Please answer these questions in paragraph form using my included article. Please paraphrase instead of quotation marks. Please make it about 700 words long.
Explain Skomilowski’s idea of technological progress and scientific progress.
How “progress” in science and technology can be used as a criterion to illustrate the differences between them.
The Structure of Thinking in Technology Author(s): Henryk Skolimowski Source: Technology and Culture, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Summer, 1966), pp. 371-383 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press on behalf of the Society for the History of Technology Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3101935 Accessed: 29/12/2009 17:45
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The Structure of Thinking in Technology HENRYK SKOLIMOWSKI
Inquiry into the philosophy of technology, due to the infancy of the
subject, must start with some reflections on what technology itself is. There is at present a tendency to identify technology with a demiurge of our times, or perhaps even with a Moloch who will bring doom to mankind, that is, mankind as dreamt of by philosophers, not by organi- zation men. In this setting technology assumes a role similar to that which was ascribed to history in the nineteenth century: the role of the final cause which shapes the destiny of mankind and, more specifically, which aims at the total subjugation of man to the machine or, in other words, at turning the human being into a technological component.
It cannot be denied that reflections on technology in this fashion are
philosophical reflections and that consequently they belong to some system of the philosophy of technology. At this point, however, a vital distinction should be made between a philosophy of technology and a technological philosophy. The former belongs to the realm of epistemo- logical inquiry and attempts to situate technology within the scope of human knowledge; the latter belongs to the realm of sociology, broad-
ly conceived, or social philosophy, and is concerned primarily with the future of human society.
Those who prophesy that our civilization will be devoured by the Moloch of technology are expanding a certain vision of the world, are viewing the world through technological lenses, are attempting to establish a new kind of monism, the technological monism, in which the technological order is shown to be the prime mover and the ultimate justification of other orders, moral, aesthetic, cognitive, social, and polit- ical. The articulation of this technological philosophy is perhaps most
important from a social point of view-as a way of alerting us to the dangers of technological tyranny. However, for the time being this technological monism, or whatever name is given to this sociohistorical prophecy, is but a prophecy. As important as it may be from a human
DR. SKOLIMOWSKI, a philosopher of science and technology, is at the School of Philosophy of the University of Southern California.
372 Henryk Skolimowski
point of view, it cannot serve as a substitute for a philosophy of tech- nology proper, that is, for a philosophy that aims at the investigation of the nature and structure of technology, conceived as a branch of human learning and analyzed for its cognitive content.
I shall not be concerned here with the transformation of society by technology. It seems to me that the "monolithic technical world" is but a graphic and perhaps fearsome expression, but not reality. For the time being the evidence that technology pervades the totality of human rela- tionships is rather slim. In the realm of art, for example, modern tech- nology perpetuates at least some traditional human values. The unprece- dented spread of superb reproductions of the great masters, the easy availability of the finest recordings of music of the last five centuries, the spectacular rise in the production and distribution of paperback books, are all due to the advances of technology, and all serve, at least in part, the cause of highbrow culture, not technological culture.
It may be that a comprehensive philosophy of technology should in- clude the moral implications of technological progress. It may be, as some philosophers insist, that, in spite of the semiautonomous develop- ment of technology, a substantial part of modern technology is moved by non-technological forces, that, for example, motor cars are produced in order to make money, intercontinental missiles in order to kill people. Consequently, a comprehensive treatment of the philosophy of technology must examine the presuppositions lying at the foundation of these technological "events" and must attempt to assess their implica- tions for mankind at large. The weight of these problems cannot be underestimated. However, they are outside the scope of my consider- ations.
In this paper I shall be concerned with what I call the philosophy of technology proper, that is, with the analysis of the epistemological status of technology. Technology is a form of human knowledge. Epistemol- ogy investigates the validity of all human knowledge, its conditions, its nature. Therefore, it is the business of epistemology to investigate the peculiarities of technology and its relation to other forms of human knowledge. In particular, it is of crucial importance to analyze the relationship of technology to science. I shall argue in the course of this paper that: (1) it is erroneous to consider technology as being an applied science, (2) that technology is not science, (3) that the differ- ence between science and technology can be best grasped by examining the idea of scientific progress and the idea of technological progress.
