizens, not to mention the socially responsible public figures. It is a daunting task. But collectively we can do that.
Durbin’s main argument is to proceed in well defined stages: First and foremost he introduces the history of anti-reductionism among philosophers, including those of the analytical persuasion, especially among North American philosophers. He then introduces “new archaeology” of hominid prehistory to show how some eminent archeologists oppose the reductionist view that large brains—deduced from finds of larger and larger skulls—constitute the best explanation we have for the advent of Homo sapiens. Durbin then introduces Berger and Luckmann’s Social Construction of Reality to make a central claim: that even reductionist science—whether genetic reductionism or brain-studies-based reductionism—is and must be socially constructed; and in the end, Paul Durbin concludes with a preference for a Meadian (similar to a Deweyan) social responsibility activism.
Albert Borgmann’s paper “The force of wilderness within the ubiquity of cyberspace” argues that WildernessFootnote 9 and cyberspace are opposites and yet are poorly defined and set off against each other. WildernessFootnote 10, in fact, is enveloped by cyberspace and so seems to have become disposable and replaceable. The legal delimitation of wilderness requires us, however, to stop and consider how to cross over into it, and if entered thoughtfully, the wilderness can teach us to recognize how, within cyberspace, it has attained a new kind of sacred force. Wilderness engages us in the original human practices of walking, building, and dwelling, says Borgmann.
Manjari Chakrabarty’s paper on “A philosophical study of human–artefact interaction” focuses on a critical intersection between philosophy of technology and cognitive archaeology. Chakrabarty argues, these two rapidly developing disciplines intersect on the problem of characterizing the dynamic relationship between human beings and technical artifacts. It is also argued that the intricacies of human–artifact relation have been a source of curiosity and contemplation for philosophers of technology since 1970s. In contrast, the emphasis is on the cognitive archeologists’ interest in interpreting the exact nature of the interaction between human cognitive system and material culture. The central idea of Chakrabarty’s paper is to show why the cognitive archeologists’ account of the relation between human cognition and material culture as exemplified by the classical phenomenological example of the blind person’s use of a stick needs to be critically reviewed in the light of philosophical-(post)-phenomenological research and new empirical findings on tool use and prosthesis.
In conclusion, as hermeneutics philosophers of technology, Ihde, Irrgang, Rosenberger, Selinger, Verbeek explore the questions such as what role does technology play in everyday human experience? and how do technological artifacts affect people’s existence and their relations with the world? The ways technological practices themselves structure actions include different forms of meaningfulness. The development of a philosophy of technology is, in principle, based on the assumption that substantial philosophical questions can be posed against the technology as proposed or in the view of the social implications arising out of new organizational, economical and technological developments such as globalization, economics, population growth, ecological crisis, north–south conflict, worldwide communication technology and information distribution. Thus, the relevant questions posed by a philosophy of technology are: “Have we access to the techniques or technologies that we need?” “Do we need the technology that we have?” The answers to these questions have a profound affect on human culture. Human culture has developed the ability to improve the functions of the human perceptual structure by incorporating new technologies into its cognitive functioning, to enlarge in this way to cope the reality. Philosophy of technology tells us that the social and cultural changes are neither determinate nor generally foreseeable; and because of this, the changes will demand special attention. The task for a philosophy of technology is to analyze the phenomenon of technology, and the ways it significantly mediates and transforms our experience and perception of the lifeworld (Kaplan 2004, 2008, 2011; Tripathi 2014; Irrgang 2014). The philosophers of technology “should reposition themselves” in the “R&D” position where “technologies are taking developmental shape, in think tanks, in incubator facilities, in research centers. Only then can truly ‘new’ and emerging technologies be philosophically engaged” (Ihde 2012a: 332). The imaginary variations in postphenomenology talks about the bodily technology set of “cultural” relations and the phenomenological structure of human-world possibilities. Don Ihde suggests a bare sketch of a postphenomenological, engage, R&D situated practice, which is simultaneously demanding and agreeable (Ihde 2003).