Reports

Technology Retreat: December 2017

 

 

A Report by Gary Lamb

In early December, thirty six people with a “strong connection to Anthroposophy” met for three days in Spring Valley, NY, to consider the dramatic advances in modern technology taking place, their impact on virtually every aspect of human life, and what we, as Anthroposophists, can do to help guide this development in an ethical direction.

In addition to having a strong connection to Anthroposophy, everyone was required to read the first four chapters of Paul Emberson’s book, Machines and the Human Spirit, in which he gives an overview of some of Rudolf Steiner’s main indications on technology, along with his own perspectives.

The Retreat planners—Michael Howard, Virginia Hermann, and Gary Lamb, together with Ray Manaças, Sebastian Heycke, and Gopi Krishna Vijaya—worked to create an event with a variety of activities and formats that encouraged a mood of trust and openness for diverse views. To that end, we employed both small roundtable and large circle conversation groups; a panel presentation; breakout groups; observation, artistic and biography exercises; a mural; and an exhibit.

The exhibit featured a display of some of Ehrenfried Pfeiffer’s crystallization, chromatography, and seed research that supported the development of cognitive imagination, a meditation installation created by Michael Howard to counter the affects of technology, and a display arranged by Gary Lamb showing futuristic mappings of education by the year 2035, based on uniform learning standards, data mining, algorithms, and computer games.

The Retreat opened with Virginia Hermann giving an overview of the Emberson’s reading material by referring to a 5’ by 10’ mural she created to portray the flow of his ideas.

It was noted in the ensuing conversation that while Machines and the Human Spirit provides a vast and unique overview of Steiner’s perspectives on technology, it is sometimes unclear when Emberson is referring to Rudolf Steiner’s perspectives or stating his own views because of insufficient referencing. One of the more intriguing interpretations by Emberson is his categorizing of Steiner’s statements into three types of technology—atomic, resonance, and moral—in relation to human and earth evolution.

There were some differing views about whether it is helpful to dwell on events related to technology that are projected to be thousands of years in the future, such as “the war of all against all” when we are currently facing such dire circumstances.  And some expressed the need for heightened awareness and distinction between knowledge gained through personal experience, and knowledge simply derived from someone else’s research and ideas.

One of Steiner’s intriguing ideas, which Emberson highlights, concerns the importance of working with morning and evening forces and the forces that come from the direction of the constellations of Pisces and Virgo.  Steiner maintained in relation to technology such forces “cannot be used by any group to gain ascendance and power over others.”

In order to gain some sense of the these forces, we had several sessions of eurythmy led by Dorothea Meir, which included working with the gestures of Pisces and Virgo.

The Saturday morning session consisted of a biography exercise led by Gary Lamb. Everyone was asked to think of an ongoing challenging situation they have with technology, draw a simple picture of the outer circumstances of the challenging situation, and share one’s story with others. This was followed by considering the capacities or skills that might be needed to meet the challenge in a healthy way.

Michael Howard led the next session entitled, “Developing Living Perception and Thinking for the Digital Age through Drawing,” in which we were asked to contemplate a real apple before us, and then do the same for a photographic image of the Apple logo, which we then traced and drew in various ways.

Saturday afternoon we had three sessions. During the first session, a few people spoke about tech-related activities and initiatives. For example, Andrew Linnell informed everyone that the second issue of the MysTech Journal was now available and about a technology conference being planned for the west coast in 2018. Gary Lamb then described his initiative to create a compendium of all of Rudolf Steiner’s indications on technology. Sebastian Bilbao described his research into the development of a block-chain-based digital currency that is consistent with Rudolf Steiner’s economic ideas; and Gopi Vijaya outlined his research into computing logic.

The second afternoon session was a panel presentation consisting of five Anthroposophists who have worked extensively in technology. They were asked to respond to the question, “What is it like to work in a tech-based company while also working with Anthroposphy?” The panelists—Sebastian Heycke, Snetu Karania, Andrew Linnell, Daniel Perez, and Sebastian Bilbao—had a combined 116 years’ experience in the field.

The third session consisted of four breakout groups. The group leaders and their topics were: Virginia Hermann, “Digging Deeper into the Emberson Readings;” Kristin Buckbee and Seth Jordan, “Developing a Phenomenological Practice to Understand Technology and its Effects on Human Consciousness;” Michael Howard, “Seeds of Metamorphosis;” and Gopi Vijaya, “Controlling Attention Spans.”

On Saturday evening, Gopi Vijaya and Sebastian Heycke gave a public presentation entitled, “Shaping Technology to Serve Humanity.” Gopi described the evolution of technology in terms of outsourcing human functions from the use of fire and primitive tools to artificial intelligence. Sebastian described three incomplete images that we as human beings need to complete in order to navigate technology:

  • The intelligence of technology—and the struggle for relevance.
  • The irresistibility of technology—and the struggle for attention.
  • The image of self in technology—and how it influences growing new capacities.

There were two concluding sessions on Sunday morning.

In the first, everyone was asked to respond in writing, and then in conversation, to the following questions: “How has the main question that you brought to the retreat evolved, been clarified, or validated?”  And “what is the work that you personally feel needs to be done in relation to technology.”

In the final session we explored new imaginations of how the Anthroposophical Movement could respond to the future of technology. Gary Lamb opened the conversation with an imagination with various activities, including: study, research, and experimentation groups working on a local and regional basis across the country; various Sections of the School of Spiritual Science and the Anthroposophical Society taking up the issue of technology as a main focus for the next three years; Anthroposophical medical practitioners and therapists working with other professionals to help characterize screen technology as a public health crisis for children; Waldorf school faculties developing innovative technology curricula, along with faculty and parents collaborating to develop appropriate media policies; and Anthroposophists, inspired by Steiner’s threefold ideas, making common cause with social activists  and public officials to develop a Precautionary Principle that establishes ethical and legal guidelines for technology.

The Retreat ended with expressions of appreciation for all the people and organizations that helped make it possible, a reading of the first paragraph from the novel Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, and the recitation of the Soul Calendar verse of the week.

Note: This event was sponsored by the Threefold Educational Center and the Hawthorne Valley Center for Social Research with financial support from The Rudolf Steiner Charitable Trust.

* If you would like to be informed about future activities and events, contact Gary Lamb at 518-672- 4465, x223 or glamb@thecenterforsocialresearch.org.