Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In the episode 1 called "The Age of Ingenuity" of the marvelous BBC podcast "Seven Ages of Science", Lisa Jardine describes the world in the 1660s, a time when London had become a magnet for custom-made manufactured goods be it garments, clocks, spectacles, telescopes or air pumps. Oh, you got to check this podcast series out. In this episode, she paints a nostalgic, sentimental portrait of that era where a dapperly dressed Robert Hooke  was scurrying through the narrow, crowded streets of London with a crooked spine always looking for someone who could try out his latest idea. Robert Hooke gave us the famous Hooke's law (F = k.x) - still very much the bedrock of my profession of structural engineering and he was at the time, an ingenious man who "had hundred ways of putting a spring mechanism into a clock".  

Click on the image to listen to the podcast
[Lisa] It does make London the center of precision of watch-making for almost a century  … which, in turn gave a boost to a more mechanistic way of thinking about the world. In an age when spring-driven clocks were all the rage, the smart phones of the day, Jim Bennett of the science museum believes that it is no accident that a new mechanical view of the universe took hold of the public imagination.

[Jim Bennett] Getting mechanism into thinking that's the way the natural world works … the source of that has to be the mechanical practice in the 16th and 17th centuries. Clocks are extraordinarily well developed in the 17th century. Thomas Tompion was making clocks that do extraordinary things as far as his contemporaries are concerned. 

[Lisa] 20 years earlier you couldn’t measure a second accurately and suddenly, you can keep time over long periods. 

[Jim Bennett] And you can make the clocks do amusing and spectacular things in terms of automatons that perform. It's difficult to think of a task that can't, at least in theory, be performed by a sufficiently complicated clock … and that's just made by a man. Think of what God could do if you were to look beyond the appearances of the nutshell world. Think of the mechanism God could have designed.

What I found interesting was the argument that the fanciest gadget of the day - spring-driven clocks led to the formation of the reductionist, Cartesian-"the whole is sum of the parts", the "mechanistic view of the universe"  - that the universe is a gigantic and extremely complicated set of springs and mechanisms conjured up by God, the supreme designer. 

Let's cut to today where the smartphones are indeed the most raved gadgets.  It's interesting to examine what smartphones should reveal about our philosophical understandings. Firstly, unlike the clock, the smartphone has no single designer but rather a collaborative result of thousands of engineers & artists no matter what impression that Steve Jobs' stand-up stage act of introducing iPhone gives. Secondly, without the ecosystem of applications and the internet that support it, the smartphone is a dud.  

What makes the smartphone work is the fact so many people - engineers, designers, application developers, material scientists and least of all, bloggers like me who fill half of all the vacant holes in the internet with mostly inappropriate  opinions  - all coming together to create an enjoyable experience for any user who committed to a monthly data-plan. Doesn't all this coincide with the common philosophical understandings of today - that the world and the universe is not result of a centralized divine plan but rather an outcome of the contributions of several individual agents who happened to come together, sometimes by design, mostly by luck !!! Hmm?

Here's to coming a long way from a God-made universe to man-made Gods … 


jyotistilbon said...

Structural Engineers London

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smanu said...

"that the world and the universe is not result of a..."

I feel its both. It might be the result of contribution of all individual agents in response to the centralized divine plan.

The 3rd para of this

and the second para of this

muse about similar things.

smanu said...

If it was only as a result of individual agents, it would have been way too chaotic and wudn't have come this far because of the absence of a common underlying cause/purpose to progress together.

If it was as result of centralized divine plan alone, it would have been way too perfect. And we would have been mere puppets and He would have been damn bored, be expected to micro-manage, be All Powerful and would have ended it all to recreate it better!

Sash! said...

I totally agree ...

Isn't the "luck" part, THE magical and THE divine part of life. And when I said that agents come together "mostly by luck", it's the part we can't fathom and it's probably all divine. From our ignorant point of view, we might choose to call it by whatever name - God, Luck, Magic ... etc.

My point was rather, as our gadgets got complicated, so did our descriptions of the divine. As we kept on accomplishing more and more complex things, we kept on also realizing the ways of God are more and more complicated ... He ceased to be a simple, centralized designer ... That's what i wanted to convey ...

smanu said...

Oh I didn't mean to contradict ur views or anything, I perhaps only tried to elaborate/complement them.

"As we kept on accomplishing more and more complex things, we kept on also realizing the ways of God are more and more complicated ... He ceased to be a simple, centralized designer ..."
So well said! The creation evolves with its creator and the creator too evolves with the creation, I guess that's the fundamental concept of God, where the similarity of human creators and divine creators ceases to exist.

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