This morning I listened to David Noble’s 1998 lecture on “The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention” at Seattle University. (Here is the direct mp3 link.) This book was published in 1999. Noble discusses some very ecclectic but engaging stuff probably of interest to anyone who has read Dan Brown’s “Angels & Demons” or “The Da Vinci Code.” Discussion here of Masonic history, scientists as well as political leaders of the renaissance, French Revolution, American Revolution, Millenianarism, etc. These include Charles Babbage, George Boole, Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking, and many others. As an example, Noble contends that Sir Issac Newton viewed himself as a Christian prophet, and was obsessed with academic and theological research primarily because he wanted to usher in the new millennium prophesied by the book of Revelation. He also discusses the poem by John Dunn that inspired the site of the first atomic bomb test site in New Mexico being named “Trinity,” which is a Biblical / Christian reference. These historical, anecdotal stories linking numerous scientists like Werner Von Braun and others involved in the US manned space program as well as the historical and present scientific community are thought provoking, but also so out of the “mainstream box” in terms of what I have read that they beg for corroboration. According to Noble, Von Braun had originally named the first US manned space project “Adam,” but it was later renamed “Mercury” by NASA. NASA was sued by Madelyn Murray O’Hare for including readings from the book of Genesis as Apollo 9 circled the moon, which was reportedly pre-planned and part of the flight plan. Noble contends that Apollo astronauts actually held communion on the moon. These are certainly not things we heard about in last week’s NASA videoconference.

Consider this quotation:

It is the destiny of human beings to download our minds into machines, thereby to achieve a rightful immortality.

Thinking about a computer downloading the patterns of a human mind is certainly an intriguing possibility, and also a rather scary one in many ways. According to cognitive neuroscientists I have visited with recently (and know personally,) we are still quite a ways off from this vision. Noble is contending that scientists for hundreds of years have sought to reestablish the immortality of the human mind, and have had a theological motivation to do so. Noble cites a book by the founder of Wired magazine, Kevin Kelly, who wrote “Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World”. According to Noble, Kelly is in line with this overarching theological movement.

“Keeping the mind alive without the body.” “Figuring out how to create life.” Genetic engineering participating in a process of co-creation, creating a transgenic species that has never existed before. Working to overcome the “legacy of the fall” and helping humans recover perfection. Clearly this is not mainstream stuff. But it does touch on many historical events and important people, as well as issues of vital current interest (like cloning and the human genome project.) I wonder how much of the interest I have for some of these ideas comes directly from the rampant name dropping Noble does in his lecture?

Noble states each of us have a different genome: different by one tenth of one percent. He quotes Richard Seed on “becoming one with God,” and that being Seed’s primary reason for proceeding with human cloning at the University of Chicago. Seed is a widely acknowledged scientific advocate for cloning, and many if not most of the things he has said on this topic are pretty scary.

I feel like in listening to and reflecting on this lecture this morning I have gone ideologically far afield from my main mission today, which is working on the theoretical framework for my dissertation on measuring the impacts of 1:1 technology immersion. For this reason, I am posting these reflections and links in a separate post from the main article that alerted me to David Noble, his article “Digital Diploma Mills: The Automation of Higher Education.”

In the Q&A discussion that follows the lecture, Noble relates some compelling stories about how he is popularly considered a freak because he refuses to use email. He discusses the resonance which many people experience with advertisements like the one from Apple Computer about “being connected from anywhere to your office: what a bummer!” and Mastercard’s advertisement, “7 Days Without Email: Pricless.” Noble contends the literature on connectivity’s benefit in higher education has no proof of pedagogical value, and has been largely written by the vendors. He asks how much of this is about education, and how much is about making money? No one wants to appear anti-technology. THE issue is: who “owns it” when it is online?”

Some very interesting ideas here. I am adding many of the links I have found and followed related to this to my del.icio.us “Luddites” tag category. If you want to pursue this line of inquiry further, you might also check out the del.icio.us Luddite tagged links of others. I have created a new category in my blog today for “Luddites,” and added both this post and added that category to a few other past posts, including my presentation from TCEA 2005 that I shared on “Luddite Literacy” and republished recently as a podcast.

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