Huyssteen, Technology and science

Approaching technology as implemented intelligence aimed at practical goals helps to resolve the contentious question of its relationship to science. There is no doubt that the character of technologies changed radically after the emergence of modern science. There is also no doubt that pre-scientific technologies, such as the art of lens making and glass-blowing, were indispensable to that emergence, since without them there would have been no telescopes, microscopes, thermometers, or barometers to serve the new goals of precise theoretical intelligence represented by the scientific revolution.

But the differences between the type of intelligence embodied in ancient craft technologies and in modern high technologies are not in kind but in goals and norms. Practical intelligence, as old as our species, is interested in getting jobs done and clinging to techniques that have been found (usually by luck, or trial and error) to work. The norm for such intelligence is practical success, with deep reluctance to fix what is not broken. Simplicity is preferred over complication, the how is elevated over the why, and close enough is favored over abstract precision.

In contrast, theoretical intelligence (rooted in the same ancient quest that sometimes leads to myth-making and sometimes, as in classical Greece, is disciplined by logic) thirsts for understanding why, is not satisfied by successful results alone but wants to know in addition what makes things happen so, and is willing to take great pains to achieve precision despite whatever complexity is required.

These two contrasting expressions of intelligence, usually isolated by socio-economic class, made an improbable marriage in seventeenth century Europe, through which the demand for theoretical precision could be served by instruments provided by ancient craft traditions, and the quest for why could be disciplined by attention to the how.

For the first time, practical wants could be suggested by theoretical understanding of the hidden workings of things. The radio could not even be desired without first conceiving abstractly of radio waves. Atomic energy could not be a goal without the modern theory of the atom. After the emergence of modern science, so-called high technologies could be led by theoretical intelligence powerfully outfitted by practical intelligence.