The Ethics of Progress

more tunnel teleportation actionImage shared on Flickr via a creative commons license by gnackgnackgnack

I’ve been meaning to write a post on the Unlimited Theatre (@untheatre) show which I went to see at Curve in the middle of April for a couple of weeks. I am currently struggling to blog with other commitments crashing into my schedule, including (but not limited to) the preparation of the material for my first year PhD progress panel, but I really wanted to talk about Ethics of Progress. Not in a traditional ‘review’ sense, but more in terms of my personal reaction to the subject matter. So here I am. Bear with me.

At the age of 16, and having got the same grades across the board at GCSE, I found myself facing a choice – the local science specialist 6th form – to do Maths, Chemistry, and Physics, or the specialist performing arts 6th form, to do Performing Arts, English Lit and Fine Art. Being young and unburdened with worry, I left it to chance, and gravity, and tossed a coin. The arts it was. I don’t regret that, but I regret being made to choose, and I am lucky to have in some degree returned to it in my PhD.

If you know one thing about me, know this: I work hard at learning.

I passionately believe, above all, that there is nothing that you cannot understand, and that knowledge and understanding are two of the most subversive tools at our disposal.

There is nothing you cannot understand, only the voices of others instilled in your head that tell you some kinds of knowledge are not for you.

The recent forcing through of the ignorant and immensely damaging Digital Economy Bill did not speak to me, as it did to many, of a broken democracy. It spoke to me, ultimately, of a society that fetishes technological ignorance. A society that contains within it whole swathes of people who will proudly declare that they’ve never sent an email. Politicians who will believe the monied hands of lobbyists over the people interacting in online worlds every day and who understand them. A country who will believe the tabloid journalist over the eminent peer-reviewed scientist. Pretty is stupid. Clever is dangerous. How many people have you heard utter the phrase ‘I just don’t understand politics’?

A democracy is really broken when the people are convinced that it is beyond their understanding.

A society is fractured each time a person considers any of its contents beyond their comprehension.

I have found in my reading on the history of computing that the biggest advances in science and technology are driven by the military. Turing‘s work at Bletchley Park, VR, pioneered first and foremost as a flight and war sim. As Unlimited Theatre intimate in Ethics of Progress: “follow the money”. Who’s in charge of these leaps in technology? Quantum computing will mark a massive advancement in computing power, it will also allow whoever develops it first an incredible upper hand in encryption and decryption of intelligence (it’s all about the prime numbers).

Ethics of Progress was about quantum physics, it tackled 3 main concepts, superposition, entanglement, and the possibilities of teleportation.


Imagine a truly green method of travel. Imagine a safe and immediate way to evacuate people from disaster areas. Imagine working in Hull but living in Cairo. My friend who was caught with illegal pamphlets disappeared yesterday. She still looks the same, she can move and act in all the same ways. But they disappeared her. If you are simultaneous destroyed in one place, and rebuilt in another, you may be made of the same particles, but are you the same person?

Theatre, performance, the arts in general, I believe are a society’s way of questioning itself. They imagine, they experiment, they test theories of the human. They are how we examine our culture and challenge the ethical assumptions we make every day. I believe that science and art are both in pursuit of truth.

Truth is important to me. (This is why I am sometimes a tad difficult to talk to, I tend to reference my inaccuracies or omissions as I go). Scientific and ethical truth. What Ethics of Progress spoke of, beyond the scientific content, was the fact that these ideas were not beyond comprehension. In fact it urged us – out of responsibility – to understand, challenge and consider the implications of the ideas that it discussed.

The arts and science have too long been told that they are incompatible. I believe the most powerful thing that the age of collaboration being brought to us by technology can offer;* is the reconciliation of the humanities and sciences. Ethics of Progress lights the touch-paper under that concept.

*Superposition and string theory I get, the proper use of semi-colons, I’m working on.

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4 Responses to “The Ethics of Progress”

  1. James | Dancing Geek May 3, 2010 at 7:50 pm #

    On semi-colons and semiconductors:

    Well, actually, it’s just about semi-colons, but it seemed like a nice title and I didn’t want to just throw it away.

    Semi-colons are used (AFAIK) when you’ve two sentences which could be written separately. It lets the reader understand there’s an implied link between the sentences whereas a full stop would leave what could be a non sequitur.


    He wrote in blood; he had to let her know how he felt.
    They walked together hand in hand; the sky shone brighter than ever.

    Maybe you already knew this and were being humourous. But I’ve sent you this little gift as an intended kindness and I hope you see it that way.

  2. Kim/ May 3, 2010 at 10:10 pm #

    Interesting post – I agree very strongly with your comment that:

    “There is nothing you cannot understand, only the voices of others instilled in your head that tell you some kinds of knowledge are not for you.”

    I think this is something that many of us face (although, I would dare to say that women are more likely to face these voices than men, but that’s a topic for another day…) and is in many ways one of the biggest obstacles to moving forward as a truly informed society that can question itself and its supposed truths on a regular basis.

    You have to wonder if this narrowing of the gap between arts & science is the first step towards that society and the first attempt at letting go of the fear that if we question ourselves we may find flaws in our truths and need to re-evaluate them.

  3. M May 5, 2010 at 10:21 am #

    Semi-colons are used for lists containing long clauses (as opposed to words / short phrases, which only require commas to separate them); and they’re used stylistically when you are de facto starting a new sentence, but you want to give the impression of continuing speech. They’re also used with some connecting words; however, their best use is when deploying two independent clauses side-by-side (the second of which may not prima facie look like a standalone-sentence). There are many examples of the latter case; one is evident here.

    Basically avoid them.


  1. Hannah Nicklin » Gesture Politics and the Arts « TWP 2009's Blog - May 13, 2010

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