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WONDERS AND TECHNOLOGIES1


Emilio Mordini, M.D.
Centre for Science, Society and Citizenship, Rome, IT
emilio.mordini@cssc.eu

People who confuse science with technology tend to become confused about limits,
they imagine that new knowledge always means new know-how, some even imagine
that knowing everything would let us do anything.
E.DREXLER, 1986, Engines of Creation. The Coming Era of Nanotechnology ,
Anchor Books
Introduction
New technologies are generally regarded as emerging technologies. The expression
emerging technologies is still vague and tends to include different clusters of
technologies considered critical to humanity's future. Proposed technology clusters
have been till now Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information technology and
Cognitive science (NBIC) and Genetics, Nanotechnology and Robotics (GNR). Other
clusters might be proposed in the next future. Yet it is evident that what turns any
new technology into an emerging technology is more its symbolic dimension than
its technical reality. My definition is therefore the following: I call emerging
technologies all those current technologies that popular accounts tend to polarise
between utopian visions and dystopian nightmares. May be this operational definition
lacks scientific precision but it is functioning, and it is precise enough for the scope of
this paper. A critical feature of all emerging technologies is that the time between new
discoveries and their applications is dramatically shortened. As a consequence public
opinion and policy makers are often incapable to form a clear picture of what is
worth worrying about. They often end up wavering between a naive enthusiasm
mixed up with scientific hubris on one side and blind fear of the new on the other.
This is probably why emerging technologies are characterised by polarisation.
Just to give the reader a taste of what I mean with polarised definitions, let me show
two of them. The first example is taken from an often quoted paper published in 2000
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Mordini E. (2007), Wonder and Technology, in Gastmans C, Dierickx K, Herman Nys H,


Schotsmans P (eds): New Pathways for European Bioethics, Intersentia: 191-206

by Bill Joy, cofounder and former Chief Scientist of Sun Microsystems, which could
be roughly described as a kind of a "neo-Luddite:
From the moment I became involved in the creation of new technologies, their
ethical dimensions have concerned me, but it was only in the autumn of 1998
that I became anxiously aware of how great are the dangers facing us in the
21st century. I can date the onset of my unease to the day I met Ray Kurzweil,
the deservedly famous inventor of the first reading machine for the blind and
many other amazing thing [] let us postulate that the computer scientists
succeed in developing intelligent machines that can do all things better than
human beings can do them. In that case presumably all work will be done by
vast, highly organized systems of machines and no human effort will be
necessary. Either of two cases might occur. The machines might be permitted
to make all of their own decisions without human oversight, or else human
control over the machines might be retained. If the machines are permitted to
make all their own decisions, we can't make any conjectures as to the results,
because it is impossible to guess how such machines might behave. We only
point out that the fate of the human race would be at the mercy of the
machines. (Joy, 2000:1)
On the other pole, on the overoptimistic side, there are visions such as that envisaged
by Mihail Roco and Carlo Montemagno, in their preface to the 2004 volume of the
Annals of the New York Academy of Science devoted to The Coevolution of Human
Potential and Converging Technologies:
In the next decades, revolutionary advances in the way in which humankind
interfaces with the world will emerge from the unifying science resulting from
the symbiotic intersection of natural and physical technologies. Specifically,
these advances will result from the application of new tools and system
approaches that facilitate synergism among the most dynamic areas of
technological advancement: nanotechnology, biotechnology, information
technology, and new technologies based in cognitive science. It is expected
that converging technologies integrated from the nanoscale would achieve
tremendous improvements in human abilities and enhance societal
achievements []As convergence continues, the unification of previously
separated disciplines will produce new techniques for scientific research and
engineering from the nanoscale to macroscale and to societal level. Human
abilities in learning, working, and active aging will intimately depend on the
confluence of various technological, medical, cognitive, and social
developments. The coevolution of human potential and converging new
technologies will be a trend with major implications for individuals,

