The veil of Isis

Technology and responsibility

Nausica Manzi

We are complex systems immersed in a shifting web of intertwined threads of a technological civilisation that is advancing in leaps and bounds.

In Sais, in ancient Egypt, Isis, the patron deity of health and life, was represented with her face veiled and accompanied by this inscription: “I am all that has been and is and shall be; and no mortal has ever lifted my mantle”. As we read in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, this goddess also represented wisdom and origin: I, mother of all Nature […] first-born of the ages […] who with a gesture commands heaven’s glittering summit, the wholesome ocean breezes. The underworld’s mournful silence.”[1] Novalis then narrates that one day a disciple lifted the veil of the goddess: “Well, what did he see? He saw himself, wonder of wonder!”[2].

The veil of the goddess of Sais is the instrument that serves to awaken a sense of responsibility. This responsibility is inherent in every individual who, from the perspective of the philosopher Hans Jonas, is obliged to respond to an appeal to present and future generations. Furthermore, every individual is obliged to respond to the creation of a society that respects dignity, privacy, justice and solidarity.

Therefore, what is that veil in reality?

 The reality we inhabit is profoundly marked by change: everything evolves, as Heraclitus said, nothing remains the same nor static. We are complex systems immersed in a shifting web of intertwined threads of a technological civilisation that is advancing in leaps and bounds. In this complexity, human identity is continually confused, and it forgets its responsibility as a complex system that has to find horizons and ways of untying knots and unravelling the skein.  

Responsibility, which is one of the most beautiful ways in which the individual articulates their being in the world, is, however, a negative phase: it puts them under pressure yet, unexpectedly, becomes an engine that generates words and action, without taking anything away. Being responsible in fact means responding to a none delegable call; however, it is also means being exposed. To be faced with what that veil conceals with one’s freedom to flee but constantly be drawn back by that same veil which attracts human identity like a magnet. To be free and rebellious human beings but, in the words of Rousseau, ‘everywhere in chains’ of responsibility.

The responsibility that is rekindled before that mysterious veil envelops every individual with commitment and conscience. Embodying responsibility means removing the veil, without fear, but being aware that we have chosen to listen to its call and to lift it up in order to discover what is behind it.  It is understanding that we can use it in a different way for what it contains and for its immense power to be managed responsibly, therefore ethically and humanly.

     The goddess of Sais’ veil is indeed technology. A dimension that changes individuals and changes along with them. It is the link between man, its original being in the world, and truth, or the true essence. Technology gives birth to responsibility through fear: “only the expected distortion of man helps us formulate the relative concept of humanity to be safeguarded; we need the threat of human identity[…] to be anxious about the real identity of man”[3].

Technology, the goddess’s veil, is therefore a third element, which is both tremendum and fascinansTremendum because it represents the risk of mankind’s own lose and alienation. Whereas fascinans because, it can also represent a way to regain possession of oneself, rediscovering one’s own value (e.g. artificial intelligence or today’s computer systems in the workplace that allow several actions to be carried out simultaneously or the use of technology in cases of impairment).

Technology is a dramatic event and, at the same time, a regenerative element. It disrupts a pre-established order to generate a new one, bringing about a new type of action in every field, especially at work. According to Jonas, in the past, man’s power to act on and transform reality was a response to necessity and was faced with the immutability of reality and man’s smallness in relation to the divine. Today, on the other hand, human action clashes with the vulnerability of nature, of the whole of reality and therefore of humanity itself. It seems that technology has become the human vocation, the fulfilment of man’s life beyond limits:

The technique[…] assumes ethical relevance by virtue of the central place it now occupies in the design of man[…] the expansion of his power is accompanied by a contraction of the image he has of himself and of his being […] man is now ever more the architect of what he has done and what he can do, and above all the one who establishes that will be able to do.[…] it’s about the totality of men[4].

However, mankind is challenged by technology’s tremendum/fascinans and it is the ethical responsibility that must save it: “This fulfillment of its power, which presumably heralds the oppression of man, this final subjugation of nature by the artifice, appeals to the last resources of ethical thought ”[5]. 

Technology is that veil of the goddess which, lifted by anyone who, moved by passion or by an existential question, wants to approach it to discover the truth is shown nothing but their own image: it is a mirror. Tremblingly looking at oneself in that mirror brings forth responsibility: a despairing feeling that threatens, shatters and exposes one’s fragile nakedness and, therefore, one’s manifestation in our society. 

     How can technology be used ethically, especially in the workplace, where the Being is smothered by doing, where man’s frailty is hidden behind an activity immersed in endless change? By reflecting again on one’s own action, universalising it, by founding it personally while also opening it up to the future of the life of all humanity. Going beyond oneself and reality. By setting up a new working and social action starting from the beyond and from chaos.

     In Greek mythology, chaos was immensity, or emptiness, and it is precisely from the latter that we must recommence once more. The cosmic void is a place of ruin, but paradoxically it generates energy, movement and thus, dare I say it, life. Emptiness demands responsibility: in the workplace and in every field, human beings need to ‘be online’, to fill themselves with noise and not with silence, with the now and not the beyond, but why so? Because emptiness is terrifying, it shakes the conscience. Technology, therefore, as speed, distraction, digital characters (without any flesh resemblance), but also as resolution, support and satisfaction, as disorder; tremendum but fascinans, reveals to us a mere disorder made up of empty veins and muscles to be healed. Technology gives us back the image of man: a cosmic void of folds of existence that is afraid of its own fragility and of looking at itself in order to ‘go beyond’.

To summarise, every person can become an essential agent, technologically ethical and ethically technical when, in responsibility, they discover themselves to be a thread intertwined with the many other complex systems, coming from a void. Where there is, however, wonder, and both energy and movement are generated.

[1] Translated from Apuleio, Metamorfosi, XI, 5.

[2] Translated from Novalis, I discepoli di Sais, Tranchida editore, Le voci, 2009, p. 15.

[3] Translated from Hans Jonas, Il principio responsabilità. Un’etica per la civiltà tecnologica [1979], a cura di Pier Paolo Portinaro, Torino, Einaudi, 2002, p. 35.  

[4] Translated from Hans Jonas, Dalla fede antica all’uomo tecnologico. Saggi filosofici, Il Mulino, 1991, p. 45.

[5]  Ibid.

Ti è piaciuto l’articolo? Lascia qui la tua opinione su La Livella.

Did you enjoy the article? Leave here your feedback on La Livella.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email