Much Madness

Brain Storms: A Study of Human Spontaneity

by Wayne Barker
Grove, 301 pp., $7.50

Technological Man: The Myth and the Reality

by Victor C. Ferkiss
Braziller, 348 pp., $7.95

The contrasting effect of these two books is surprising and ironic. Both do justice to their themes. Mr. Ferkiss’s materials are the stupendous scientific and technological advances that are now soberly foreseeable and likely to transform human existence. The panorama of almost miraculous but quite probable achievement he unfolds should be breathtaking, but it leaves one unmoved. Dr. Barker deals with the episodes of discontinuity in human lives, from epileptic fits to fumblings for words, sudden insights, and spasms of creative effort, and this material, drawn from everyday life at a rudimentary technological level, is exciting and stimulates further thought. He studies human spontaneity.

The wonders Mr. Ferkiss surveys (and the human consequences which he tries to guess at) depend, it must be supposed, on innumerable small creative steps, but they are steps in a vast impersonal march, anything but spontaneous, their timing no doubt reflecting financial priorities decided by committees but otherwise predictable, sequential, programmed: the moon, Venus, further progress in anti-gravitational techniques, interstellar travel with perhaps a new generation born en voyage and not knowing the earth, seabed mining, techniques for breathing water, submarine settlements and towns. Each advance when first achieved means a few television programs, exclamatory, thumping up the wonder, but by then, close at its heels, the next marvel is on the way. We are not amazed.

Something of this lies behind the wry amusement Mr. Ferkiss feels about the astronauts; for all their courage and the stupendous discipline and training that shape them into worthy occupants of their spacecraft, he is struck by their continuing ordinariness—“with their demi-chic wives and scrubbed children straight out of Better Homes and Gardens, with their football and their scuba-diving and their military-academy and engineering-school backgrounds; these thoroughly conventional and middle-class and essentially dull people, who would make such nice neighbors and such unlikely friends—could these be the supermen whom the race had struggled for a million years to produce?”

For all its confident vision of advance, western technological society betrays some anxiety about maintaining the supply of intelligent individuals on whom it depends. Educational psychologists and teachers announce the need for new techniques to ensure that originality, “divergent thinking,” and creative potential may be identified and encouraged. But it is not always clear what sort of original intelligence is wanted. Mr. Ferkiss, for example, after noting that too little higher education is available in most countries, goes on:

In the Soviet Union it is widespread but largely designed to produce conformist technicians…. In the United States the boom in higher education has done little to raise cultural levels among many attending classes, even when measured by the standards of previous centuries, much less the twenty-first in which those currently enrolled will spend part of their lives. The values and world view of today’s collegian, especially in the United States, may be nearer to that of his parents than most prophets of technological man think. The Berkeleys and MITs, the creative scientists and the Hippies …

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