organizations, and society in the decades to come. (Roco, Montemagno,


2004:6)
Both positions have been also articulated in official documents and reports. For
instance in 2001, the RAND Corporation published a booklet titled The Global
Technology Revolution: Bio/Nano/Materials Trends and Their Synergies with
Information Technology by 2015. A second foresight report called The Global
Technology Revolution 2020, In-Depth Analyses Bio/Nano/Materials/Information
Trends, Drivers, Barriers, and Social Implications was then published in 2005.
According to these reports,
a broad, multidisciplinary technology revolution is changing the world.
Information technology is already revolutionizing our lives and will
continue to be aided by breakthroughs in materials and nanotechnology.
Biotechnology will revolutionize living organisms. Materials and
nanotechnology are developing new devices with unforeseen
capabilities. These technologies are affecting our lives. They are heavily
intertwined, making the technology revolution highly multidisciplinary
and accelerating progress in each area (RAND, 2005:49).
In 2004, the European Commission set up a high-level expert group with the same
terms of reference of the RAND task force. The expert group on Foresighting the
New Technology Wave identified a new disciplinary cluster, which amusingly
included Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno-Socio-Anthro-Philo, as though it were necessary
mentioning human sciences to give a European flavour to their work:
Information and communication technology helped produce the profound
transformation of daily life in the 20th Century. Biotechnology is transforming
agriculture, medical diagnosis and treatment, human and animal reproduction.
Most recently, the transformative potential of nanotechnology has captured the
imagination. Add to this that cognitive and neuroscience are challenging how
we think of ourselves, or that the rise of the social sciences parallels that of
bureaucracies and modern forms of governance. The convergence of these
profoundly transformative technologies and technology-enabling sciences is
the first major research initiative of the 21st Century. If these various
technologies created controversy and anxiety each on their own, their
convergence poses a major challenge not only to the research community, but
from the very beginning also to policy makers and European societies
[]Tremendous transformative potential comes with tremendous anxieties.
These anxieties need to be taken into account. When they are, converging
technologies can develop in a supportive climate. To the extent that public
concerns are included in the process, researchers and investors can proceed

without fear of finding their work over-regulated or rejected. (European HighLevel Expert Group, 2004:4)
Papers, reports and documents on the techno-revolution eventually echo a narrative
which was probably first diffused by Jeremy Rifkins in early 1990s. In Biosphere
Politics, Rifkins claimed that the human species is entering the third stage of human
consciousness, signaling the most significant change in human culture since the
Neolithic revolution (Rifkin, 1992:21). Rifkin argued that the sole period in which
human beings have experienced a similar dramatic change was the Neolithic. In the
Neolithic period the tension between the two poles of nurture and nature was made
first evident. Humans learned to domesticate and breed animals and plants. New
vegetal and animal species were created, but (technology is always a two edge sword)
also new species of microbes emerged. The whole microbiological pool was
overturned and human communities were first plagued by epidemics and new
diseases. The agricultural revolution produced also major social changes, increasing
in population density, the organization of a hierarchical society, specialization in nonagricultural crafts, a standing army, barter and trade. Also the human spiritual context
was deeply influenced: new religions emerged, based on fertility rites and feminine
divinities; corpses were preferably buried and ancestor worship became prominent.
Rifkins omits to enlighten that the Neolithic transition occurred over millennia and
people were not at all aware of living in a transition period (if it made any sense to
speak of a transition period for an epoch that lasted from 5000 to 1000 b.C.). If the
global technology revolution kept his promises (better, the promises made by some
visionary authors) something completely new should occur in the history of humanity.
In less than a generation, technology should radically transform the quality of human
life, extend the human lifespan, change the face of work and industry, and establish
new economic and political powers on the global scene. We will find ourselves in an
entirely new world, with very different values and motivations.
Both utopian visions and dystopian nightmares ultimately advocate a highly
mechanistic view of people and society. They seem to believe that most human
problems admit a technical fix, or conversely can be dramatically impaired by
technology, and that what we need is just to manipulate the world according to our
desires or to a precautionary principle. This is definitely naive, not only because
technology has always been a mixed blessing, bringing us benefits while introducing
new dangers, but, more in depth, because even if all possible scientific questions be
answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all (Wittgenstein,
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6.5).
In this paper I aim to show how a symbolic formations may shape peoples
perception and acceptance of new technologies. Eventually my goal is to illustrate

