Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Technology

Few criticize the rapid advancement of technology; and yet, this infatuation easily obscures many negative consequences and, as many of these quotes dramatically point out, technology's dark side looms throughout history. Marshall McLuhan calls new technology "self-amputations of our own being" and one of the fundamental causes of war. In Finnegan's Wake James Joyce describes "ten thunders" - cryptographic descriptions of history's major technological changes and many of their debilitating consequences. In Brave New World Huxley describes how new technology can undermine our ability to think for ourselves. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein pointed out this danger early on and science fiction books continue to dramatically communicate this theme.

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Quotes (77)

“The farther you go, the less you know.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao
(Lǎozǐ)
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

Themes: Travel Technology

“They have advanced technology but they aren’t mesmerized by their tools, hypnotized by their computers, enslaved by their inventions.”

Lao Tzu 老子 604 BCE - via Shan Dao, chapter #80
(Lǎozǐ)
from Tao Te Ching 道德经 Dàodéjīng

“Tradesmen that would perfect their work must first sharpen their tools.”

Confucius 孔丘 551 – 479 BCE via Shan Dao
(Kongzi, Kǒng Zǐ)
History's most influential "failure"

Themes: Technology

“where there are machines, there are bound to be machine worries; where there are machine worries, there are bound to be machine hearts. With a machine heart in your breast, you've spoiled what was pure and simple”

Chuang Tzu 莊周 369 – 286 BCE
(Zhuangzi)

Themes: Technology

80. A Golden Age

“When one family has weapons, it affects its village. When a village has weapons, it affects its state. When a state has weapons, it affects All under Heaven. When All under Heaven have weapons, chaos is preordained.”

Wang Zhen 809 – 859 CE
from Daodejing Lunbing Yaoyishu, The Tao of War

75. Greed

“Too strong a weapon will cut and destroy its own edge.”

Shen Kuo 沈括 1031 – 1095 CE
(Mengxi)
from Dream Pool Essays 梦溪笔谈

Themes: Technology

9. Know When to Stop

“All sciences are only the ordinances and opinions of men, as injurious as profitable, as pestilent as wholesome, as ill as good, in no part perfect, but doubtful and full of error and contention.”

Agrippa 1486 – 1535 CE via Owen
(Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim)
Historian of the occult and early, important influence on science

“The very contemplation of things as they are—without superstition, imposture, or confusion—is in itself more beneficial than all the fruits of technology and invention.”

Francis Bacon 1561 – 1626 CE via Shan Dao
from The New Organon, 1620

“The best investment is in the tools of one's trade.”

Benjamin Franklin 1706 – 1790 CE

Themes: Technology

“Metallurgy and agriculture were the two arts which produced this great revolution... it was iron and corn which first civilized men and ruined humanity.”

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712 – 1778 CE

“The use of gunpowder… was soon propagated to the extremities of Asia; and the advantage of the European was confined to his easy victories over the savages of the new world.”

Edward Gibbon 1737 – 1794 CE
from Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

“If we contrast the rapid progress of this mischievous discovery (gunpowder) with the slow and laborious advances of reason, science, and the arts of peace, a philosopher, according to his temper, will laugh or weep at the folly of mankind.”

Edward Gibbon 1737 – 1794 CE
from Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

“You are my creator but I am your master; Obey!”

Mary Shelley 1797 – 1851 CE
from Frankenstein

Themes: Technology

80. A Golden Age

“It is questionable if all he mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day's toil of any human being.”

John Stuart Mill 1806 – 1873 CE

Themes: Technology

“Men have become the tools of their tools… have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven.”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from Walden or Life in the Woods

Themes: Technology

80. A Golden Age

“All our inventions have endowed material forces with intellectual life, and degraded human life into a material force.”

Karl Marx 1818 – 1883 CE
from Letter, 1856

Themes: Technology

“Day by day, however, the machines are gaining ground upon us; day by day we are becoming more subservient to them; more men are daily bound down as slaves to tend them, more men are daily devoting the energies of their whole lives to the development of mechanical life.”

Samuel Butler 1835 – 1902 CE
Iconoclastic philosopher, artist, composer, author, and evolutionary theorist
from Note-Books (1912)

Themes: Technology

“One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.”

