THE TOOLS OF OUR DESTINY

MARVELLOUS OGUDORO

The human desire to create is interesting to observe both in physical and philosophical terms. We can observe this longing to create manifest as early as childhood. Take for example how our particular social environment typically encourages males to build things from their Lego block while females look for ways to build new dolls and dollhouses. This propensity to bring into existence what is in one’s mind is not lost after childhood as our careers tend to be centered on the ideas of creation. Currently, as our society scrambles for highly educated STEM graduates, we send the message to the younger generation that those who possess the skills necessary for tool creation are to be highly valued. It, however, does help to pause and examine what exactly the tool is. Along with this question, we will in this paper, inquire into the nature of our desire to create and see whether it is an expression of some greater capacity that we humans are blessed with or a mark of our many weaknesses as a species.

Examine first the important role of Hephaestus in Greek mythology. As the smithing god, he is responsible for making much of the equipment that the gods use throughout their endeavors. Hermes' winged helmet and sandals, the Aegis breastplate, Aphrodite's famed girdle, Heracles' bronze clappers and more come from this great artisan. I speculate that someone as relevant to the art of tool making as Hephaestus can provide some insights into our human desire to create. First, we recognize that Hephaestus is born from the union of Zeus and Hera who are the gods of lightning and marriage respectively. It is critical to note this combination. Hephaestus is created as a result of one of the strongest elements in Greek mythology, lightning. I think this speaks to the force behind everything that is created. For humans, this force seems to be in the form of love. Our need to create seems to be a by-product of our love for comfort, ease, and pleasure. It appears to me that tools are created out of the need for easier self-preservation. Take for instance the fact that social innovation is driven not just by the need to survive, but to do so easily. We, humans, continue to search for ways to survive and conquer the natural world in a way that exerts the least effort possible. Hence, we create tools and technologies to help address this desire.

Next, questions must be asked about our ability to create. Is it a manifestation of our innate superiority to other animals or is it a sign that we are biologically weaker and need aid from the tools we create? To assess this, we could take the example of a cockroach, which irrespective of its seeming lack of the intellectual capacities we humans possess survives more strenuous natural circumstances. Can a human being then be said to be weaker than a cockroach because of our lack of resistance to some of the natural forces a cockroach can survive? I challenge this way of thinking by pointing to the other capacities we possess. Our ability to create shelters and safe havens as an extension of ourselves is part of the repertoire of skills that we would associate with being human. Just as we probably would not divorce a bird’s ability to build a nest from its innate skill set, we should not do away with our ability to create things through the extension of our mind. Our strength as humans is in the fact that the natural world can be viewed as the ultimate tool-set and work space. Denying this central truth would be to ignore a central part of what makes us human.

Now, I do understand the arguments that might arise against my proposition. There is a case to be made that our innate biology cannot withstand many natural occurrences and consequently, we create tools to protect us from these circumstances because we are weak. However, this argument misses a central point as it refuses to acknowledge our intellect as a strength and only focuses on the physical aspects of our body. To focus only on our ability to stand up straight, have opposable thumbs, etc. would be to concentrate on only the hardware that makes the iPhones we use powerful. There is much to be said about the internal software that Apple products run on, as there is much to be said about the "software" that makes us human. A proper understanding of our nature as human beings requires the inclusion and assessment of both the external and internal features.

Another argument against tools as a manifestation of human power may be made by attacking our system of the hierarchy itself. Drawing parallels with Greek mythology, Hephaestus is known to have created all the thrones that the Gods of Olympus sit on. The argument could be made that our system of classification is structured to have us sit at the top, in the way that many systems of classification in the past were wrongly skewed. The point could, however, be made that even our ability to create systems, categorize creations and create order out of nature is a manifestation of the superiority of humanity. No other animal or human-created tool (Artificial Intelligence) possesses the ability to look upon the world and create the complex categories of classification we humans have created. When the processes that animals engage in are boiled down to their basics, we can notice that they function primarily on the same algorithm that computers do: ones and zeros, which signify on and off. Intellectually lower beings like animals view objects as either food or not, dangerous or not, home or not, etc. This way of thinking is not sufficient for the high-level thinking that makes humans more capable of complex creation; it is not sufficient for tool making. 

 

To conclude, our ability to recognize our weaknesses should be seen as a sign of strength. It would be shortsighted to view just the occurrence of weaknesses as central to our human nature without looking at our highly incredible ability to overcome them. Our ability to create tools to address our needs and wants should be placed well above the fact that supposed “weaknesses” drive us to this process of tool creation. When we humans needed to preserve food, protect ourselves or travel faster, we viewed the things that were external and saw them as ours to shape and take advantage of. We observed the natural world and saw it as an extension of our bodies, which enabled us to have faith in our capacity to shape the future. We created tools out of these natural products and even manufactured devices that could create other but lesser tools on their own (Manufacturing industry and the rise of Artificial intelligence). To quote Robert Rodriguez, “You create superheroes to solve problems that really can’t be solved another way”. The tools we humans create are our superheroes and that is something to be appreciative of. This amazing capacity to create is possible because of our fundamental belief that we are not limited by our biology. It is at the heart of every innovation and inventor that has changed the world and will continue to ring in the minds of those artisans like Hephaestus who will shape our destinies by creating the thrones we will sit on.

 

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Disclaimer: This essay was submitted to Hope College's PHIL 295 Philosophy of Technology class on January 12th, 2020.

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Works Cited

 

Descartes, Rene, and Donald A. Cress. Meditations on First Philosophy. Hackett Publishing Co, Inc, 1993.

McLuhan, Marshall, and W. Terrence. Gordon. Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man. Gingko Press, 2015.

© 2020 Marvellous Ogudoro

marvellous.ogudoro@hope.edu