how this mechanism could be turned into a positive factor for promoting public
conversation and awareness on emerging technologies.
1. Technology, Science and Techno-Science
Technology requires and produces knowledge. Science as well requires and produces
knowledge. Yet in origin science and technology were two very different activities.
Their ambitions were not the same. Science searched for pure knowledge; technology
searched for problem solving tools. In the Greek-Roman civilisation the process of
manufacturing objects was specific of craftsmen and artists, while scientists had little
- if anything - to do with it. Technology was founded in the myth of Dedalus story.
Dedalus was a famous Athenian engineer that King Minos invited to Crete to build
him the Labyrinth, an intricate architecture of interconnecting passages through which
it was almost impossible to find one's way. When Dedalus finished, Minos jailed him
in the Labyrinth. Dedalus problem was then how he could escape from the structure
designed by himself. Dedalus created two sets of wings using wax and feathers, one
for himself and one for his son Icarus. Unfortunately during the flight Icarus decided
to challenge the sun. He flew too high and the sun melted the wax that kept his wings
together. Icarus fell in the Aegean Sea and died. Many lessons could be learned from
this myth. It is clear, however, that technological knowledge was originally different
from scientific knowledge. If there is a thing that the myth certainly teaches is that
technological knowledge concerns both what should be done and how it should be
done, that is to say that technology always implies policy and ethics.
With modernity, roughly with the XVII century, the borders between science,
technology and arts increasingly blurred. Late Renaissance and Baroque were marked
by the expansion of the bounds of reality, the emphasis given to dramatisation, the
prominence of details, but also by the aspiration for simple, harmonious, elegant
mathematical theories. The emergence of a new, sophisticated concept of technology
was probably the expression of the tension between these two poles. It was
furthermore rooted in various parallel trends: the introduction of new artistic
representation techniques; the crisis of musical theory and classic harmony; the
growing appreciation of the variety of nature, bred by exploration and new
observation instruments. The century was passionate with automata, fountains and
theatrical machineries as well as scientific experiments, watches and all measuring
tool. The modern scientist was at this time half artisan, half artist. He could invent
new instruments both to read in the book of the nature and to delight the court. The
theatre was the core of the Baroque spirit, for the Baroque man the world was theatre
and every human business was a stage. Nature like theatre is a collection of
significances to be studied, interpreted and represented. Scientific experiments are the
stage where the perfect baroque scientist performs his play, both metaphorically and
really. Indeed in order to publicize his science among the social elite, he might resort
to representation. Von Guericke, who demonstrates to the Great Elector in Berlin the

power of his vacuum with a team of horses attempting to pull the two halves of the
globe apart, is the best icon of baroque scientists.
From the XVII century on, the paths of technology and science converged till the
point at which it was hard to make any distinction between these two activities. We
speak now of techno-science, which emphasises operational ability and
productivity, and the strict interaction between science, technology and economy.
Technical innovation has shifted from being a means to reach an end, to being an end
in itself. Technological products, which were in origin means to accomplish wellspecified and established goals, have become themselves the goal. This is the core of
the question of technology as it was originally posed by Heidegger (Heidegger,
Lovitt, 1977) and it is likely to be still the real philosophical and political issue of our
era.
New technologies have some specific features that make them quite different from
traditional, industrial, technologies. In comparison with technologies that drove the
industrial revolution - which were complex, based on collective action, social
infrastructure, and technical know-how emerging technologies are lighter. They are
de-centred, dispersed and disseminated, and their control and use are largely in the
hands of the individuals, citizens groups, and small enterprises. They are network
technologies (Castells, 1996). Through technological networks there is a constant
flow of people, goods, money, data, values, and cultures across various geographical,
cultural, temporal barriers. New technologies tend also to produce a functional
simplification (Luhman, 1995). They allow to reduce complexity of human (social,
biological, political, etc.) interactions and allow the individual to distance himself
from its own observations. They produce what in theatre would be called an
alienation effect and Giddens (1991) efficaciously describes as disembedding of
social systems.
Another interesting feature of emerging technologies is their being used for
mastering, controlling, minimizing, time and space (Giddens, 1991). No matter if they
are bio, nano or info, their ultimate aim is always to help people to manipulate space
and time by reducing distances, by altering body constraints, by prolonging life, by
increasing mobility of persons, and so. It implies some bizarre consequences, among
which the most peculiar is that any new technology creates a quest for newer
technology. As Paul Virilio (1995) has emphasised, every new technology emerges,
the faster and faster newer technologies will then emerge. Once there is a new
technology, the world turns rapidly into a place where that technology must be used.
Every new instrument becomes then soon or later wearisome and we look for further
innovation.

