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The Vanishing World-Machine

Stephen L. Talbott

This chapter is part of a work in progress and is subject to continual revision. Date of last revision: October 30, 2003. The chapter was originally published in NetFuture #151. Copyright 2003 The Nature Institute. All rights reserved. You may freely redistribute this chapter for noncommercial purposes only.


During the Renaissance and scientific revolution — so the conventional story runs — our ancestors began for the first time to see the world. For inquirers such as Alberti, Columbus, Da Vinci, Gilbert, Galileo, and Newton it was as if a veil had fallen away. Instead of seeking wisdom in a spiritual realm or in appeals to authority or in the complex mazes of medieval ratiocination, the great figures at the dawn of the modern era chose to look at the world for themselves and record its testimony. It was an exhilarating time, when the world stood fresh and open before them, ripe for discovery. And they quickly discovered that certain questions could be answered in a satisfyingly precise, demonstrable, and incontestable way. They lost interest in asking how many angels can dance on the head of a