Elbert Hubbard 1856 – 1915 CE

80. A Golden Age

“the incessant stream of impressions pouring into our consciousness through all the gateways of knowledge make modern existence hazardous in many ways”

Nikola Tesla Никола Тесла 1856 – 1943 CE

Themes: Technology

“The more we multiply means, the less certain and general is the use we are able to make of them... the entire problem is one of the development of science and its application to life”

John Dewey 1859 – 1952 CE
The "Second Confucius"
from Psychology and Social Science

“The final reason for Rome's defeat was the failure of mind and spirit to rise to a new and great opportunity. They were split into the sharpest oppositions, extremes, a narrow selfishness that kept men blind when their own self-preservation demanded a world-wide outlook. Material development outstripped human development; the Dark Ages took possession of Europe, classical antiquity ended.”

Edith Hamilton 1867 – 1963 CE via Shan Dao
from Roman Way

“Technological civilization... rests fundamentally on power-driven machinery... science in all its branches - physics, chemistry, biology, and psychology - is the servant and upholder of this system.”

Charles Beard 1874 – 1948 CE
(Austin)
Pioneering progressive historian

“Because we lack [superhuman reason], the conquests of science and technology become a mortal danger to us rather than a blessing.”

Albert Schweitzer 1875 – 1965 CE

“These multiplying inventions are the new organs with which we control our environment... menial labor that degraded both master and man is lifted from human shoulders... man will be freed for the tasks of the mind.”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from Greatest Minds and Ideas of All Time

“all technological advances will have to be written off as merely new means of achieving old ends... we repeatedly enlarge our instrumentalities without improving our purposes.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

80. A Golden Age

“We double, triple, centuple our speed, but we shatter our nerves in the process and we are the same trousered apes at 2000 MPH as when we used legs.”

Will (and Ariel) Durant 1885 – 1981 CE
from Lessons of History

Themes: Technology

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the seat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the houses of its children.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower 1890 – 1969 CE

“We all want the things which the factory produces and none of us is sensitive enough to care how much in human values the efficiency of the modern factory costs.”

Reinhold Niebuhr 1892 – 1971 CE

Themes: Technology

72. Helpful Fear

“Technology has tended to devaluate the traditional vision-inducing materials. The illumination of a city, for example, was once a rare event, reserved for victories and national holidays, for the canonization of saints and the crowning of kings. Now it occurs nightly and celebrates the virtues of gin, cigarettes and toothpaste.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Virtue Technology

80. A Golden Age

“Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE

Themes: Technology

80. A Golden Age

“Because technology advances, we fancy that we are making corresponding progress all along the line… that we only have to go on being yet cleverer to achieve social order, international peace and personal happiness.”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Perennial Philosophy

Themes: Technology

“We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest.”

Buckminster Fuller 1895 – 1983 CE

Themes: Technology

72. Helpful Fear

“As long as we invent and progress in mechanical things and not in love, we shall not achieve happiness.”

Jean Giono 1895 – 1970 CE

80. A Golden Age

“The influence of geographic factors diminishes as technology grows.”

Ariel Durant 1898 – 1981 CE
(Chaya Kaufman)

Themes: Technology

“An educational system that aims at vocational training or social adjustment, or technological advance is not likely to lead to the kind of maturity that the present crisis demands… a country that is powerful, inexperienced, and uneducated can be a great danger to world peace.”

Robert Hutchins 1899 – 1977 CE
(Robert Maynard Hutchins)
from The Great Conversation

“Alienation as we find it in modern society is almost total… Man has created a world of man-made things as it never existed before. He has constructed a complicated social machine to administer the technical machine he built. The more powerful and gigantic the forces are which he unleashes, the more powerless he feels himself as a human being. He is owned by his creations, and has lost ownership of himself.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE

80. A Golden Age

“Just as modern mass production requires the standardization of commodities, so the social process requires standardization of man, and this standardization is called equality.”

Eric Fromm 1900 – 1980 CE

2. The Wordless Teachings
72. Helpful Fear

“There is a demon in technology. It was put there by man and man will have to exorcise it before technological civilization can achieve the eighteenth-century ideal of humane civilized life.”

René Dubos 1901 – 1982 CE
Influential scientific environmentalist

Themes: Technology

“A world technology means either a world government or world suicide.”

Max Lerner 1902 – 1992 CE
(Maxwell Alan)

“We are living in a world of mass media which daily exposes society’s innate hypocrisy, its contradictions and the apparent failure of almost every facet of our social and political life.”

Saul Alinsky 1909 – 1972 CE

“Violence is the quest for identity. When identity disappears with technological innovation, violence is the natural recourse.”