Finally emerging technologies also imply a change of the relation between science
and politics (Mordini, 2004). In the last decades representation of science has changed
so much that some people may say that doing science is another way for doing
politics. Indeed the post-modern technological system is embedded in politics.
Researchers are under increasing pressure to demonstrate the policy relevance of their
findings and to deliver tangible results. In turn, policy-makers are under increasing
pressure to justify their choices of technology to be developed and socio-economic
goals to be pursued. As emerging technologies often challenge basic moral
assumptions they provoke directly or indirectly a crisis, or at least a basic insecurity
with regard to moral standards that are either sanctioned by law or remain tacit
presuppositions. In secularised societies these conflicts find no longer a solution
based on religious authority, although religion still plays an important role in the
shaping of morality. The space left empty by religious authority has been occupied by
politics.
Politics has always had a moral dimension insofar it involves decisions about how to
act towards affected others. Politics can be defined as a public practice of deliberation
in which various actors participate. Yet traditional political processes work well
enough to produce democratic control over centralized systems, but they are often
unfit to govern decentralized, distributed systems such as those related to emerging
technologies. Moreover traditional political processes are influenced by two important
trends. The first trend is a worldwide crisis of political legitimacy, caused by a lack of
trust in the political class. According to survey evidence, politicians are consistently
seen as the least trusted professional class by the public. Voter turnout is declining
worldwide. When people do vote, their vote is negative; against the ruling, rather for
anyone offering something positive. Parties are empty shells - professional elites with
no significant membership or strong personal links to society. The second significant
trend is individualisation, increasing social mobility and a decline in political
involvement from general society. Traditional forms of socialisation and their relation
to politics, e.g. trade unions, have largely disappeared. Since 1960s the expert system
has been largely used to support democratic decisions. Yet, though experts are
regularly consulted by policy makers, the media and the public at large to explain and
advise on technology issues, their neutrality and authority have been increasingly
contested. This amounts to a growing gap between citizens, techno-science and the
politics.
2. What is technology for?
The ability of societies to master technology shapes their destiny. Modern sociology
and history of technology have conducted a powerful critique against the view that
technologies develop according to an irresistible, internal technical logic. In a long
series of articles and books, scholars have dismantled the perception of technology as
driven by technical necessity alone in certain, predictable directions (Wiebe, Pinch

and Hughes, 1987; Feenberg 2001). Technology is a cultural product and, in its turn,
it is a producer of culture. Technology is a social practice that embodies the capacity
of societies to transform themselves by creating and manipulating not only physical
objects but also symbols and cultural forms.
Basically technology involves everything that is needed to create and produce goods,
tools, things, all of which are generally very complex and which give individuals as
well as societies the possibility to improve their lives and to free them from certain
constraints. At its best, then, technology is nothing if not liberating (Mesthene,
1970:20). Technology alleviates the tyranny of human material constitution, its
physical limitation, its space-temporal constraints, and its limited capacity to perform
actions. Yet technology is not only fabricating instruments, indeed also birds
fabricate nests and chimpanzees use sticks for searching food. Human beings
fabricate instruments that are full of meanings beyond their immediate purposes. In
his The End of Modern Times, Romano Guardini presents an interesting thesis. He
contends that the essence of technology lies in the human ability for establishing
causal relations. This makes human artefacts not only instruments with a purpose but
instruments which convey a meaning. Unavoidably human beings think of the world
as if any effect had a cause, though there is no manner to demonstrate that the world
really works in such a wayi. When human beings turn a natural item into an
instrument, or when they assemble and manipulate different natural objects to create
a totally new item, they discover (or believe to discover) relations between objects,
events and facts. Every manufacture, and every natural object used as an instrument,
means its functions, its purposes. But each object also suggests a spectrum of related
meanings just as a note played by a musical instrument necessarily involves its
harmonic series. Psychologists express this by saying that the process of
symbolisation entails transferring meanings from one mental representation to
another, and that symbols are overdetermined, namely they convey multiple
meanings. For instance a knife is a piece metal with an edge that can be used to cut a
piece of meal. Yet it also evokes the idea that any sharp object can cut and hurt.
Indeed also people can be sharp, as they are astute, then sharp people can be
dangerous, and so.
Manuals usually distinguish between symbols, signs and mental representations,
according to their semantic properties, that is the relations that they establish with
the reality (Todorov 1977). The notion of semantic properties emphasises that mental
objects need some bridge to reality in order to be processed and then communicated.
However I suspect that distinctions between symbols, signs and mental
representations are largely immaterial, because in the last analysis all mental objects
can be used and actually are used - as symbols. All human activities originates in
the use of symbols. It was the symbol which transformed our anthropoid ancestors
into human beings and it is their embodying symbols that makes houses radically

