High development as it might appear to a native would not be accessible to our visual mode of awareness. We can get some idea of the attitude of the member of a tradition-directed society to technological improvements from a story related by Werner Heisenberg in The Physicist’s Conception of Nature. A modern physicist with his habit of “field” perception, and his sophisticated separation from our conventional habits of Newtonian space, easily finds in the pre-literate world a congenial kind of wisdom.
Heisenberg is discussing “science as a part of the interplay between man and Nature” (p. 20):
“In this connection it has often been said that far-reaching changes in our environment and in our way of life wrought by this technical age have also changed dangerously our ways of thinking, and that here lie the roots of the crises which have shaken our times and which, for instance, are also expressed in modern art. True, this objection is much older than modern technology and science, the use of implements going back to man’s earliest beginnings. Thus, two and a half thousand years ago, the Chinese sage Chuang-Tzu spoke of the danger of the machine when he said:‘As Tzu-Gung was travelling through the regions north of the River Han, he saw an old man working in his vegetable garden. He had dug in irrigation ditch. The man would descend into the well, fetch up a vessel of water in his arms and pour it out into the ditch. While his effort were tremendous the results appeared to be very meagre.
‘Tzu-Gung said, “There is a way whereby you can irrigate one hundred ditches in one day, and whereby you can do much with little effort. Would you not like to hear of it?” Then the Gardner stood up, looked at him and said, “And what would that be?”
‘Tzu-Gung replied, “You take a wooden lever, weighted at the back and light in the front. In this way you can bring up water so quickly that it just gushes out. This is called a draw-well.”
‘Then anger rose up in the old man’s face, and he said, “I have heard my teacher say that whoever uses machines does all his work like a machine. He who does his work like a machine grows a heart like a machine, and he who carries the heart of a machine in his breast loses his simplicity. He has lost his simplicity becomes unsure in the strivings of his soul. Uncertainty in the strivings of the soul is something which does not agree with honest sense. It is not that I do not know such things; I am ashamed to use them.”
All values apart, we must learn today that our electric technology has consequences for our most ordinary perceptions and habits of action which are quickly recreating in us the mental processes of the most primitive men. These consequences occur, not in our thoughts or opinions, where we are trained to be critical, but in our most ordinary sense life, which creates the vortices and matrices of thought and action.