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The Illusion of Technique: A Search for Meaning in a Technological Civilization Paperback – September 5, 1979
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what we now think of as "right-left brain," or "reductionalist-intuitive," thinking. As a philosopher he reaches out with dialogue that we are less familiar with than with the "scientific" jargon we encounter every day.
Written in the late 60's and early 1970's, "Illusion.." seems to find its impetus in Barrett's apprehensions about the effects of B.F. Skinner and Bucky Fuller upon his young university students. Barrett himself had helped introduce a popular volume of D.T.Suzuki writings, and he seems to have tried here to rein in what he saw as loopy, utopian beliefs that could easily be imprinted on young minds.
Barrett has a firm grasp on the importance of Wittgenstein and Heidegger, and the chapters about them are informative for any neophyte. Heidegger's fascination with the role of the poet, which was forged from his appreciation for a German poet named Holderlin, was particularly enlightening for this reader.
Reading this book, I found myself thinking that Barrett must have been a very entertaining professor, with such a wealth of knowledge at his beck and call. This book, which I'm sure echoes his lectures, suffers only from his desire to touch so many bases. His approach is so catholic, and sometimes he could benefit from including a few more specifics. For instance, when he discusses the attitudes common to the minds of "naturalists", he could easily have referenced one or two of them that were well-known to the popular culture at that time.
The passing of years has also altered the nature of the debate about social regimentation. China, the Soviet Union, and the bomb still pose threats, but not to the same degree they once did. And the rise of the "information age" has brought new threats that Barrett hadn't envisioned.
I first read "The Illusion of Technique" years ago in my 30s. I loved it. I just re-read it at 53, and I still love it. Admittedly, the book isn't perfect. It meanders badly, taking up in jumbled order huge topics like Logic, Technology, Freedom, Phenomenology, Being, Nihilism, Faith, etc. And for a book written by a university philosophy professor, it is astonishingly underargued, with its many gaps in logic disguised by lovely, if fuzzy, writing. But that said, the book is deeply rewarding. Barrett's sensibility was elegaic and intoxicating, he offered arresting insights and great one-liners, and he had an incredible ability to sum up complex intellectual history in only a few paragraphs or pages. I wouldn't say that his book has converted me to pantheism, but it has inspired me to read more William James. (Maybe Husserl, too.)
I took off one star because of the occasional anachronism (who now cares about B. F. Skinner or the Soviet approach to social engineering?) and because the discussion of Wittgenstein and mathematical logic is both hard to follow and not clearly relevant to the book's core thesis.
What I particularly like about this book is that he gets somewhat autobiographcial at the end, demonstrating his philophical belief in God.
The Illusion of Technique is at the same level of excellance as Irrational Man,his most famous book, which is quite an achievement.
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