Marshall McLuhan 1911 – 1980 CE

Themes: Technology

74. The Great Executioner

“We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.”

Marshall McLuhan 1911 – 1980 CE

80. A Golden Age

“These self-amputations which we call new technologies generate vast new environments against which the individual organism is quite helpless.”

Marshall McLuhan 1911 – 1980 CE via Jerome Agel
from War and Peace in the Global Village

Themes: Technology

“The liberties taken with the life sciences are leading to the robotization and debasement of mankind, and pushing humanity closer to its day of reckoning... What is regarded as 'high technology' is really only peripheral. Life scientists in particular must awaken from this foolishness that has them toying with natural life and causes them to gallop after euphoric illusions that are nothing but mere shadows of life.”

Masanobu Fukuoka 福岡 正信 1913 – 2008 CE
from Road Back to Nature

Themes: Technology

“While technology seems to bring us together, it does so only by making new ways of separating us from one another… we are in danger of being suffocated by our own tastes.”

Daniel J. Boorstin 1914 – 2004 CE
American intellectual Paul Revere
from Hidden History, 1987

Themes: Technology

“In this world that our technological skill has made rigid, artificial, and spiritually void; we have a desperate need to recover spontaneity and depth.”

Thomas Merton 1915 – 1968 CE via Shan Dao
from The Way of Chuang Tzu

“When technology is used to increase employment rather than get rid of it, work becomes an artificial creation of ever more meaningless routines”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“Creativity and mental excellence will become the ethical norm. The world will be too dynamic, complex, and diversified, too cross-linked by the global immediacies of modern (quantum) communication, for stability of thought or dependability of behavior to be successful.”

Timothy Leary 1920 – 1996 CE
Pioneering psychonaut, performing philosopher, and counter-cultural hero

“Once our technology is no longer polluting our environment and used primarily for killing people, it can be used to create an economy of abundance. Such an economy no longer requires us to be individual, group, race, national, ethnic, religious or gender enemies of each other because there will be plenty of everything for every one of us on the planet. Given our present technology, starvation and deprivation are artificially maintained.”

Ralph Alan Dale 1920 – 2006 CE
Translator, author, visionary
from Tao Te Ching, a new translation and commentary

“The media's the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that's power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”

Malcolm X الحاجّ مالك الشباز‎‎ 1925 – 1965 CE

“Inevitably modern technology has polarized society. It has polluted the environment. It has disabled very simple native abilities and made people dependent on objects... The world has become inaccessible because we drive there.”

Ivan Illich 1926 – 2002 CE
"an archaeologist of ideas"
from We the People interview (1996)

Themes: Technology

“Machines which ape people are tending to encroach on every aspect of people's lives, and such machines force people to behave like machines... Whatever structurally does not fit the logic of machines is effectively filtered from a culture dominated by their use.”

Ivan Illich 1926 – 2002 CE
"an archaeologist of ideas"
from Silence is a Commons (1982)

Themes: Technology

“It's the style that gets you; technological ugliness syruped over with romantic phoniness in an effort to produce beauty and profit”

Robert M. Pirsig 1928 – 2017 CE
from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Themes: Technology

“The way to solve the conflict between human values and technological needs is not to run away from technology but to break down the barrier of dualistic thought and understand technology for what it is—a fusion of nature and the human spirit into a new kind of creation that transcends both.”

Robert M. Pirsig 1928 – 2017 CE
from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“We’re used, our lives shaped and controlled, by our machines, cars, planes, weaponry, bulldozers, computers. These Taoists don’t surrender their power to their creations.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929 – 2018 CE

80. A Golden Age

“Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”

Martin Luther King Jr. 1929 – 1968 CE
Leading world influence for equality, peace, non-violence, and poverty alleviation

Themes: Technology

“Technology is ideology without words and all the more powerful for their absence.”

Neil Postman 1931 – 2003 CE
from Amusing Ourselves to Death

“Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”

Neil Postman 1931 – 2003 CE
from Amusing Ourselves to Death

Themes: Technology

72. Helpful Fear

“The more information we take in, the less we have. The less contemplation, the more new writes over the old, the more mindless and meaningless our lives become.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“Losing consciousness in digital dreams
Ignoring life caught up in schemes
Time to come on back home
And start being alone.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“The future of business? – A faster and faster transition from the mechanical, rote, and unskilled to the innovative, educated and personal as technology, computers, and robots assume bigger and bigger roles.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

“McLuhan’s comment that ‘every new technology requires a new war’ may help explain why we have so many new wars popping up all the time - not just wars with guns but cultural wars, race wars, gender wars, political meme wars, religious wars, social hierarchy wars, wars of philosophy…”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

Themes: Technology War

30. No War

“It is easy for me to imagine that the next great division of the world will be between people who wish to live as creatures and people who wish to live as machines.”

