Scientific discoveries and technologies such as the air pump and electrical machines have radical implications for politics and religion. Scientific discoveries stem from and influence flows of energy. The sustenance (energy) required for thought fuels ideas, and ideas develop in collision with other ideas. Energies from the ground, such as carboniferous coal, fuel the spaces within which we are able to transfer our ideas; they fuel the machines that allow us leisure time in order to pursue our curiosities. Flows of energy of this nature have a tendency to overflow into politics and religion. Scientific discoveries upset the current order by revealing new information that changes how we understand the world. As our understanding of the world changes, we come to question religious dogma and power structures that appear arbitrary. Not every scientific discovery leads to a paradigm shift; knowledge builds incrementally for decades and centuries, and eventually reaches a point where it becomes unreconcilable with the schema that has guided it up to that point. Politics and religion influence science, just as science influences politics and religion.
Developments in artificial intelligence have religious implications because they call into question our position in relation to God. How AI is used will be considered on a political (and likely military) basis. There is another paradigm shift here in the making too, because AI challenges our understanding of consciousness and essentially our concept of ‘self’. Massive data collection is part of this flow because of the role it plays in generating understanding about human thought and behavioral processes. Data collection is also a political issue because it obfuscates our right to privacy.
I am skeptical of the sentiment that “an idea that flows through a society does not grow less useful as it circulates; the idea improves, as its circulation attracts the attention of the Ingenious” (p 228). This may have been true during the Enlightenment, when the good-ideas-to-people ratio was much lower and communications technologies were much slower. Social media has presented us with a situation in which bad ideas can actually become very dangerous because they are able to spread much faster, before good ideas can be developed in time to offset their effects. While I can’t argue against freedom of thought and free flow of information, or the notion that understanding improves over time, I do think we need better mechanisms to decipher good ideas from bad ones.