different from nests. All human activities are symbolic, they consist of, or depend on,
the use of symbols. Human beings may use and actually use mental
representations of every object and act to convey meanings, say, they can turn any
object and (f)act into a symbol. There are symbols that are shared by the whole
species, symbols that are specific of a culture or a community, symbols that belongs
only to small groups, and individuals symbols. Society is constituted not only by
material things such as the territory occupied by individuals, the objects they use, or
the actions they perform but by the whole complex of symbols and symbolic
formations, such imageries, rituals, ceremonies, myths, narratives and so which
circulate in the social body.

The role of symbols in the constitution of the collective should be traced to Emile
Durkheims work The Elementary Forms of Religious Life and to Gustav Jungs
research on the collective unconscious. More recently, the collective symbolic
template has been explored in different ways by social scientists (Jameson, 1981;
Maffesoli, 1993; Taylor, 2002) and psychoanalysts (Castoriadis, 1987; Mordini,
1996; Hopper, 2003). Though from different perspectives, these scholars suggest that
collective action emerge from collective imaginary, a kind of cultural conditioning
that generates a sense of identity and inclusiveness between the members of a group
or community. Every human being is born into a prefabricated environment which
comes with a complex catalogue of messages and stimuli which will influence her.
Individuals belong to multiple groups, through birth, assimilation, or achievement,
and each group influences individuals beliefs, values, attitudes, and perceptions.
Collective imaginary acts as a filter for new information: it is the lens through which
people perceive the world.
3. Techno-animism
In the last years there has been a flourishing of studies on emerging technology and
society. They have waved between large, visionary, almost science fictional,
approaches and very local perspectives, related only to some specific applications
(e.g., health and medicine, environment). What it is still lacking is an approach which
considers the meaning of emerging technologies in relation with the collective
imaginary, the symbolic network that permeates the society from which they
emerged. It is an illusion that scientific and socio-economic drivers are the sole
elements to determine the destiny of a technology. Though they are important, what is
really critical is the way in which a human community metabolize a new
technology, that is the way in which a new technology becomes part of the mental
landscape of people living in that society. Understanding the implicit assumptions,
values and vision which underlie the emerging of a technology is vital for technology
governance. Imaginaries are materially powerful; they do shape practices,

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relationships, and commitments, and as such, they demand reflective, accountable


attention and debate.
A special form of symbolisation, which is particularly relevant to emerging
technologies, is the tendency to regard inanimate objects as living and conscious
(animism) and to ascribe them also human characteristics (anthropomorphism). Both
tendencies are spontaneous and pervasive in early childhood. Child psychologist
Piaget found that the youngest children see virtually all phenomena simultaneously as
alive, conscious, and made by humans for human purposes (Piaget, 1962). Animism
is a term that, like other classic concepts of 19th century anthropology has received
somewhat differing definitions and a fair amount of bad press over time. Developed
by the English anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor in Primitive Culture (1871), the
concept of animism has been used to denote the earliest period of magico-religious
thinking. Tylor defined animism as a belief that animals, plants and inanimate objects
all had souls, and attributed this phenomenon to dream experiences where people
commonly feel as if they existed independent of their bodies.
For Tylor, animism represented stone age religion which still survived among some
of the ruder tribes encountered by the British in places like Africa or South India.
Piaget believed that animism and anthropomorphism slowly diminish through
childhood and, by early adolescence, children's views approximate those of adults.
Yet they were probably wrong. Animism and anthropomorphism are universal and
deeply rooted not only in the history of human evolution but also in contemporary
world. Human beings have a continuous and silent conversation with the objects, for
human minds all is animated, living, all is full of gods. In his Le Dieu Object, Marc
Aug (1988) suggested that all people also adults, civilised people - attribute
human shape and qualities (such as agency) to the widest range of objects and
phenomena imaginable. In the past few years, several authors, including Stewart
Guthrie (1993), Nurit Bird-David (1999), Tim Ingold (2000), and Graham Harvey
(2005), have shown renewed interest in animism. Their view of animism differs
significantly from the traditional definition. Rather than a primitive, childish
superstition of attributing life to the lifeless, animism could be thus understood as
alternative responses to universal semiotic anxieties about where or how to draw
boundaries between persons and things. These very boundaries are threatened by all
new technologies, as Marc Pesce (2000), one of the early pioneers in Virtual Reality,
speaks of techno-animism to describe a world pervaded by computational objects.
Humans have a deeply intuitive tendency of projecting human features onto nonhuman aspects of the environment, and we commonly perceive intentional agency
even in inanimate objects. We talk to a car or a computer as if it could understand us.
Who never got furious once with his pc? Who never insulted his mobile when it lost
all records? Any technology, by producing tools that perform actions, invites us to
give a soul and a destiny to inanimate objects. In their 1996 book, Nass and Reeves

