John C. Wright (johncwright) wrote,
John C. Wright

Lewis and Clarke


The quote below is from a review of Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin by Francis Spufford a book about the history of technology and society. It’s about six engineering projects that have taken place in Britain since WWII. The projects range from rockets through Concorde to computer games, cell phones, and the Human Genome Project.

Two famous figures in the science fiction world are mentioned in this anecdote:

It was at about this time that an encounter took place between two outlooks almost equally marginal to the spirit of the time in Britain. Arthur C. Clarke, by now a well established science fiction writer as well as the author of the pioneering paper on satellite communications, had been growing increasingly irritated by the theological science fiction of C.S. Lewis, who saw space travel as a sinful attempt by fallen humanity to overstep its god-given place. [...] Clarke contacted Lewis and they agreed to meet in the Eastgate Tavern, Oxford. Clarke brought Val Cleaver as his second, Lewis brought J.R.R. Tolkien. They saw the world so differently that even argument was scarcely possible. As Orwell said about something completely different, their beliefs were as impossible to compare as a sausage and a rose. Clarke and Cleaver could not see any darkness in technology, while Lewis and Tolkien could not see the way in which a new tool genuinely transforms the possibilities of human awareness. For them, machines at the very best were a purely instrumental source of pipe tobacco and transport to the Bodleian.So what could they do? They all got pissed. “I’m sure you are all very wicked people,” said Lewis cheerfully as he staggered away, “But how dull it would be if everyone was good!”
Since they are British, I assume "pissed" in the sentence above means intoxicated with spirits, not intoxicated with anger.

My comment: Myself, I see no evidence that any new tool has transformed anyone's "awareness" -- a phrase I notice has mystical rather than scientific implications.

Like the debate between G.K. Chesterton and H.G. Wells about the wisdom of a scientifically-organized eugenic socialist utopia, history has once again come down on the side of the writer the intelligentsia dismiss as an irrational religious obscurantist, and history has debunked, even humiliated, the faddish optimism of the writers whose zealous idolatry of science is regarded by the intelligentsia as rational and progressive. I am frankly puzzled why worshipers at the altar of progress regard their worship as scientific, when real scientific thought consists, not of enthusiasm, but measured skepticism, detailed observation, and experimentation under conditions that control the variables. 

I know of no one who regards G.K. Chesterton as the great prophet of the modern age, even though he saw and described the ills of the modern world decades, or a century, in advance; but I often here the foresight of H.G. Wells lauded. We see in operation the reverse Cassandra effect, where the more completely exploded a man's predictions are, the less skeptically his devotees regard his oracles.

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