Is Our Sense of Discovery Dying? The Duality of Technology

“The real voyage of discovery consists of not seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” — Marcel Proust

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When you live in a world as technologically advanced as this one, it becomes easy to believe that there is nothing left to be explained, how things are is how they always will be. It is quite understandable as to why this is the case, the rate at which computers are progressing is actually slowing down considerably, no longer keeping up with the predictions of Moore’s Law. Some individuals, like Nvidia’s CEO Jensen Huang, questions its feasibility, as “it’s more expensive and more technically difficult to double the number of transistors driving the processing power [for computers].” This technological plateau (when we don’t factor in the still very esoteric applications of quantum computing that the general masses are not acquainted with), feeds into the collective idea that as of now, we are as advanced as we will ever be.

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This graph shows the rate at which transistors on integrated circuit chips increase, which indicates how powerful they are. This is based on Moore’s Law, which was the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. (Roser, Ritchie 2013)

There is another issue at play here, born from the same dilemma; When there is such ease of accessibility to information, apps that serve every need imaginable, and the near-instant rate at which everything is done via technology, it warps the perception of one’s mind to fall into these rigid patterns of thinking. It can even result in what some claim is the reversal of the Flynn effect, that is, our IQ is steadily dropping with each generation. There is perhaps an over-reliance on technology that is causing our fluid intelligence (our ability to form new patterns of thinking) to stagnate. Why think for yourself when you have several computers that can do it for you? It is clearly a situation of nurture vs nature, where the brain learns to offload a lot of the heavy lifting onto machines that can do the work for it. When was the last time you had to remember a phone number or the directions to someone’s home? Probably not in a long time, but your capacity to remember things like that in the future has probably gotten worse.

Perhaps the most concerning issue is how the human desire for discovery, over time, is at risk of being considerably diminished. This is a problem particularly when we talk about research, as it is the essence of what conducting research is all about. How does one reclaim their sense of discovery then? You cannot alter the world we live in, nor can you halt the inevitability of progress. What you can do instead is find ways to reignite that sense of discovery within, so that it never is at the risk of running out.

Creativity breeds wonder

Back from the earliest days of evolution, our ancestors created cave paintings as a way of self-expression and to better understand the world around them. Anthropologist Augustine Fuentes believes that “without art, we’re not human.” Creating art, writing, crafting, etc. breathes imagination into reality, and makes use of the creative muscle that is vital for all areas of life. If you take some time out of your day to create something, you will find many blockages and rigid patterns of thinking begin to change.

Feed your imagination with books

A study by Dr. David Lewis of the University of Sussex determined that reading books reduces stress levels by 66–80%. Stress is the leading killer of all creative thought, and powering your imagination by entering countless worlds found in stories, gaining new insights and perspectives, or just as a way to detoxify can spark that sense of wonder once more.

Collaborating with others

It may seem contradictory to believe technology can become an asset in this endeavor, especially when this article has been reiterating that it has been a determinant to this sense of discovery, but that is merely because its potential usage has yet to be fully explored within this area. The key is found within creating a space for active engagement and collaboration. Knowledge needs to be shared, but it has to be done in a way where the interaction with the material can become more than a one-sided, one-dimensional experience. Being able to engage with research, asking questions, and becoming part of the conversation, invites others to share their own unique perspectives and can only further build upon the potential of a new discovery. That is why DotsLive is specifically designed with spaces and tools that facilitate these moments of collaboration and connection.

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(Caption) When knowledge is shared, wonderful things can happen. HCI researcher Brenna Li explores the usage of HCI in the field of healthcare during a past DotsLive session. Polls, the live chat, and collaborative notetaking were all utilized to make this live-stream a more engaging experience.

Bring the knowledge alive

There are still many wonders left in this world that have yet to be explored. In fact, just this year alone, there were numerous advancements in the fields of oncology (Google DeepMind,) geology (Ordovician mass extinction), and space exploration (Emirates Mars Mission). It is very easy to get caught in echo chambers and believe that everything around you is set in stone. One of the greatest minds of the 19th century, Albert Einstein proclaimed, “I have no special talent, I am only passionately curious.” And it was that curiosity that allowed him to make the discoveries that he did, not his exceptional mathematical background based on theories and ideas previously known. So whether you make a change to include creative practices in your life, gain new perspectives, or just find ways to connect with others, never lose that desire to discover something new. It can only help you reach heights you never thought possible.

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Max Roser and Hannah Ritchie (2013) — “Technological Progress”. Published online at Retrieved from: ‘' [Online Resource]

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