This book review first appeared in New Dawn Magazine number 172, January - February 2019.
© Brett Lothian
© Brett Lothian
In The Shadow Of The Machine: The Prehistory of the Computer and the Evolution of Consciousness.
By Jeremy Naydler
In The Shadow Of The Machine is an accessible, in-depth study of the relationship between human consciousness, technology and the computer. The vast changes and ideas that paved the way for its creation and the dramatic effect that machines have had upon the human psyche in the modern era, in this timely and thoroughly well researched book. The author’s comprehensive writing style, coupled with his skillful recapping artfully intertwines the subject matter into the greater scope of the overall narrative, making what are quite complex topics both easily understood and interesting to read. In this outstanding book by Jeremy Naydler, we are taken along the fascinating journey of the human mind from the dark ages at the very dawn of time into today, the age of the computer and in doing so, we are forced to question the very nature of our reality, our current way of life and our relationship to the ungodly creation we have fashioned in our own image, the thinking machine, AI.
This book is not so much a history of the computer, machines and the differences they have made to our modern life, but more a history of western human consciousness and the radical changes that have taken place in our minds since the very foundations of our culture unto today, the changes that have not only allowed for the creation of automatons, machines and the computer, but made them inevitable due to our ever increasingly soulless modern mindscapes and worldview. The author highlights how in the bedrock of the ancient Egyptians animistic religion, holding everything to be sacred kept in check their desires for technological innovation as for them, first and forefront in their minds was a devotion to the gods in their every act of daily living and being. For them, the gods were not abstract concepts “somewhere else,” but the spirits of the natural world, all around them, in everything, all of the time. Picture for yourself how living with this worldview must have been, with everything being alive, interconnecting and corresponding, amongst the magnificent monuments of ancient Egypt… A truly magical earthly experience, something we have long since lost.
We are shown how the threat of war and invasion drove the technological innovation of the day almost reluctantly, how the rise of the clever man, the cunning trickster like Odysseus was championed and how the move towards otherness, a separateness from the divine led to the great philosophers of ancient Greece, more “logical” thought. Naydler explains that whilst the gods of course lived on in the minds of the ancient Greek, the philosophers such as Pythagoras, Plato and Aristotle began to dissect the natural world with reason, stripping it of its divine qualities and replacing them with mere quantities and mathematics in a quest for pure truth. With the creation of the ancient academies, a radical shift in the way people thought began, away from inhabiting a literally divine world, to living in a world of abstract concepts and logical thought, longing for an ‘ideal’ world as if the greatest minds of ancient Greece somehow sensed that something had already gone terribly wrong. This change to a more technical, more cold and logical way of thinking, would have profound implications for the western world going forward.
Through the middle ages we follow along the train of thought that would eventually lead to the industrial revolution, forever altering the fundamental ways in which we live and work. Science gained ever more ground in the minds of the times thinkers, with religion beginning to be openly challenged for the first time, logic, reason and the scientific method now held the promise of answering the great questions and mysteries of life, such as electricity. Now under the watchful eye of the mechanical clock, the human mind became even more detached from the rhythms of the natural world and began living in the influence and shadow of the machine. More than ever before, the world’s great minds focused their attention on practically applying knowledge, not for its own sake or for some higher metaphysical purpose, but for commercial success. Technology, long being removed from the sphere of the priests and philosophers was now unchained from any spiritual purpose or consideration, being turned towards the pursuit of pure profit, what it did to us as people however was given little if any thought.
The harnessing of electricity, despite us still not knowing what it actually is, illuminates the modern mindset, with our technical understanding far outstripping our wisdom and maturity. Jeremy Naydler expertly explains how, In The Shadow OF The Machine , through the long process of the changing of our own minds, of changing the very way we think and picture the world, we have created a completely new world that we are not yet adapted to, that is both redefining us and our place in the universe around us. In an era of an ever increasing reliance upon technology and computers for almost everything, the creation of artificial intelligence and interconnected “smart” technology that we barely understand, we now live firmly In The Shadow Of The Machine, if not right in the palm of its cold, digital hand.
Examining the philosophical and spiritual implications of the hemispheric shift in the way we think and interact with the world, this fantastic exploration of the human psyche and its projection onto the physical world, is right on time for those who are questioning their reality, how and why it all came to be and where we are going in the future. This important and deeply thought provoking book should be read by absolutely everyone that has that itch in the back of their mind, that something is very wrong with the world today.