In the following sections I shall attempt to provide a basis for a philosophy of technology rooted in the idea of technological progress. Then I shall proceed to show that in various branches of technology
The Structure of Thinking in Technology
there can be distinguished specific thought patterns which can be seen as explaining technological progress.
* * *
Many methodologists and philosophers of science insist that technol- ogy is in principle a composition of various crafts. Regardless of how sophisticated these crafts may have become, they are still crafts. It is argued that technology is methodologically derivative from other sciences, that it has no independent methodological status, and that what makes it scientific is the application of various other sciences, natural sciences in particular. Thus, the scientific part of technology can be de- composed into particular sciences and accounted for as physics, optics, chemistry, electromagnetics, etc. This view misconstrues the situation because it does not take into account the idea of technological progress.
My thesis is that technological progress is the key to the understand- ing of technology. Without the comprehension of technological prog- ress, there is no comprehension of technology and there is no sound philosophy of technology. Attempts that aim at reducing technology to the applied sciences fail to perceive the specific problem situation in- herent in technology. Although in many instances certain technological advancements can indeed be accounted for in terms of physics or chemistry, in other words, can be seen as based on pure science, it should not be overlooked that the problem was originally not cognitive but technical. With an eye to solving a technical problem, we undertake in- quiries into what is called pure science. Our procedures are extremely selective. Out of infinitely many possible channels of research only very few are chosen. Problems thus are investigated not with an eye to in- creasing knowledge but with an eye to a solution of a technical problem. If it were not for the sake of solving some specific technological prob- lems, many properties of physical bodies never would have been examined, and many theories incorporated afterward into the body of pure science never would have been formulated. Perhaps the most ob- vious examples can be found in the sciences of electronics and of space physics. The development of computors resulted in the replacement of tubes by transistors. In developing transistors many properties and laws governing the behavior of semiconductors have been formulated which might never have been formulated otherwise. To take another example, the problem of metal fatigue and many other phenomena concerning the behavior of solids in space might never have been investigated, and theories resulting from them might never have been established if it were not for the sake of constructing supersonic planes and intercon-
374 Henryk Skolimowski
tinental rockets. To mention finally atomic physics, it was in the Man- hattan Project where plutonium, an element not found in nature, had to be developed in the process of producing the atom bomb. Thus, in one sense science, that is pure science, is but a servant to technology, a char- woman serving technological progress.
* * *
I shall now discuss the thesis that technology is not science. By this statement I mean to say that the basic methodological factors that ac- count for the growth of technology are quite different from the factors that account for the growth of science. Consequently, the idea of tech-
nological progress as contrasted with scientific progress must be examined more carefully.
I am in full agreement with Karl Popper that science, in order to exist, must progress; the end of scientific progress is the end of science. This
progress results from the continuous improvement of scientific theories and constant enlargement of the scientific store; more precisely it results from a permanent overhaul of theories and incessant replacement of worse theories by better ones; "better" means simpler, or more uni- versal, or more detailed, or of greater explanatory power, or all these
things together. The objective underlying this endless succession of theories is the increase of knowledge. The pursuit of knowledge (which is another expression for the pursuit of truth) has been and still is the most important aim of science. We critically scrutinize our theories by devising tests of increasing ingenuity and severity in order to learn how squarely they can face reality. Whatever operationists and conventionalists of various denominations may say, science is about real-
ity. The acquisition of knowledge and the pursuit of truth are only pos- sible if there is reality. Thus it is contained in the idea of scientific prog- ress that we investigate reality and that we devise theories of increasing depth in order to comprehend this reality.
What about technology? Is it another instrument for investigating reality? Does it aim at the enlargement of knowledge and the acquisition of truth? The answer is negative in both cases. Hence we come to significant differences between science and technology. In science we investigate the reality that is given; in technology we create a reality according to our designs. In order to avoid confusion I should perhaps say at once that these two kinds of reality are not of the same order. To put it simply, in science we are concerned with reality in its basic mean- ing; our investigations are recorded in treatises "on what there is." In technology we produce artifacts; we provide means for constructing
The Structure of Thinking in Technology
objects according to our specifications. In short, science concerns itself with what is, technology with what is to be.
