Man as a Passive Agent Essay

Pages: 5 (1773 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion

¶ … Man as a Passive Agent in His Construction of Himself

In "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" Nicholas Carr makes the argument that the internet has not only changed how people can access information, but also how people process that information that they do access. As his title suggests, he believes that the internet has contributed to a decline in man's reasoning ability, so that modern people are less able to engage in the critical thinking skills that have long been considered a hallmark of human thought. While, at first blush, Karen Armstrong's essay "Homo Religiosus," with its discussion of primitive religious practices may seem unrelated to Carr's discussion of how technology impacts thinking ability, she also discusses how an aspect of modern society, the dominance of religion by doctrinal monotheistic religions, has also led to a decrease in critical thinking skills. This leads some to the conclusion that modern man is a passive agent in the construction of his self, rather than the active agent that men were in prior times. This idea reflects more than simply how human beings process information that is received; instead, both of these authors indicate their beliefs that the very way that the mind develops is impacted by surrounding culture, including technology and religion. They believe that these cultural changes have led to humans taking a more passive approach to the discovery of self by: impacting the human approach to art; failing to fully engage in the applicable processes; and dictating information and beliefs rather than requiring participation in forming those beliefs.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Essay on Man as a Passive Agent in His Assignment

While Carr may be discussing the internet in his article, his discussion is not limited to the internet but to the impact that technology has on the ability of humans to read and write. While people may not think of everyday reading and writing as art, writing is a basic expression of communication and is one of the highest of all art forms. Just like a child's scribbles are still art, rudimentary writing should be considered art, as well. Carr highlights the fact that reading (and, by extension, writing) are not instinctive for human beings. "It's not etched into our genes the way speech is" (Carr). This is clear because there have not been any human societies without speech, but there have been human societies without written language. Therefore, Carr posits that "We have to teach our minds how to translate the symbolic characters we see into the language we understand" (Carr). Carr believes that the mind learns how to translate those symbols differently depending on the nature of the written language. Therefore, he suggests that the use of the Internet, which presents information in a different form than traditional books or print materials, will result in a different neural circuitry. He also suggests that the Internet could change how people create the art of writing, not only how they process the art of writing. He gives the example of author Friedrich Nietzsche, who purchased a typewriter to aid in his writing once his vision began to fail. Nietzsche was able to teach himself touch-typing, which allowed him to write with his eyes closed and therefore avoid the eyestrain related headaches he had begun to experience while writing. However, people noticed a difference in Nietzsche's writing after he transitioned to the typewriter. "One of Nietzsche's friends, a composer, noticed a change in the style of his writing. His already terse prose had become even tighter, more telegraphic. 'Perhaps you will through this instrument even take to a new idiom,' the friend wrote in a letter, noting that, in his own work, his 'thoughts' in music and language often depend on the quality of pen and paper" (Carr). If the change from a pen and paper to a typewriter could change how an author wrote, even though he learned to write with the traditional pen and paper, then Carr believes that the transition to the Internet can change how modern people process their writing. Armstrong also believes that the creation of art reflects an active participation in the construction of self and highlights the fact that the creation of art was a critical part of early religious practices. In fact, she opens her passage with a description of cave paintings and discusses the fact that the arrangement of the animals in those cave painting is not suggestive of any way those animals would occur in nature. Instead, the cave paintings repeatedly depict groupings of animals that would not occur in nature, suggesting that there is a symbolic importance to the arrangement of the animals in those paintings. What is fascinating is that these early artworks appear in multiple locations, demonstrating that art was part of these early communities. There is also a belief that this artwork was somehow connected to hunting rituals. Armstrong describes this artwork as part of the mythos. She describes the distinction between mythos and logos. Logos corresponded to external reality. Therefore, the cave paintings representing animal groupings that would not occur in nature would not be part of logos. However, myths "may have told stories about the gods, but they were really focused on the more elusive, puzzling, and tragic aspects of the human predicament that lay outside the remit of logos" (Armstrong). Therefore, these cave paintings, this artwork that was almost certainly linked to pre-hunt or post-hunt rituals, did not describe animals as they would be found in nature, but presumably described animals as they would be in the mythos that surrounded that particular culture.

Another way that Armstrong and Carr believe that modern society has led to men being passive agents in their definition of self is that both technology-related knowledge and religion have become more superficial, so that people do not have to fully engage in the applicable process. Carr is actually able to provide support for the notion that people are reading at a more superficial level now that they can access information via the internet. Not only does he provide anecdotal evidence about how he and his friends perceive that their reading abilities have been altered since the Internet has become more widely used for research and writing, but he also provides information about a scientific study that suggests a widespread difference in how people are reading information. Carr refers to a study of online research habits, which discussed how people read online articles and suggested that the evidence that people were simply skimming the articles meant a change in how they were reading. Skimming articles suggests a failure to deeply engage in the reading. Likewise, Armstrong highlights a similar failure to engage in religious rituals in the same way as people did in primitive societies. Armstrong believes that religion was not simply a matter of thought for people in prior times; religion was about doing, not simply thinking. Furthermore, she suggests that without the symbolic meaning behind them, the religious rituals that formed such an integral part of daily life for mankind for thousands of years would have been meaningless. Armstrong uses the example of hunting rituals in primitive and prehistoric societies as a way of demonstrating how these rituals lent depth and meaning to the hunt that does not exist in modern hunts or modern religion. For people practicing those religions, there was a sacrifice, which required attending to the idea that religion was an action, not simply a faith system.

Finally, both Carr and Armstrong suggest that modern technology and religion dictate information and beliefs rather than inviting participation in formation of those beliefs. This is a change from earlier versions of reading, writing, and religion. It would require going beyond the information contained in Carr's article to fully explicate how prior generations used personal written communication as a primary means of interpersonal communication. However, understood in his argument is the notion that, while the Internet may have increased the access to different forms of communication, it has also led to hastily-created work that lacks the depth of older reporting and older fiction writing. The message of the Internet is that this abbreviated, superficial communication is the norm. Therefore, while one might find conflicting viewpoints on the internet, Carr's argument about technology is not that it is transmitting specific content, but that its transmissions are giving a consistent message about the nature of communication, itself. Armstrong's argument about the messages contained in modern religion is more explicit. In ancient religions, even those preceding the Abrahamic triad of current monotheistic world religions, the gods were not the source of the universe "but, like everything else, could only reflect it" (Armstrong). If the gods were reflections of the universe, then humans could play an interactive role with the interpretation of the gods. However, once much of the world transferred to a monotheistic model of religion, the idea of god changed from a reflection of the world to a defining role in the universe. As god gained a defining role, then people began discouraging the type of questioning self-reflection that was actually… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Man as a Passive Agent" Essay in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Man as a Passive Agent.  (2012, April 12).  Retrieved January 20, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Man as a Passive Agent."  12 April 2012.  Web.  20 January 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Man as a Passive Agent."  April 12, 2012.  Accessed January 20, 2021.