We are a society defined by technology and machines. At the speed of light, we gain knowledge via the Internet, our lives are made more convenient and the globe becomes a smaller place to live. As a result of machines and technology, we are a 24/7 society where time is scarce and a high commodity. Even with machines to make our lives and jobs easier, we face collectively greater challenges as a result and remarkably less time for pleasure. Some would say we are adversely affected by the machines and devices we have grown so accustomed to in every aspect of day-to-day life. Everywhere we go, machines are present, technology comes into play in every process. Does science best serve our society? Have we let the machines take over to a point where we have lost control much like the futuristic Terminator films? What are the consequences of these scientific advances and the changes they have caused our society? What has happened as a result of the shift in lifestyle is that many of lack a solid value system and many of us lack faith. Because of technology, many products have a limited shelf life making our society quite disposable. As a result, relationships, marriages and childhoods suffer as many do not even have the time or energy to enjoy each other. This is quite a grim picture to paint but it is the future that Ray Bradbury envisioned in his novel Fahrenheit 451 where it seems implausible by firemen are paid to set fires and not put them out. It is a society where technology and not knowledge is valued. As a result of the state of our social woes, we faced with many decisions. Many believe a return to a simpler time where knowledge and creativity were valued is needed. Such a return has the potential to create a period of renaissance where art and the pursuit of knowledge are valued. Teaching and learning would be goals to attain instead of pursuing games and entertainment outlets. The notion of the hero would change to that of someone who is brilliant and not just a star.
This paper will examine the works of Ray Bradbury and Thomas Paine in order to better understand the predicament our society now faces as the machines dictate our every move. This paper will compare and contrast these works in order to better understand the philosophical goals of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. By looking at Paine's ideas and comparing them with Bradbury's science fiction portrayal of a future not so different from our own, we can begin to examine the consequences of scientific advances. Yes, many scientific advances save lives, promote better health and act as innovations to make processes faster and better but at what cost to our society's value systems?
The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement in the 18th century based mainly in Europe. The goal of Enlightenment was to move toward progress by establishing an authoritative ethics, aesthetics and knowledge based on enlightened rationality. This group of intellectuals considered themselves courageous because they were pursuing concrete knowledge in a time period in history based on irrationality, superstition and tyranny. During this time period, many intellectuals were persecuted for their forward thinking (The Age of Enlightenment par 1). This period grew out of the progress made by such philosophers as Decartes, Pascal, Galileo and Newton. All men studied pure science as part of natural philosophy in order to prove physical science and make predictions of how nature will adjust and react in the future (The Age of Enlightenment par. 3). Newton especially looked to nature to create the systematic revolution in thinking. Many of his laws of physics are based upon ideal uniform laws of natural phenomenon mirrors in greater systematization in a variety of studies. Part of what makes his forward thinking different is the framework in which he pursued knowledge. Part of the premise behind the Enlightenment is that intellectuals looked into the mind of God by studying creation and adducing the basic truths of the world. (The Age of Enlightenment par.4 ). Today this framework does not work because many have lost there faith in God and truth can be proven using other construct such as science. Still this notion of God instilling knowledge in the human race warrants legitimacy. Maybe it can viewed that by straying from God, we have placed too much value on science. Still out of this period of time came inventions like the microscope and the telescope that changed the world immensely.
The Age of Reason
The Age of Reason is separate from the Age of Enlightenment as its believes are slightly different. For these intellectuals, knowledge was based on empirical findings and precision of machines, measurements and calculated observations. They believed that God created a comprehensible and orderly world in which to explore the impetus for philosophical inquiry (The Age of Enlightenment par. 6). This view focused on the importance of piety and the majesty and mystery of God's ultimate nature. Parallel to this belief is the idea of Deism that emphasized the act of human reasoning and that laws which governed its behavior were understandable. During this time, activities reflected these philosophies. Exploration of the new world increased and man's sophistication of their ability to craft precision machines represented that order could be kept and the universe run in orderly fashion (The Age of Enlightenment par 6).
Thomas Paine wrote of his religious beliefs in the work the Age of Reason as a means to explain himself and his views on reason. He did not believe in organized religion. In fact he believed that his mind was a church in which to worship and that if God gave him knowledge then he was blessed. It mainly believed this due to the fact as he saw it every religion had prophet or spokesman that God imparted his wisdom and knowledge to. Paine believed this to be hearsay as he writes,
No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a communication if he pleases ....When he tells it to a second person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and hearsay to every other, and, consequently, they are not obliged to believe it. (3)
What is this truly means is that Paine believes we as man have created religion and the Bible as a construct in which to explain life's mysteries and unanswerable questions. We use religion and this invention of God as a means to reason our existence. He believes the Bible to be a collection of stories created to build a belief system people would follow through out time. He does not believe these stories to be the word of God as did not directly deliver the Bible to the church but used an agent to instill enthusiasm (Paine 6).
Instead Paine believes that God is found in man. God is in the language we speak, the inventions we use. God is everywhere around man because God is a force within man. He explains that the only way to know is to know oneself. In other words, without the act of reasoning or pursuit of knowledge the human race is nothing. He writes,
Every man is an evidence to himself, that he did not make himself; neither could his father make himself, nor his grandfather, nor any of his race; neither could any tree, plant, or animal make itself .... And by the power of which all things exist; and this first cause, man calls God. It is only by the exercise of reason, that man can discover God. Take away that reason, and he would be incapable of understanding anything. (15)
In other words, this act of reasons brings man to greater self-realization and closer to understanding those secrets of life. It is all about inner growth and personal achievement.
Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of a future where technology and machines have not only made man's life easier but provided man with an accepted system of knowledge. In this story, man has lost his or her ability to reason or question why the society values what it does. This society acts to dispose of any knowledge of the past by burning books. It is the story of Montag, a fireman whose job is to burn books. His life is one-dimensional, lacking fulfillment and joy. In this world, man has grown reliant on machines. It seems that one cannot even commit suicide without the machines coming to save you. Montag finds his wife passed out from sleeping pills and "They had this machine. They had two machines, really. One of them slid down into your stomach like a black cobra ... It drank up the green…
Sources Used in Document:
Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Ballentine Books, 1953.
Paine, Thomas. The Age of Reason, Part 1. New York: Citadel Press Kensington Publishing, 1976.