The growth of technology manifests itself precisely through its abil- ity to produce more and more diversified objects1 with more and more interesting features, in a more and more efficient way.
It is a peculiarity of technological progress that it provides the means (in addition to producing new objects) for producing "better" objects of the same kind. By "better" many different characteristics may be in- tended, for example: (a) more durable, or (b) more reliable, or (c) more sensitive (if the object's sensitivity is its essential characteristic), or (d) faster in performing its function (if its function has to do with speed), or (e) a combination of the above. In addition to the just-men- tioned five criteria, technological progress is achieved through shorten- ing the time required for the production of the given object or through reducing the cost of production. Consequently, two further criteria are reduced expense or reduced time, or both, in producing an object of a given kind.
It hardly could be denied that contemporary freeways and highways mark a technological advancement in terms of durability when com- pared with Roman or even nineteenth-century roads; that modern bridges are far more reliable (in addition to other advantages) than bridges of previous centuries; that photographic cameras installed in artificial satellites are considerably more sensitive (in addition to being more reliable and more durable) than those used in the pre-Sputnik age; that the speed of jet airplanes makes them superior to the planes of the brothers Wright. And no one can deny that if the same plane or bridge or camera can be manufactured less expensively, or alternatively in shorter time (at the same expense), then it will equally mean a tech- nological advancement.
The criteria of technological progress cannot be replaced by or even meaningfully translated into the criteria of scientific progress. And, con- versely, the criteria of scientific progress cannot be expressed in terms of the criteria of technological progress. If an enormous technological improvement is made and at the same time no increase in pure science is accomplished, it will nevertheless mark a step in technological progress. On the other hand, it is of no consequence to pure science whether a given discovery is utilized or not; what is of significance is how much the discovery adds to our knowledge, how much it contributes to the comprehension of the world.
It may be argued that in the pursuit of technological progress we 1 By the "technological object" I mean every artifact produced by man to serve
a function; it may be a supersonic airplane as well as a can-opener.
376 Henryk Skolimowski
often bring about scientific progress as well. It should be observed, on the other hand, that scientific progress may and indeed does facilitate technological progress. Discoveries in pure science, regardless of how abstract they appear at first, sooner or later find their technological em- bodiment. These two observations lead to a conclusion that perhaps neither scientific nor technological progress can be achieved in its pure form; that in advancing technology, we advance science; and in ad- vancing science, we advance technology. This being the case, it should not prevent us from analyzing these two kinds of progress separately, particularly because scientific progress is often treated autonomously and is regarded as the key to an explanation of the growth and nature of science. If we are permitted to divorce scientific progress from technological progress when examining the nature of science, we should be equally permitted to divorce technological progress from scientific progress when examining the nature of technology.
In this context it is rather striking that even such mature and eminent philosophers of science like Popper have nothing better to say than to equate technology with computation rules. Neither Popper nor, to my knowledge, any other authority in the philosophy of science, has cared to examine the idea of technological progress. Hence their remarks on technology, whenever they find it convenient to mention it, are rather harsh and far from adequate.
To summarize, scientific and technological progress are responsible for what science and technology, respectively, attempt to accomplish. Science aims at enlarging our knowledge through devising better and better theories; technology aims at creating new artifacts through devis- ing means of increasing effectiveness. Thus the aims and the means are different in each case.
* * *
The kernel of scientific progress can be expressed simply as being the pursuit of knowledge. The answer seems to be less straightforward with regard to technological progress. However, in spite of the diversity of criteria accounting for the advancement of technology, there seems to be a unifying theme common to them all, or at any rate into which they can be translated. This theme is the measure of effectiveness. Techno- logical progress thus could be described as the pursuit of effectiveness in producing objects of a given kind.
Now, the question is: Can this measure of effectiveness be studied in general terms or, to put it differently, can we aim at a general theory of efficient action and then incorporate it in the idea of technological progress? And a second question: Is there only one, or are there many
The Structure of Thinking in Technology
different patterns leading to an increase of the measure of effectiveness in different branches of technology?
