Whither Materialism?. Looking for the next big thing
It is interesting to speculate about the future of materialism. It is conceivable that materialism could hold out almost indefinitely, or that it could finesse its transformation into immaterialism in such a manner that hardly anyone would be the wiser. This latter course seems to be the path of postmodernism. Yet it seems improbable that some child will not notice materialism’s absence of clothing and make a fuss about it that the media will be able to ignore.
Materialism desperately needs a shot in the arm, although a shot in the head might be a better idea. It needs a breakthrough. The proliferation of digital technology has kept the public and the economy sufficiently distracted that few have noticed the lack of consequential scientific advances for the bulk of this century. Transistors and atom bombs are an application of physics that was well understood in the first quarter of this century. There has frankly been nothing of consequence in physics since then. When Horgan recently wrote a controversial book on the demise of physics, the controversy was only three-quarters of a century behind the times.
Biotechnology could be another matter. It continues to hold promise, but the emphasis is on the promise. Perhaps it is only languishing in the economic shadow of the Internet, or perhaps its lack of momentum points to the basic flaw in our materialistic conception of the life force. If biotechnology is unable to take up the slack from a rapidly saturating communications boom, people might start to notice that materialism is looking a little raggedy around the edges. They might wonder what will be the next big thing.
Capitalists have become addicted to the ‘Big Mo.’ If materialism does not produce for them, their eyes may turn to the skies, like those of Joe Firmage, but it may already be too late. We are back to physics again, wondering why a breakthrough in physics should not and cannot be our rainbow bridge into a twilight zone of UFOs and metaphysics. It is not easy for impatient non-physicists to appreciate the depth of the dead-end into which physics has dug itself in the last three-quarters of this century. Impatience is not going to rewrite the handwriting on the wall. The fact of a metaphysical barrier will eventually sink into even the thickest of skulls. There is a ring-pass-not. It is there expressly to keep the fat cats from buying their way through the eye of the needle. If you don’t like it, complain to the management.
Will the capitalists then throw ashes on their heads? Who knows? What will it take to get us into the transcendental mode of thought? How long will it take, and how long do we have? We do not know what is the glue holding together our rapidly spinning and shrinking globe. Watching it unravel would not be pretty. When and how will the invisible hand become visible?
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