ABC8_Gupta - Center for Ethics of Science and Technology

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Nov 30, 2013 (3 years and 8 months ago)

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Technology and
Human Progress:
Importance of Negative
Feedbacks

Abhik Gupta
Dept. of Ecology & Environmental Science
Assam University, Silchar, India

Technology: a Two
-
Edged Sword


Technology deals with the society’s
knowledge of and relationship with its tools
and crafts


Human progress through ages driven by
technology


Technology used to control and
manipulate the environment


Harmful by
-
products leading to pollution
and degradation of environment

Level of technology


adds a very critical dimension to
man
-
nature relationships


Diverse interpretations of technology by technologists,
technocrats and technophiles, philosophers,
environmental scientists, economists, deep ecologists and
others


Martin Heidegger


technology as “revealing” that “brings
forth” what is yet unrevealed

‘Appropriate Technology’ of ecologists [e.g., solar energy]


In contrast, modern technology: an agent of “Enframing”


Challenges Nature as a “Standing Reserve”, excluding all
other possibilities that Nature may have


Heidegger’s interpretation of a dam on River
Rhine: loss of autonomy and enframing


Schumacher: emphasis on small
-
scale
technology


more ‘revealing’ than ‘challenging’,
e.g., micro hydel technology


A solar panel or wind
-
energy generators as
opposed to thermal or nuclear power plants


Nature losing its “autonomy” when treated as a
standing reserve


And an essential fallout is pollution


Thus nature is enframed and even enslaved


Made to perform at the will of man

Nature is transformed into an object that is
meant to be processed through technology

Nature to be ‘conquered’ not ‘understood’ and
for ‘harvesting’ and not ‘sustaining life’

Not engaged in a ‘dialogue’

Nature having extrinsic or instrumental value

Buber’s “I
-
It” relationship with Nature

Nature as a ‘Resource’ in the words of many
ecologists

Wim Zweers: humans as “Despots” or
“Enlightened Rulers” or compromising (and
condescending too) “Stewards”


Why technology is mostly at cross
-
purposes with nature?


Technological thinking guided only by
positive feedbacks


A system guided only by positive
feedbacks cannot function as a self
-
regulated cybernetic system


The system needs to be equipped with
negative feedbacks


Negative feedbacks can achieve control
(often referred to as “balance of nature”)

Examples of Negative Feedbacks in
nature


Predator
-
prey interactions: each keeping
the other in a sustainable state


A small hymenopteran parasite can keep
the number of grasshoppers in check,
thereby maintaining the grass populations
in a grassland ecosystem


The regulator has a minute proportion of
the total biomass and represents < 1 % of
the energy flow through the system

“High Energy Effect of Small Energy
Components” by providing a negative
feedback loop

B

A

C

Human systems have been overemphasizing
positive feedback and increased production


Frontier Attitude


Following ‘r’ strategy
instead of ‘k’ strategy


Emphasis on
unrestricted growth


Refusal to accept
boundary conditions


Characteristic of
young, unstable
systems

Our dissatisfaction with/the failure of a given
technology gives rise to a new technology to
achieve unbridled growth

Diagrammatic Representation of 'r' and 'k' Strategies
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
Time
Density / Production
+ve feedback
+ve and -ve
feedbacks
+ve feedback
Sustainable Development: Calls for New Strategy
and Ethics of Technology and Development


Ethics

Strategy

Strategy

Ethics

Ethics and Strategy: need to be integrated
into each other


When our strategies and policies are
intertwined with ethics, only then shall we
have respect for negative feedbacks


Learning to accept to operate within
boundary conditions with prudence


A paradigm
-
shift of technology from linear
to closed
-
loop systems


Industrial Ecosystems


A balance of positive and negative
feedbacks


Biotechnology and Nanotechnology: has the
capability to alter the structural and
functional basis of both living and non
-
living
materials


calls for a more stringent application of the
precautionary principle


Principles of Ecosystem Cybernetics with its
concepts of Positive
-
Negative Feedback
interactions and balance, principles of
redundancy and of keystone regulation
could be of great help in directing the future
course of technology along a safer route

THANK YOU


LONG LIVE
ABA