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(1996) demonstrated that interactions between humans and ICTs are identical to real
social relationships. People automatically extrapolate personalities from little hints. In
all human-machine interactions personality can creep in everywhere: the language in
error messages, user prompts, methods for navigating options, and fonts chosen.
Animism is a feeling/belief that our environment is saturated by invisible
communication between the things that surround us in our daily lives. That is, things
have the ability to observe, gather knowledge, to communicate and perform actions in
the real world. This is actually what smart technological objects promise to do
(Aupers S., 2002). Blogjects (Bleecker J.,2005), is neologism introduced to describe
objects that blog, a network of tangible, mobile, chatty objects enabled by the
miniaturization, the ubiquity of consumer electronics and a pervasive Internet.
Im increasingly convinced that, as networks of smart objects permeate our
environment, peoples attitudes toward technology will become more animist.
In other words, well start to anthropomorphize our stuff [When this
happens, well stop expecting our tools to be mechanical and predictable and
will begin to expect more complex, intuitive capabilities from all of them,
even the dumb ones. This sounds far out and spacey, but I think its right
around the corner. This kind of intelligence is already starting to leak into
mainstream products, and I bet that designers will have to think about it
seriously within the next five years. (Kuniavsky, M., 2003:1)
At the Eighth International Conference of Ubiquitous Computing (Ubicomp 2006)
both opening and closing keynote speeches have been devoted to techno-animism,
though they took absolutely opposite positions. Bruce Sterling claimed that believing
in animism when confronted with technological objects might make us feel better but
does nothing to help us understand and develop our culture and environment. On the
contrary, Brenda Laurel embraced animism and encouraged wonderment at the world
around us to inspire and inform design of technologies. For her, magic is natural
magic, the patterns, forms and processes of nature that we barely understand yet
which drive our world. She urged designers to design for pleasure and wonder.

4. Wonder and Curiosity


Laurels argument leads us towards the conclusions of this paper. Fundamental
human psychology has not changed over time and we all feel at least unconsciously
- the world as it were full of personalised powers. It is a hallmark of psychotic
fantasy that a person cannot tell the difference between a symbol and the thing
symbolized. Today the lines between things and human intelligence are increasingly
blurred and this can explain certain uneasiness caused by new technologies. When a
fantasy turn into reality there is always the risk of a paranoiac explosion. Indeed we
see signs of a techno-paranoia almost everywhere. Public and policymakers dream up

