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Perfect technology is impossible, but keep trying anyway

“I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst … And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life… You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry… you will someday.” — Lester Burnham in “American Beauty”

In our endless quest to find answers to today’s most pressing questions, it’s tempting to believe we will one day hit upon the ultimate, perfect solution, the flawless technology that will lead us to utopia.

In medieval times, it was the pursuit of alchemy, a way to transform base metals into gold. Later, we turned our sights to perpetual motion machines. Today, we seek more science-based, yet equally evasive, innovations: the cheap, easy and endlessly scalable clean-energy source; the pain-free and 100-per-cent-guaranteed geoengineering fix for climate change; the built-in-a-lab, custom-programmable bacterium that can solve any and all of our problems.

Don’t fool yourself. Such pure, technological perfection is unachievable … if for no other reason than that we don’t understand how the world, the universe, really works, and we never will.

That’s not an argument against trying to understand or continually striving for answers. We can, and we should, always. But if the innovations and discoveries of the past 100 years alone should have taught us anything, it’s this: the more we know, the more we realise we don’t know.

SF Gate columnist Mark Morford expresses this beautifully today in a commentary titled, “Open wide and never stop gasping.” Inspired by this week’s astounding announcement from NASA that it had discovered a pink and lively shrimp-like creature in the inhospitable environs 600 feet below the West Antarctic ice sheet, Morford’s column is an absolute must-read.

It’s a reminder that, despite all the daunting challenges we face in the 21st century, it is important to pause occasionally and realise there really is so much beauty in the world.

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