Saturday, July 4, 2009

A Window To The Soul

[This is the 1st of 5 posts in this series]

For the next several posts I am going to literally put technology under a magnifying glass. There is little doubt that technology has impacted our culture in both good and bad ways. My aim over the next few weeks is to use a single technological breakthrough as a powerful example of how that has happened. The technological marvel I will use to illustrate this is one that most of us probably do not think of when we think "high-tech": GLASS. But I hope you will be as surprised as I was to learn just how significant an impact glass has had on our culture. This series of posts springs from a paper I wrote during my graduate work in Christian Apologetics. I share it with you because the more I researched the topic while writing the paper, the more fascinating it became for me. I hope it has the same eye-opening effect on you as it did on me. I would love to hear your comments and thoughts about the topic (Editor's Note: Because this series of posts is based on a research paper, it draws from sources that would be very cumbersome to footnote properly on a blogsite. Where sources are used, I will annotate them with an * and list them at the bottom of each post. Anyone interested in further information contained in those sources should feel free to contact me for more detailed bibliographical information or explanation about the source ... thanks in advance). Here goes ...
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Technically glass is neither a liquid nor a solid, but a hybrid state of matter with the random molecular structure of a liquid and all the rigidity of a solid.* Though its natural origins exist in the cooled lava of ancient volcanoes, man began to produce glass for himself about four thousand years ago. From the beginning, man’s quest to perfect and use glass to his advantage has also been a hybrid story. That story is more than a list of technological and artistic achievements. It is also a story of the profound ways in which glass has impacted man and his culture.

From the first rudimentary attempts by northern Europeans to allow light, and retain heat, in their homes, to the birth of the high speed Internet, glass has taken us from windows to Windows®. Historically, glass has played a veiled but weighty role in the philosophical and practical foundations of humanity’s ability to expand its reliable knowledge base.* The unique properties of glass – its transparency to allow viewing and its resistance to chemical change – helped make it an essential link in the chain of developments that led from man’s accurate knowledge of the laws of nature, to the resultant industrial revolution, and to the high-tech society in which we live. Of the twenty most important scientific experiments in human history, sixteen would not have been possible without glass.* Some consider glass to be a "sine qua non of the development of the experimental method we call science."*

But these modern transformations were not merely technological and they were never isolated. The same advancements in optics that led to our improved understanding of light, physics, cosmology and biology also led to revolutionary changes in the artistic representation of nature in Renaissance art.* The same mirrors that were used in the application of geometry to modern science also became instruments of human vanity and self-assessment.* A look at the history of glass reveals a distinctive pattern of repeatedly connecting the material and intellectual realms. Glass not only changed our understanding of the world, it changed the way we understand the world. Glass expanded what we know and forever altered how we know it. It is glass through which the light of the sun enters our homes, and the darkness of a perverted humanity enters our minds.

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{Sylvia Juran (Editor). Innovations in Glass. p 7}
{Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin. Glass: A World History. p. 27}
{Macfarlane and Martin from: Rom Harré, Great Scientific Experiments That Changed Our View of the World}

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