In relation to the first question, it should be observed that, in addition to specific formulas for efficient action constructed for limited scopes of human activity (e.g., the science of management), there is indeed a general theory of efficient action for all activities we choose to analyze. This general theory of efficient action is called praxiology. This theory has been worked out in detail by the Polish philosopher, Tadeusz Kotar- binfski. Since the principles of praxiology are treated extensively in Kotarbiniski's treatise,2 I shall be very brief here.
Praxiology analyzes action from the point of view of efficiency. Praxiology is a normative discipline; it establishes values, practical values, and assesses our action in terms of these values. Practical values should not be confused with other values, aesthetic or moral. Whether we are aware of this or not, it is through constructing praxiological models that we accomplish progress in technology. Progress means an improvement of the measure of effectiveness in at least one aspect. Usually the praxiological model assumes some losses in effectiveness in order to attain more substantial gains. It is sometimes facinating to ana- lyze how meticulous and impeccable is the calculus of gains and losses in the praxiological model, which very often is constructed without an awareness of its praxiological nature.
It seems to me that if the characterization of technological progress as the pursuit of effectiveness is correct, the philosopher of technology must include the study of praxiology and in particular the study of praxiological models in his inquiry. Organization theory is simply inade- quate for this purpose because of its limited scope. The advances of modern technology take on a very complex form requiring integration of a variety of heterogeneous factors as well as the establishment of a hierarchy of levels. What finally matters is the increased measure of effectiveness, but the road to this increase is multichanneled and multi- leveled. Traditional organization theories are unable to handle this com- plexity, but praxiology can.
* * *
Technological progress, analyzed in terms of measures of effective- ness, led us to two questions. The first was whether technological effectiveness can be treated in general terms-this prompted us to con- sider praxiology. The second was whether we can distinguish specific
2Praxiology-An Introduction to the Science of Efficient Action (London, 1965). See also my article, "Praxiology-the Science of Accomplished Acting," Personalist, Summer 1965.
378 Henryk Skolimowski
patterns of thinking leading to the increase of effectiveness in different branches of technology.
I shall devote the remaining part of this paper to the second question. That is, I shall attempt to discern specific patterns of technological thinking for some branches of technology. I do not propose to find such patterns for technology as a whole. What I can offer are some sugges- tions as to how one may approach the problem and discern these pat- terns in less complex fields. If the procedure is right, it will lead to the
discovery of other patterns in other branches of technology. Before I attempt to spell out some of the structures or patterns of
thinking in technology, I shall show what they are and how they work in microbiology. The microbiologist makes daily observations of micro-
scopic sections which are quite simple from a certain point of view. Now what is a microscopic section, for example, of a diphtheria culture? It is, in the layman's language, a specific configuration of certain forms which possess characteristic structures. This is how far we can go in de-
scribing the phenomenon verbally. In other words, no amount of verbal
explanation will render it possible for the layman and generally for the untrained person to recognize the diphtheria culture by mere description. At first the layman and beginning students of microbiology are simply unable to perceive what is there to be seen. After some period of train-
ing they do perceive and are in fair agreement as to what they see. The ability to recognize certain microscopic structures is thus peculiar to students of microbiology.
The art of observation is not universal but specific for a given field or subject matter. Whenever observation plays a significant role in scien- tific investigation, it is selective observation directed toward perceiving some objects and their configurations and toward neglecting others. Observation, however, is not only a perceptual process but also involves some conceptual thinking. Certain types of observation are intrinsically connected with thinking in terms of certain categories.
In general, it seems to me that specific branches of learning originate and condition specific modes of thinking, develop and adhere to cate- gories through which they can best express their content and by means of which they can further progress. I shall illustrate this thesis by examining some branches of technology, namely, surveying, civil engi- neering, mechanical engineering, and architecture, with the understand- ing that the last, architecture, is only in part a branch of technology.
