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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Medical Technology Vs Empathy

Eric Fischl writes for Edge:
Ah, Death, you son of a bitch. You and your brothers, Disease and Aging, have tormented us since we became aware of Time. And we have worked like crazy trying to develop ways of extending Time so as to hold off the inevitable.

..scientific advancements focus on rapid repair of malfunctioning parts...

Lower forms of this techno-wish are what fuel the beauty industry.

If the body can be made better by robotics will it enhance our ability to experience empathy?

We fetish-ize the idea of systemic and technological developments geared towards dealing with the problems of fixing our bodies but have only managed to obscure the emotional and psychological underpinnings.
By likening the human body to a collection of cells Eric Fisch states that we have lost, or rapidly losing, our emotional and psychological faculties. We don't empathize anymore, he's afraid. I agree with him that the human body is a biological machine and the clock starts ticking the moment an egg is fertilized. But scientific advancements in the field of medicine have not merely delayed death but reduced suffering, prevented diseases thereby improving the quality of life. Technology has not only extended our stay, but made it more enjoyable.

I think of our emotional and our physical capabilities as somewhat mutually exclusive. Fixing the body has definitely not killed our ability to enjoy the sunshine, appreciate a movie, hate a pedophile... if someone were capable of these to begin with, when they step out of a hospital in a better physical condition, they should still be capable. Eric's ultimate accusation is that technology has made robots out of humans, which I think is baseless. You think of a kiss as a collision of lips and an exchange of saliva? Are love and hatred just electrochemical reactions inside the brain? Did you say that that girl acting crazy is just responding to hormonal changes?

Eric's thought that we should embrace disease, aging and death without any resistance is nonsense. Death is inevitable, but why is that we move away from a speeding car? His aversion towards the beauty industry (propped up by medical technology) is in logical progression. I don't know if he has only boob jobs in mind or also the 10-year old boy who suffered a third-degree burn and needs skin transplantation requiring the services of beauty industry. Does Eric realize that what people think about their looks affects their confidence, in turn their emotional faculties?

I was really surprised to see such a piece published in Edge - which aims for a third culture, an integration of scientific and literary intellectuals. I have no idea of Eric Fischl's accomplishments as a painter/sculptor. But this piece shouldn't stand beside Dawkins' and Dennett's.

1 comment:

ohmsdeeps said...

I followed your link and read Eric's article on empathy before reading your write up.
Your views on his article makes very good sense. I remember my Dad said to me once that few years back when he was young, there used to be at least 10 to 15 deaths in his street during the cholera/small Pox season every year. It was shocking to hear that. I could not imagine the mental trauma the people might have went through or as we put in Eric words, the emotional and psychological underpinnings of those people's loved ones.
It is absolutely true that technology has made our tiny tiny little life more enjoyable or rather I would say less miserable.

On the contrary, if we look at his article in a different perspective, may be in a philosophical angle. It does make little sense for someone who is obsessed and faking up their lives by the putting their life circle concentrically inside the technology circle and not the other way.