This 2022 publication by Meghan O'Gieblyn is subtitled Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning.
I’m not certain how to categorize this book. If the book is journalism, it’s overly dense and repetitive, but appropriately neutral in its perspective. If it’s intended to be an academic tome, it’s superficial, omits too many important precedents, and lacks a thesis. But it does raise several significant questions and offers some interesting insight.
The author is a former fundamentalist who seems to have replaced her Christian belief system with fundamental materialism. (I should clarify that I am not a fan of either position.)
As I was reading this book, there were many occasions when I almost decided to quit and let it go unfinished. But, I kept reading, as there were just enough intriguing (but largely underdeveloped) tidbits to pull me along. By the time I reached the end, I felt like I had finished a big tub of movie theatre popcorn. I enjoyed it, but with some shame, and I knew I probably should have stopped myself sooner.
What kept me going was the contemplative observations about technology, and my heart sung at citations to the work of the great sociologist, Max Weber, and more rarely, Hegel. But throughout the book, I couldn’t help notice the complete lack of references to Marxism. At first, I was irked that the book ignores a wide swath of relevant scholarship, but I eventually chalked it up to the author’s Wheaton Bible College education, where the writings of Marx were probably forbidden.
Aside from Weber, I was also glad to find discussion of Ray Kurzweil. Clearly the singularity is relevant to her discussion and perspective, and she addresses it quite well. But there are a few other relevant works that I was hoping she’d bring into the conversation. The writings of philosopher Robert Anton Wilson would provide broader context to her observations, and the books The Soul of A New Machine and What The Dormouse Said would steel her arguments.
Here are just a few of the tasty nuggets that I collected from the book:
- Our brains can’t fundamentally distinguish between interacting with people and interacting with devices. (Clifford Nass, Stanford)
- Metaphors die when we forget that they are metaphors and take them literally. This has happened to the “computational theory of mind.” Our brains are not computers; our computers are not brains. But you’d never know it by listening to people talk about A.I., and other technologies.
- For most of human history, we accepted that our lives were being watched, listened to, and supervised by gods and spirits. Not all of them benign.
- Science set aside consciousness because it is too difficult to study objectively. This led to metaphysical avoidance, and eventually, metaphysical denial.
- If the fascists in Florida want to protect people, they should focus on transhumanism (a concept born of the 1800s) instead of transgenderism. (This sentiment is mine, not the authors, to be clear.)
- Wikipedia goes to great lengths to obscure the human authorship of its articles to imbue itself with the aura of a holy text.
- The theory of a “participatory universe,” briefly mentioned in the book, led me to this interesting summary.
- The author’s college offered only one course in Literature, and it was focused exclusively on works with Christian themes, such as stories by C.S. Lewis.
- Standardized testing is all about making students look good to an algorithm.
I know this review has a bit of a negative tone, but ultimately, I was left with 35 notecards of compelling tidbits or references to explore. That’s a successful book, even though I didn’t always enjoy it. If you’d like to dive into this book for yourself, pick up a copy at the Amazon. I found mine at Barbara’s Bookstore.