Hyperseeing From the Towers of Babel
On the influence of media and technology, discussions abound. “Is Google making us stupid?” “Is Twitter bad for the soul?” “Is Facebook changing the way we relate?”(1) In fact, there seems a recent upsurge in articles questioning our faltering minds, morals, and communities (ironically reaching us through the very mediums that are blamed for it). Some note the shifting of thought patterns, attention spans that are beginning to prefer 140 characters or less, information gluttony, news addiction, and so on.
In fact, there is good reason, I think, to step away from the torrent surges of information and hyper-networking to think meaningfully about how it all might be changing us—for good and for ill. For with every new improvement and invention irrefutably comes gain and loss. And just as quickly as I can build a case against the gods of media-and-technology, I can also double check my footnotes on Google, find twenty additional perspectives on Twitter, and watch an interview with the author of one of the headlines mentioned above—all of which came from articles I read online in the first place. There are clearly advantages to having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information, inasmuch as this hyper-access to people, news, and facts assuredly has far-reaching effects on cognition, as well as the way we see, or don’t see, the world.
Speaking decades before the debates over Twitter or the wonders of Google, Malcolm Muggeridge seemed to foresee the possibilities of too much information. “Accumulating knowledge is a form of avarice and lends itself to another version of the Midas story,” he wrote. “Man is so avid for knowledge that everything he touches turns to facts; his faith becomes theology, his love becomes lechery, his wisdom becomes science. Pursuing meaning, he ignores truth.”(2) In other words, Muggeridge saw that it was possible to see so many news clips that we are no longer seeing, to hear so many sound-bites that we are no longer hearing, to seek so many “exclusives” that we are no longer understanding.
Speaking centuries before Muggeridge, the prophet Isaiah and the rabbi Jesus described their audiences quite similarly. “This is why I speak to them in parables,” said Jesus, “because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand’” (cf. Matthew 13:13, Isaiah 6:9-10). Undoubtedly, we are living in a time that is complicated by towering opportunities of information and knowledge; news clips, sound bites, blogs, and editorials, all piled so high and wide that we can scarcely see around our fortresses of facts. But perhaps regardless of the era, humanity’s skill in building towers of Babel—built to see beyond ourselves yet ironically blocking our vision—is both timeless and unprecedented.(3) Learning to see in a way that “reaches the heavens,” or, as Einstein once said, “to think the thoughts of God,” is far more about seeing God than it is about seeing facts.
In the art and work of sculpture, there is a term used to describe an artist’s ability to look at an unformed rock and see it in its completed state. It has been said of the sculptor Henry Moore that he had the gift of “hyperseeing,” the gift of seeing the form and beauty latent in a mass of unshaped material.(4) Hyperseeing is a word used to describe a sculptor’s extraordinary gift of seeing in four dimensional space—that is, seeing all around the exterior but also seeing all points within, seeing in a rough piece of stone the astounding possibilities of art.
It strikes me that the exercise of hyperseeing, then, as it might apply to our towering mountains of rough and unmolded facts, is something to which God tirelessly calls us. Far from building towers of knowledge that make names for ourselves, or accumulating sound-bites until we are no longer hearing, hyperseeing (and hyperhearing) the world around us requires God’s vision and voice. “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3). Far better than a world of mere facts is a world made visible by the wisdom of God.
Perhaps we practice the exercise of hyperseeing as we learn to see the power of the resurrection, the glory of the transfiguration, the gift of the Lord’s Supper, or the wisdom of the parables in the daily facts and movements of our lives in God’s kingdom. To be sure, the resurrection of Jesus—the rising of dead flesh to life again—is no more jarring than every other promise we hold because of him, promises we can now see in part, while hyperseeing the extraordinary possibilities of all they will look like upon completion:
“Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:4-5).
Indeed, the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped; the lame will leap like deer, the tongue of the speechless sing for joy; waters will break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.(5) In a world hyper-filled with facts and knowledge, such are the sights and sounds of a kingdom the pure in heart (with or without the help of Google) shall see.
(1) cf. Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Atlantic, (July/August 2008), “Scientists Warn of Rapid-fire Media Dangers,” CNN Health, April 14, 2009, Peggy Orenstein, “Growing Up on Facebook,” The New York Times, March 10, 2009.
(2) From Firing Line, “Do We Need Religion or Religious Institutions” an interview with Malcolm Muggeridge, September 6, 1980, chapter 6.
(3) See Genesis 11.
(4) As cited by Jeremy Begbie in an interview with Ken Myers, Mars Hill Audio Review, vol. 94, Nov./Dec. 2008.
(5) See Isaiah 35:5-6 and Luke 7:22.
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