Technology and Human Responsibility

Issue # 170            July 19, 2007
A Publication of The Nature Institute
Editor: Stephen L. Talbott (

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Editor’s Note
Ghosts in the Evolutionary Machinery (Stephen L. Talbott)
      The Strange, Disembodied Life of Digital Organisms
About this newsletter


Those of you within geographic range of Ghent, New York (two hours north of New York City by Amtrak train), may be interested in three upcoming workshops at The Nature Institute:

** "Sounds of the Wild", an outdoor workshop, August 11-12, with musician, naturalist, and philosopher David Rothenberg, author of Why Birds Sing. For information, see

** "In Dialogue with Nature", a new course offered one Saturday per month for ten months beginning September 29, 2007. The course presents an approach to science through careful observation and open receptivity, wakeful thought and disciplined imagination. See

** "Gestures of Becoming a Human Being", an embryology seminar with Jaap van der Wal, September 21-23. Through phenomenological studies, the Dutch embryologist has developed striking insights into the gestures of life reflected in the stages of embryonic development. See


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The Strange, Disembodied Life of Digital Organisms
Stephen L. Talbott

Eighty years ago the philologist and semantic historian, Owen Barfield, warned us that a science straining toward what it imagines to be strictly material concepts will end up with abstract and general ones. That is, our pursuit of materialism will paradoxically estrange us from concrete, material reality (Barfield 1973, pp. 79, 83). The reason for this is that the world we know is a world of specific character, of particular, insistent presences, of expressive qualities - a world of smiling faces, fluttering leaves, resting cats, billowing clouds. In turning away from these presences, from these qualities - in seeking the denatured, inert, non-experienceable stuff of the scientist’s abstract imagination - we turn away from the one reality we are given. It is only natural, then, that direct and careful observation of the world’s vivid, many-faceted character should yield more and more to one-dimension