Wendell Berry 1934 CE –

Themes: Technology

72. Helpful Fear

“we must save ourselves from the products that we are asked to buy”

Wendell Berry 1934 CE –

44. Fame and Fortune

“A cell phone isn't a toy. It's a very lucky technical miracle for all of us. It's a prime weapon against our essential loneliness but I can't say I've ever felt that lonely.”

Jim Harrison 1937 – 2016 CE
"untrammeled renegade genius”

“Everything is compartmentalized, so you can never experience things completely… packaged food, packaged vacations, package deals of all kinds. There is no room to experience doubtlessness in that world… no room to experience reality fully and properly.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa

Themes: Doubt Technology

18. The Sick Society

“There’s no such thing as sustainable technology or economic development without sustainable human development to match.”

Paulo Lugari 1944 CE – via Alan Weisman

Themes: Technology

“I fear that we live in an ahistorical age in which we believe that we are so wise that we no longer need the lessons of the past, perhaps most disturbingly of all that technology has put us beyond the lessons of the past.”

J. Rufus Fears 1945 – 2012 CE

“Humans were still not only the cheapest robots around but also… self-reproducing… They showed up and worked, generation after generation; give them 3000 calories a day and a few amenities, a little time off, a strong jolt of fear, and you could work them at almost anything.”

Kim Stanley Robinson 1952 CE –
from 2312

80. A Golden Age

“behind the walkman, BMWs, all our wonderful technological inventions, … there is a purpose waiting to be discovered”

Peter Kingsley 1953 CE –
from A Story Waiting to Pierce You

“There are new gods growing in America, clinging to growing knots of belief: gods of credit card and freeway, of Internet and telephone, of radio and hospital and television, gods of plastic and of beeper and of neon. Proud gods, fat and foolish creatures, puffed up with their own newness and importance.”

Neil Gaiman 1960 CE –
Myth-transmitting creative maelstrom
from American Gods

“Like an adult no longer interested in children’s games… you lose interest in all the trappings and beliefs that society builds up and tears down — political systems, science and technology, global economy, free society…”

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche རྫོང་གསར་ འཇམ་དབྱངས་ མཁྱེན་བརྩེ་ རིན་པོ་ཆེ། 1961 CE –
(Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche)
"Activity" incarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo
from What Makes You Not a Buddhist

80. A Golden Age

“The kind of hedonism popularized by the Rubáiyát can help to put us back in touch with the virtues of direct experience in our age where so much of daily life is filtered through the two-dimensional electronic flickers on a smartphone or tablet. We are becoming observers of life rather than participants, immersed in a society of the digital spectacle. Let us keep a copy of the Rubáiyát in our pockets, alongside the iPhone, and remember the words of wise Khayyám: ‘While you live Drink! – for, once dead, you never shall return.’”

Roman Krznaric c. 1964
Practical, popular, modern philosopher

from Carpe Diem Regained

Themes: Technology

“Aldous Huxley predicted, ‘What we love will ruin us’ and described a human race destroyed by ignorance, lust for constant entertainment, technology, and too many goods.”

Nina Lvovna Khrushcheva Нина Львовна Хрущёва 1964 CE –

“Kurt Vonnegut wrote about TV being like the lead in the water pipes that sent the Romans crazy. But I think social media is currently like that, times ten. It's like LSD in that water supply, going through those lead-filled pipes.”

Charlie Brooker 1971 CE –
from Black Mirror

Themes: Technology

“The Frankenstein myth confronts Homo sapiens with the fact that the last days are fast approaching... the pace of technological development will soon lead to the replacement of Homo sapiens by completely different beings”

Yuval Harari יובל נח הררי‎ 1976 CE –
Israeli historian, professor, and philosopher

from Sapiens

Themes: Technology

“Every day millions of people decide to grant their smartphone a bit more control over their lives or try a new and more effective antidepressant drug. In pursuit of health, happiness and power, humans will gradually change first one of their features and then another, and another, until they will no longer be human.”

Yuval Harari יובל נח הררי‎ 1976 CE –
Israeli historian, professor, and philosopher

from Homo Deus: A History of Tomorrow

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