Norbert Wiener, The Human Use Of Human Beings:
What many of us fail to realize is that the last four hundred years are a highly special period in the history of the world. The pace at which changes during these years have taken place is unexampled in earlier history, as is the very nature of these changes. This is partly the result of increased communication, but also of an increased mastery over nature which, on a limited planet like the earth, may prove in the long run to be an increased slavery to nature. For the more we get out of the world the less we leave, and in the long run we shall have to pay our debts at a time that may be very inconvenient for our own survival. We are the slaves of our technical improvement and we can no more return a New Hampshire farm to the self-contained state in which it was maintained in 1800 than we can, by taking thought, add a cubit to our stature or, what is more to the point, diminish it. We have modified our environment so radically that we must now modify ourselves in order to exist in this new environment. We can no longer live in the old one. Progress imposes not only new possibilities for the future but new restrictions. It seems almost as if progress itself and our fight against the increase of entropy intrinsically must end in the downhill path from which we are trying to escape. Yet this pessimistic sentiment is only conditional upon our blindness and inactivity, for I am convinced that once we become aware of the new needs that a new environment has imposed upon us, as well as the new means of meeting these needs that are at our disposal, it may be a long time yet before our civilization and our human race perish, though perish they will even as all of us are born to die. However, the prospect of a final death is far from a complete frustration of life and this is equally true for a civilization and for the human race as it is for any of its component individuals. May we have the courage to face the eventual doom of our civilization as we have the courage to face the certainty of our personal doom. The simple faith in progress is not a conviction belonging to strength, but one belonging to acquiescence and hence to weakness.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind