Image 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.