What's the quote about current technology as a metaphor for the universe?
March 1, 2005 10:41 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for a quote from an article. The quote discussed how the current state of the art in technology usually became the metaphor for how we understand and describe the universe. The article is probably 5-6 years old, but was posted on the web (I probably accessed it through Arts and Letters Daily).

The quote was just a paragraph within the article (in fact, it might have been excerpted from some other book).

The gist of it was how, from time immemorial, people have been using the current state of the art in technology as a way to understand and describe the processes of the universe -- how, when the math of musical proportions was being discovered, the universe was seen as a series of concentric spheres, how now, with computers on our minds, we think of the laws of physics as like a computer program (see The Matrix).

This idea was one of those epiphany moments for me, so I put the quote in a text file on my hard drive, but didn't do anything with it for years. Now, I'd like to find it again, and I don't remember how to find it.

The quote itself would do, if you don't have the article. The author's name would do, if you don't have the quote. A specific phrase from it would suffice for helping me track it down. Can somebody help?
posted by Hildago to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This really sounds like James Burke's domain. Here's an essay which isn't what you're after but that will give a flavour of his writing.
posted by substrate at 11:08 AM on March 1, 2005

I can't help you with your specific quote, but I do remember reading a critique of Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind of Science in which the critic argued that Wolfram had fallen into the exact trap you describe, just as others have before him. That Wolfram's 'amazing, new' paradigm of the Universe/physics is really nothing more than a rehash of previous theories and philosophies with a shiny 21st century faceplate (somehow revolving around computer and cellular theory, if I recall correctly).

I probably read this in the past year or so, I'd say. Where I read it and who the author was, I really can't remember. That's the best I can do, sorry.
posted by mathis23 at 11:40 AM on March 1, 2005

Reminds me of certain ideas in Lewis Mumford's book Myth of the Machine, although I doubt that's where it's from.
posted by Dean King at 11:54 AM on March 1, 2005

Hildago, you mentioned the quote was saved on your hard drive. Can you post it?
posted by substrate at 12:06 PM on March 1, 2005

Best answer: My contribution probably won't point you directly to the exact text either, but it is worth mentioning that for obvious reasons there's a fair bit of this discussion in the cultural studies of science and technology / Science, Technology and Society scene. Unfortunately, I am having trouble recalling which books or articles covered this topic best from a current-technology-used-to-map-the-universe perspective. But here's a couple of books that broach the topics of science, technology and metaphor, or might be of general interest to you:

Donna Haraway. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women.
Dorothy Nelkin and Laurence Tancredi. Dangerous Diagnostics: The Social Power of Biological Information.
Appadurai, Arjun, ed. The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective.
Bruno Latour. We Have Never Been Modern, and Aramis or the Love of Technology, and Science in Action.

The following are more likely to address your issue in the specific sense of technology used as metaphor for mind or ways of thinking:
D. E. Leary, ed. Metaphors in the History of Psychology.
Douwe Draaisma. Metaphors of Memory: A History of Ideas about the Mind
Michael S. Kearns. Metaphors of Mind in Fiction and Psychology.

I'm not familiar with the last two, but found them looking up the Leary book link on amzon. Good Luck
posted by safetyfork at 12:08 PM on March 1, 2005

There is (was?) an exhibit about almost exactly this in The Ontario Science Centre. About how technology defines how we think about thinking. How when writing was the it thing, minds were tabula rasa, then in the steam age we had Freud with various internal pressures and releases, then in the electronic age, we have neural circuits and suchlike.

(Aw jeeze, the OSC used to be about actual science and educating the youths. Looking at their web page, it looks like they've succumbed to the forces of corporate sponsorship and edutainment. Crap).
posted by Capn at 12:19 PM on March 1, 2005

Response by poster: Hildago, you mentioned the quote was saved on your hard drive. Can you post it?

Sorry, I left out that it was left on that hard drive when I got my next computer, and eventually got formatted.
posted by Hildago at 3:00 PM on March 1, 2005

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