I will start with surveying. The final products of surveying are maps, plans, and profiles in elevation. In order to avoid complications in the analysis, instead of considering a map that is a projection of a larger area of land on a sphere, I shall examine a plan that consists of a projection of
The Structure of Thinking in Technology
a smaller piece of land on a plane as the referential surface. It is quite obvious that we must measure all angles of the figure to be projected on the plane, all its sides, and at least one azimuth. Now, the specific ques- tions for this surveying operation, and indeed for all geodesy, are: Why is this method applied, not any other? Why should we measure the sides with a metal tapeline and not by steps or by eye? Why should we check and adjust our instruments? A surveyor, who is quite capable of skil- fully performing all the geodetical operations, might be less capable of relating all these operations to one theme, one central element that accounts for the specificity of surveying. It is one thing to follow a procedure and another to be able to grasp and verbalize the essence of this procedure or, in other words, to make measurements and to be aware of the specific structures of thinking characteristic for surveying.
What, then, is specific for thinking in surveying? It is the accuracy of the measurement. This can be seen while tracing the development of surveying from its earliest stages as well as while following its recent progress. In the final analysis, it is always the accuracy that lies at the bottom of all other considerations. Sometimes it is expressed in an in- direct and disguised form, for example, when we inquire which of two or three methods is most economic or most efficient. However, even in this case, the silent assumption is that the accuracy remains the same or, at any rate, that the decrease of accuracy is negligible and the economic gains-which sometimes may be of prime importance-are quite con- siderable. It is thus the most conspicuous feature of geodesy that it aims at a progressively higher accuracy of measurement; in an indirect form this may mean a reduction of cost or time or work while preserving the same accuracy. Thus, we may say in a succinct form: To think geodeti- cally is to think in terms of accuracy.
Succinct forms have the virtue that they pin down one crucial ele- ment of the analysis; they have the vice that (for the sake of brevity) they neglect other elements and consequently present a simplification of the phenomenon under investigation. So it-is with our succinct char- acterization of geodetical thinking. It is by no means the only kind of thinking the surveyor performs. It is not even the dominant thinking in terms of the actual time devoted to it. But thinking in terms of accuracy is the most instrumental for surveying. And that means that the practi- tioner of surveying will be a better practitioner if he is aware of the specificity of geodesy and if he applies consistently his knowledge in his practice. And this also means that the researcher in geodesy will be a better one if he consistently keeps in mind that geodesy aims at a pro- gressively higher accuracy of measurement. Furthermore, the grasp of the specificity of surveying will help the scholar who investigates the
380 Henryk Skolimowski
history of surveying. History of any branch of learning is twisted and full of unexpected turns and blind alleys. Unless we discover the "Ariadne's thread" in its development, a history of any discipline will be but a mosaic of unrelated or loosely related events, descriptions, theo- ries. Thus, the discernment of patterns specific for a given branch of learning is not only an activity that may give us the comfort and aes- thetic satisfaction that accompanies neat classifications for the sake of classification but may indeed be of a concrete value to the practitioner, researcher, and historian. It is in these terms that I deem the analysis of patterns of thinking important.
To return to technology, when we consider a typical civil engineer- ing project-whether the construction of a house or a bridge-the deci- sive element is the durability of the construction. Therefore, we may say that thinking, specific for the civil engineer, is in terms of durability. Durability is the starting point, or at any rate the ultimate element of the analysis. The choice of materials and the methods of construction must be related to the required durability.
Theoretical research in civil engineering is directed toward the dis- covery of combinations of materials that will either increase the durabil- ity (of the construction) or lower the costs at the same durability. Dur- ing the execution of a project, some calculations may be made and the accuracy of the calculations taken into account, but here they are of subsidiary importance. The main issue is durability, although admittedly the form of its manifestation may be very complex or disguised.
Perhaps this can be seen even more clearly when we review the his- tory of civil engineering or, in other words, when we review the history of architecture in its constructional aspect. If we omit the aesthetic and utilitarian aspects, the history of architecture can be seen as the develop- ment and perfection of those architectural forms and those combina- tions of materials that increase durability. Although the progression of more and more durable forms is often hidden under the guise of artistic trends and movements, it is there and can be traced easily.
Turning now to architecture proper, architectural thinking is simul- taneous thinking in terms of durability and aesthetics and utility, and the two latter categories are perh
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