Nam et ipsa Scientia potestas est.

From: Robert Owen (
Date: Tue Mar 21 2000 - 01:14:11 MST

Dear Members,

I offer the following as a brief historical commentary on an article
      by Wlliam Joy which appeared recently in "Wired" Magazine.


                         William Joy's Thesis

   Our most powerful 21st-century technologies - robotics,
   genetics and nanotech - are threatening to make humans
   an endangered species.

   Despite the strong historical precedents, if open access
   to and unlimited development of knowledge henceforth puts
   us all in clear danger of extinction, then common sense
   demands that we reexamine even these basic, long-held
                      A Historical Perspective

What Bacon actually said, "for knowledge too is itself power", is
neither unreasonable nor immodest; he merely indicated that,
like political, and religious power, the knowledge to be gained
from this new Natural Philosophy is practical. Unlike the academic
Scholastic Philosophy, this pursuit has the ability not merely
to describe history but to make it. Bacon envisioned the creation
of a new and better world using this knowledge, a Utopia. This is
not what so disturbs Bill Joy. He says he is afraid of what has
become of Bacon's dream, that we have made no Brave New World --
nor realized Bacon's Utopian vision. Instead we have created a
monster, a monolithic technoscientific beast, A Whore of Babylon
whose temple has been built on the foundation stones of Joy's
vanished humanism.

Not only the Utilitarian Ideal , but the Enlightenment has been
perverted, so today we read on the lintels of Research Centers
"Scientia est potentia" -- a paraphrase Joy abhors. For he feels
that these Centers are virtually Pandora's Boxes whose seals
are being opened one by one to let loose on us us all the horrors
of Apocalypse with which the supplanted medieval academics were
were fully familiar and warned us against 500 years ago.

Of course, from its medieval origins, the magical arts and their
inscrutable masters have been viewed uneasily by their societies.
No one could be quite sure just how dangerous this new white
magic might be, but the Faust legend provides some inkling of
at least latent public misgiving. There was some dull fear,
some instinctive feeling, that perhaps this new practice was
somehow unclean, perhaps even demonic.

It appears that Mr. Joy shares this ambivalence. There is more.
He seems to see signs and alarms that portend some graver
horror, worse than a mere box of plague and pestilence -- a
modern Hydra whose heads replicate upon severance in a
hyperexponential way. To do nothing is to relinquish social
responsibility; to cut off heads would seem multiply our
difficulties beyond control. Perhaps, he supposes, advancing
to the rear while saving the appearances is our only sensible

Of course, not everyone share's Bill Joy's desperation or
brooding sense of catastrophe"

       "I'm as fond of my body as anyone, but if I can
         be 200 with a body of silicon, I'll take it."

Robert M. Owen
The Orion Institute
57 W. Morgan Street
Brevard, NC 28712-3659 USA

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