I am reading Reality is Not What It Seems by Carlo Rovelli (2016 – English edition) and am quite flabbergasted but also excited to learn that atoms were conceived of circa 460 BC by a person known as Democritus. And that he and his cohort even knew that the earth was round rather than flat, and that we humans were NOT the centre of the universe at all, AND that reason rather than superstition was probably more reliable when thinking about all this phenomena. Democritus wasn’t the first to have worked all this out but he is the earliest example we have in writing, because his work is quoted later by others. His actual texts have all been lost, which is a dreadful loss to humanity but at least his ideas have lived on, no thanks to radical Christianity which did its best to wipe those ideas from the face of the planet. What happens to us humans? We have, it turns out, collectively been aware of these truths for far longer than I had understood, and yet it took until the Scientific revolution nearly 2000 years later to return to it, and even today there are those who insist all this science malarkey is not ot be trusted and even dangerous.
Before Democritus though there were the thinkers of Miletus, who as reported by Rovelli, ‘discovered’ critical thought. “Perhaps the decisive discovery is that of a different style of thinking, where the disciple is no longer obliged to respect and share the ideas of the master but is free to build on those ideas without being afraid to discard or criticise the part that can be improved” (5) I LOVE this. What a wonderful thing for me to read and be reminded of, and to internalise as I worry about the way in which I have questioned and criticised some of the ideas in the course folder of the module I am working on. Despite my fears, I remind myself constantly of the importance of living in pluralist society and that differing opinions and debate are crucial, and should be welcome. But it can be hard in the current climate to remember this. Social media, I believe, plays a big part in entrenching people dogmatically and aggressively in certain camps, despite also appearing to offer some positive qualities. I recently read an article titled, Social Media is tearing society apart in The Times about, “Jaron Lanier [who] is the Silicon Valley guru who coined the phrase “virtual reality”. He is one of the pioneers of VR and one of its greatest evangelists. He is also its prophet of doom. “Never has a medium [social media] been so potent for beauty and so vulnerable to creepiness,” he writes in his new book.” (Whitworth, 2017) He goes on to suggest that unchecked, social media has the potential to entirely destroy the civil project we humans have been at for millenia. “You can change people’s character, you can make them more irritable, you can make them xenophobic. In fact the negative is easier to invoke than the positive. And so this tends to naturally attract actors who benefit from seeking that result, either to destabilise a nation that is perceived as a foe or to try to corral people into a peer group, political or business or whatever. This technique tears society apart.” (Whitworth, 2017)
And so it seems today, more than ever, if one were to give value to even a small part of Lanier’s thesis, we really need to get in touch with the routes of critical thought, be brave enough to criticise current and emerging ideologies, even ones that we feel most aligned with, to do so in a constructive and adult manner, and be prepared to receive questions and admit flaws in one’s own arguments. I was asked in one of the exercises on my course to come up with a manifesto in relation to my photography and I think this ideal would have to be at the very top of it.
I look forward to reading the rest of Reality is Not What it Seems.
Image (c)SJField 2017
Whitworth, D. 2017 Social Media is Tearing Society Apart https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/social-media-is-tearing-societyapart-sj7km2ds7 (paywall) [Accessed 19 November 2017)
Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democritus [Accessed 19 November 2017)
Rovelli, C. (2016). Reality is Not What it Seems – English Edition. 2nd ed. London: Penguin, p.5.