In my youth I found it a supreme stupidity that Nietzsche and Schopenhauer contended that the arts surpassed the natural sciences in importance. I was deeply enamored with the capacity of the human intellect to unweave the mysteries of the cosmos and create things of utility. And though I still hold that this wonder of our physiology, that we possess this intellectual capacity, deserves immense admiration and encouragement of stimulation, I know am convinced that technology is in-effect a “neutral” force and not a good in-itself and it is ill in the sense that it has the capacity to achieve “goods,” not “wonders.”
What I mean is that technology (the utility of science asides from philosophic reflection) has a nature that makes it easier for Man to act on his baser, superficial and hedonistic impulses – not act on his nobler attributes. It is true that without modern technology there could not be said products or individual examples of it, such as the Kindle or laptop which allows one thousands of books and articles of information in one convenient place, nor would the internet exist which binds the world together. But I would make the claim that the contemporary world is not bound together in “knowledge” but in facts. There is a subtle but important difference that must be made.
Knowledge, in the deeper sense of the word, implies and necessitates an understanding of something. If I believe I know something, then I am claiming I autonomously not only remember something but understand it and could reword it or help someone else capable of understanding it to do so – to know then is to have at-least one of the primary things necessary to teach. Facts however are only pieces of data or snippets of information, useful of course, but in-itself lacking of a deeper understanding that allows the information its proper utility. One who knows the nature of atomic warfare would be deeply perturbed and blown away with awe by the human capacity to use the fabric existence as a weapon to end the existence of thousands. Oppenheimer was of course such a man when he quoted a book of the Hindus and said, “I have become death the destroyer of worlds.”
I in no way wish to advocate for any sort of Primitivism or anti-intellectualism as demonstrated in the writings of Rousseau. Quite the contrary, I am deeply in love with the human project of civilization, but find most of technology to be a distraction and even something of a burden. Many become burdened with social media and feel both compelled to know what all are doing yet feel envious for seeing the façade people play on social media, or at-least a façade in the sense that they post only what they wish others to know – their lives as they would wish others to see it. Social media is just one example of how technology exacerbates the egotistical and superficial (non-intellectual) aspects of humanity. Always concerned with appeasing petty and momentary desires, both the physical and psychological, people go online for gratification of their fragile psyches and buy mass-produced food that is unhealthy to satisfy their gluttony.
Art however is quite different. True art (not merely entertainment, again, something that technology with its bright lights and flashy sounds as made able to produce – while real intelligence and art is at the same place it’s been in some sense since the man could put pen to paper) stimulates the soul rather than sedates. It makes the heart weep and laugh and makes the mind race rather than numbing it with over-stimulation of the senses. True art is an outward reflection of the inner depths of the human condition. When we see or read of truly complex characters we relate to and empathize with (both good qualities and bad) what we are seeing is ourselves and our fellows. They are “thrown” beings, having no choice in when they were born, who they were born to, where they were born and who they were born as – and this is the same condition we are in as well. We act as we act and think as we think. We live our lives and seek for love and acceptance from others. Art reflects the state of human beings as they live or have lived in the past. It is the noblest of creative professions for when done properly it instills the moral virtues and sense of compassion that philosophy or self-righteous moralizing cannot implant.
This is the important difference between art and some forms of religion. Art moves the human soul to sympathy and generosity of others; religions have often condemned those who do not feel this or act as the religions would want them to. They take a simplistic approach to Aristotelian Virtue Ethics (virtue is through habituation) and believe that if a person acts out of fear and dumb habit then he is “good” or at-least can be lead to be “good.” This of course is not true, because those who act out of fear do not possess a good will, instead act of cowardice, and even though they may do something that is right, it cannot be said of them that they are moral. This is seen in the capacity for a human being to do anything even the most grotesque monstrosities of cruelty and indignity to others when they are motivated out of fear of a higher authority or shame from their peers. Habituation of act is not enough to instill psychological virtue. What is needed is habituation of sentiment or of spirit and this only can the humanities provide with consistency and profundity and this is an area where art surpasses even philosophy.
