Friday, March 27, 2009

Prometheus and the Invisible.

Fire has come a long way since the day of the Promethean gift. I am reading in today's New York Times of a recent experiment to bend light waves around an object so that the object, a beach ball say, disappears -- at least to one's sight.

It was the Titan god, Prometheus, who started man on this quest to conquer his domain, when he, Prometheus, stole fire from the lightning bolt of Zeus and gave it as a gift to mankind. Zeus punished Prometheus because he feared it would make man like gods.

But equipped with fire, we began our first steps to conquer the world around us. Now thousands of years later Zeus' lightning has been harnessed, wired, transmitted, and even re-directed.

We can be not only warm in winter, but cool in summer, well-lit in the day and night, transported without the effort of walking, and entertained without the effort of thinking. All good things but things which give us a false sense of mastery over the natural order.

The grand and insignificant can easily humble us -- a hurricane cuts off the electricity in subfreezing weather, or a couple of birds fly into a jet engine -- either way, and the unforgiving natural laws conquer us. The separation between life and death is literally inches, seconds, degrees, or molecules away. The fragility of our existence is staggering.

The more we conquer this world the more we separate ourselves from its grim reality and the Olympians who can swallow us and leave no trace.

So I am conflicted about science and progress. The good I enjoy, the evil troubles me. And its effect on the mind and soul is "to be announced" many years from now.

Maybe Zeus was right.


Jennifer said...

Beautifully written. I am in total agreement.

Rambler said...

I disagree. Science and technology are tools, or more precisely, sets of tools, which we use to work out our lives, to good or ill.People complain about the internet as a purveyor of pornography, but that's like blaming the magazine format for Hustler. The problem is Larry Flynt and the people who buy his stuff. Ultimately, the problem is our fallen nature.

The Promethean myth is fundamentally different than the Adam/Eve myth(s) of Genesis, in that Zeus seeks to withhold a good from humanity. The Judaic/Christian god gave all good things to humanity, asking obedience in return. The Eden myth answers a fundamental question the story of Prometheus doesn't touch: why is this beautiful, good creation so befouled with death and destruction?

Of course, all of this is on one cup of coffee; I reserve the right to withdraw it all when my caffeine level rises.

Francis Shivone said...

Rambler -- now that is an excellent comment of disagreement.

I am going to ponder it a little.

I sgree more on the second point, except that the mythology of the Greeks are images and point to things "truer," as in the kind of Christic quality of Prometheus.

Regardless, excellent point of comparison.

On your first point:
1. yes it is a tool for good or ill -- but the medium, any medium, has an effect on the soul I do believe, that is, television is a stimulus/response medium, not a reflective medium as say, a newspaper. This was the point of Marshall McLuhan and the "medium is the message." Telephones bring a "constant contact" to the world that will effect us somehow and I do not think, to the betterment of the mind and soul.

Dr Patrick used to tell me somewhat jokingly, "only history will show the effect 8 foot ceilings have on the soul."

Meaning: it is a little Cartesian to think that the material, the place and the things around us, don't matter.

I am only offering a suggestion of a deleterious effect of electronic medium. Also, I was referring in the post to the ethics of some scientific experimentation, that is, if our only basis for what is right is that which helps us conquer our world, we have entered the "black hole" of science.

Enough of my rambling: others out there, and you know who you are, smarter than the old-man, please comment as well.

Thanks Rambler, I will be pondering your thoughts this afternoon -- with coffee.

Great comment.

Jake Good said...

To think about it from more of a pragmatic standpoint, the ability in man to be curious and to question and to think about "self" has brought us to where we are. The idea of searching for truths is branching into areas where only less than 1% of the world can understand... things such as string theory and quantum physics.

But the steps along the way and the discoveries made, have advanced species and admittedly have let man "play God".

Of course when man has free reign over finding answers, there will be truths that come out that discover ways to do bad.

and of course, I can't help it... but all of this... You know what it sounds like? Natural selection.

Just sayin' :)

Francis Shivone said...

Jake -- I never did comment on your comment. Thanks, first of all -- I take the the last sentence as a friendly nudge to the ribs. I had hoped you would comment.

I am not sure how the post has a natural selection implication, probably because I am not well schooled in the subject.

You can inform me next time we meet.


Jake Good said...

Well it's an incredibly weak twist on it... with the popular definition of natural selection being that defining genetic traits that ensure a species will survive, will be naturally selected and thus passed down into future generations...

I'm stretching the definition by saying that our fondness for fire has allowed us to be naturally selected to survive longer and pass this information down through the generations... science + progress = survival = naturally selected.

It's very loose, as I said. :)