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fantasy disasters and then try to plan to deal with these hypothetical crises. From
SARS to bioterrorism, from BSE to avian flu, government and society are continually
being re-educated to expect a worst-case scenario. Almost every day, we are
confronted with fresh evidence of how far the obsession with technological risks has
gone. The techno paranoia touches many disparate issues, from mobile phone masts
to GM foods, from nanotechnology to the internet, from smoking to obesity. The
techno paranoia reaches then its peak with surveillance technologies. From Echelon to
the Automated Targeting System used by the US Department for Homeland Security,
from biometrics to the Global Positioning System, people feel that the line between
science fiction and reality is increasingly blurred. Conspiracy theories - the fear of
nonexistent conspiracies - are flourishing all around the world and they seem to be
almost the hallmark of late modernity. The notion of a technological superpower
intrigues at one level and horrifies at another. There are little doubts that we live in a
society that is more and more under control but public reactions do not reflect the
actual impact of technological development and risks of technology misuse. Rather
they enlighten how much paranoia, fear and ambivalence there is today towards
technology, whose benefits we take as granted but whose ubiquitous presence we fell
more and more hostile.
Reflecting upon the history on modern technology, I think that we posses two vital
instruments to try to contrast the techno paranoia, they are wonder and curiosity. Both
wonder and curiosity are normal human reactions before the complexity and richness
of reality. For Aristotle they lead people to search for causes and are then essential to
the process of philosophical inquiry. The variety of approaches to wonder and
curiosity within societies and throughout the centuries is huge (Daston, Park, 1998)
and we cannot discuss them in this paper. At the beginning of Christianity, wonder
was thought as the proper response to God and his marvellous creation. For instance
Augustine celebrated the human dimension of wonder, by referring to Matthew 8.10,
when Jesus marveled before the faith of a Roman centurion. Augustine argued that if
our Lord marveled, it means that we should marvel. However Christian Philosophy
soon developed a distaste for marvel and curiosity. Marvel was too close to the realm
of demonic and supernatural and curiosity was often described as a vice. Marvel and
curiosity becomes again part of philosophy with Natural Philosophers of the
Renaissance Ficino, Giovanni della Porta, Francis Bacon, Pomponazzi shifted the
marvel of nature from the periphery to the center. They reclaimed for natural
philosophy not only wonderful phenomena, but also the emotion of wonder itself.
Renaissance natural philosophers aimed to unravel marvellous phenomena, for them
marvel was not just symbolic. Marvel allowed the man who understood it to control
natural forces. Then the marvel of Renaissance Natural Philosophers shaded
imperceptibly into the larger baroque category of wonder. The seventeenth century
was the century of wonder and Baroque culture was the culture of wonder (Maravall,
1986). Wonder in Baroque age was the mainstay of political practices. As masses of

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urban people became increasingly visible and politically active, sophisticated forms
of control and manipulation were designed and implemented by the establishment.
Wonder as a passion was skilfully deployed in Jesuit pedagogy and propaganda.
Complex choreographic apparatus in political ceremonies, trompe l'oeil in church
frescos, extraordinary automata and powerful new weapons were meant to stir the
wonder of people. Celebrated for the ingenuity of their authors, these wonders
entertained the elite while seducing, ruling and controlling urban multitudes. On the
other hand, the increasing enrolment of scientists as gatekeepers in assessing reports
of miracles both in Protestant and Catholic countries contribute to include wonder in
the scientific sphere.

This is I argue what makes our era as close to the Baroque era. Im not certainly
the first who notes that there is a number of similarities between our time and the
Baroque age. We live one might say in new Baroque period. In particular there are
impressive similarities in the way in which post modernity and Baroque deal with
science and technology. Post modernity is confronted with revolutionary and
accelerated changes in science and technology that challenge in different ways some
basic implicit and explicit moral assumptions and legal norms. We live in a world
saturated with wonder, although perhaps we are only partly aware of this.
We should take seriously the symbolic dimension of new technologies and try to
govern it. Wonder this is my point can convey a new world picture through
scientific communication. What is more important, by exciting peoples curiosity
wonder may also promote a true public understanding of new technologies. Curiosity
is people's pleasure to experiment with new things. Curiosity implies,
the care one takes for what exists and could exist; a readiness to find strange
and singular what surrounds us; a certain relentlessness to break up our
familiarities and to regard otherwise the same things; a fervor to grasp what is
happening and what passes; a casualness in regard to the traditional
hierarchies of the important and the essential (Foucault, 1998:324).
Let me then conclude with Michel Foucault that I dream a new age of curiosity.

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i

As it is well known, Kant discussed this point in the third antinomy of the Pure Reason. The principle
of sufficient reason, viz. each effect requires a cause, is the typical example of those synthetic
propositions a priori that Kant showed to be regulative, namely about our way to think of the world,
rather than constitutive, namely about the reality of the world.