Monday 30 September 2013

CGI Apocalypse: The Veiling of Nature

Will the world end with a bang, or just a whimper, as T.S. Eliot predicted? Or will nobody notice at all? An eerie silence, as everyone listens to an endless stream of digital music on their iPods.

Gradually, step by step, with the advance of computer technology, real things are being replaced by images of things—pixels on a screen, Computer Generated Imagery, now 3-D printing… special earpieces enable us to talk to each other from miles away as we walk down the street. When I was growing up, people gesticulating and talking to themselves in public were called “mad” and we tended to avoid them. Now it is as common as those white wires dangling from our ears were a few years ago. Electronic spectacles, and no doubt before long implants directly into the brain, enable us to access the internet anywhere and anytime, superimposing a world of (largely) commercial information over the world perceived by our senses. Every twitch of the eyeball, everything we look at, will be recorded and analyzed to assist some giant corporation in selling something to us more effectively.

The natural world has been replaced by something else—something “better” because more under human control (which always means, as C.S. Lewis would have pointed out, control by one small group of humans over the rest). Step by step, we are moving closer to the possibility of the complete erasure of the world our ancestors knew. Is that a bad thing, or is it just the next stage in evolution, as the Transhumanists insist? Not bad, just different.

How do we judge? Well, there is always common sense, but that is fast vanishing too. We judge according to our conception of what the world is, and what we are, and why we are here in the world. If that conception has been correctly formed by tradition, intellect, and revelation, we will quickly detect all around us a new form of the perennial heresy sometimes called “Gnosticism.” The Gnostics believed that our true nature was spiritual, and our job on earth was to transcend and escape the material plane. The new form this takes is, first, the belief that what we are is consciousness, understood according to the information-processing model as some kind of software that can potentially be downloaded elsewhere. Secondly, apart from consciousness itself, what is real is whatever can be

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Technology in the Home

The latest issue of the online review Humanum published by the Center for Cultural and Pastoral Research (the research facility of the John Paul II Institute in Washington, DC), which I edit, is now online and has big implications for education. It is all about the impact of Technology in the Home. Not so much washing machines and vacuum cleaners (who could object?) but TV, the new information technology, and the social media. Is this stuff rewiring our brains? Is technology really morally neutral? Is it just a tool we use, or can it be said to be using us for its own built-in purposes? What are the implications for home life, for family time, for reading, for the atmosphere in which we live, for the disparity between rich and poor?

Most of the articles are book reviews, perceptively written to review the available literature, but the issue as always starts with a number of articles setting the scene and discussing the main questions. There is also a Witness piece by an English father struggling to make the best use of modern technology in bringing up his children.

Please explore the site, and subscribe by putting your name down for an email alert each time a new issue of Humanum comes online, so you don't miss anything. There is no charge – it is a free service of the Institute.

(The cover image, shown here, is a painting of St Clare, patron saint of TV.)

Saturday 21 September 2013

The Amplituhedron

Quanta magazine reports that "physicists have discovered a jewel-like geometric object, the Amplituhedron, that dramatically simplifies calculations of particle interactions and challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality. The revelation that particle interactions, the most basic events in nature, may be consequences of geometry significantly advances a decades-long effort to reformulate quantum field theory, the body of laws describing elementary particles and their interactions. The new geometric version of quantum field theory could also facilitate the search for a theory of quantum gravity that would seamlessly connect the large- and small-scale pictures of the universe. Attempts thus far to incorporate gravity into the laws of physics at the quantum scale have run up against nonsensical infinities and deep paradoxes. The amplituhedron, or a similar geometric object, could help by removing two deeply rooted principles of physics: locality and unitarity." (Abridged from the Quanta report by Natalie Walchover. With thanks to Ben Olsen. For mention of a previous attempt to locate the underlying structures of physics in geometry by Dr Garrett Lisi go here.)

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Model school

Sometimes things go right. "Starting last spring, St Jerome’s began transforming itself from a debt-ridden, pre-K-8 institution into a showcase for one of the more intriguing trends in modern education. It is one of a handful of archdiocesan Roman Catholic schools in the country to have a classical curriculum. 'Classical' education aims to include instruction on the virtues and a love of truth, goodness and beauty in ordinary lesson plans. Students learn the arts, sciences and literature starting with classical Greek and Roman sources. Wisdom and input from ancient church fathers, Renaissance theologians and even Mozart — whose music is sometimes piped into the classrooms to help students concentrate better — is worked in." The article from The Washington Post from which this extract is taken is one of  several that have recognized the success of the St Jerome Academy after last year's makeover. To read more, follow the link, and look too at the Educational Plan listed in the column on the left.