Science is important to stimulate the human intellect (when taught and pondered properly) and to cure the ailments of the human condition. The human condition, or any life, is itself an ailment, a bad condition full of potential for countless kinds of maladies and pain, but as long as human beings live they should live with as little pain as possible – and this requires curing ailments of the body and mind. Science is required for that of the body and some of the mind. Modern medicine and knowledge curing or preventing pains of the body is self-evident but still necessary to mention perhaps simply for appreciation of its grand achievements. Science curing or aiding with the ailments of the mind can be seen in the psychological problems that manifest through imbalances or irregularities in the brain. Schizophrenia is not an existential condition of the mind but of the brain, and though anti-psychotics and other medications have at-times horrible side-effects, they do provide some relief of pain and in-general it seems that science is the cure for such afflictions – so medication may not be the answer but, for example, a ray may one day be developed which corrects the amount of dopamine released.
However, there are many problems of the mind and heart that science cannot solve without destroying the human condition – and in some sense that’s what it’s done. For if pain is produced by the consciousness of the loss of a loved one, or by one’s conscience how can science cure said problem if not by numbing or synthetically altering one’s consciousness? For there are only two ways consciousness can be altered: through chemical stimulation or alteration or by the consciousness itself going through a process of thought and arriving at a temporary conclusion. Science can only achieve the former, never the latter. It is the wisdom of philosophy and art, that is to say, the wisdom of the humanities and of humanity itself, that must be examined if solace and wisdom to be gained through ways that keep Man’s humanity intact.
Modern Capitalism emphasizes the egoism, baseness and selfishness that we see in today’s society, yes, but Capitalism goes hand-in-hand with the emphasis on material pleasures that technology seems eager to create; so we must confess that no matter how much we are enamored with the project of civilization, because we truly love humanity and civilization we must say when it has lost sight of its true glory and purpose. The best civilization on this Earth will not be and is not the one with the most iPods and everything coated in chrome, it is the one with the most compassionate and intelligent human beings, living richly and fully and utilizing their technology to help others rather than satisfy their own base desires. It is humanities’ hubris and desperation to appeal to others superficially rather than help them that has been the motivating factors of civilization primarily. The modern world has all the shine and glimmer of the sun when it comes to the progress made only in the last thirty years, yet all the vitality of a stump when it comes to human capacity to create and empathize with all living beings – a capacity which is innate in all (or at-least most) of mankind but has been both undernourished and deliberately staved off by right-wing propaganda that tells us to fear and hate rather than love.
Though science can in theory properly (that is without deterioration of the nobler faculties) cure all of the bodily and some of the mental ailments of life it is only the good will and love of humanity that art produces that will cause people to use said science to cure the world of its ailments. This is seen in the fact that though we live in a world of bounty where medical data and tools are at a state never higher in human existence there are millions right now suffering needlessly due-to the construction of human society and the state of the contemporary human mind. A society based on the evils of market hierarchies and demand for satiation and egoism. And minds equally set on satiation of desire, sedation rather than elevation and egoism.
As long as Man is concerned with outer relations rather than the state of his own mind and the minds of others he nor others will never achieve lasting mental or societal peace. There will always be the discontentment of egoism and the societal ailments of hierarchical associations such as poverty, false or harmful political notions (e.g. patriotism, racial identity, bourgeois notions of success and value, etc.) and use of strict punishment and pain to coerce action and thought (e.g. our modern prison system and the sociological phenomenon of shaming those who do not conform to notions of how people are to be, behave or think) rather than the use of compassion, reasoning and resource to help those in need (physically or psychologically). This sentiment, love of humanity and lust for life, would come naturally to those who live in an egalitarian and truly advanced country, rather than one that is barbaric and hides its treachery through technology and degrees of superficial freedom (negative liberty).