Weltanschauung

Here’s a word for you: “Weltanschauung.” If it’s anywhere near as difficult to pronounce as it is to type, it is a word I shall never speak. Heck, even the writing part was dicey enough. Anyway, this German word was used by Carl Jung, the Swiss doctor, who defined it as one’s “philosophy of life.”

Jung (1875-1961) was quite the philosopher himself, and is one of the Western luminaries who was a fan of Eastern wisdom. He was a broad thinker but, despite his intellectual heft, not a stick in the mud. Were he with us today, he’d be fine fit for a Saipan happy hour powwow.

Jung had a rigorous way of analyzing fields that many scientifically-minded people would generally dismiss out of hand. Astrology is one example that comes to mind. I don’t know anything about that field, but was intrigued by Jung’s open-minded approach to it.

Jung’s take was that the truth behind something couldn’t be always be explained within the formal confines of scientific conventions.

As for the Western outlook, he wrote, 61 years ago: “Our philosophy is no longer a way of life, as it was in antiquity; it has turned into an exhaustively intellectual and academic affair.”

I think we could say that was a good call for its times. But those times were drawing to a close as the high-tech realm was poised to take the baton from the ivory tower.

The next evolution (if we can call it that) in the Weltanschauung of the multitudes might come from the keyboard of a programmer, not from the office of a professor. After all, the cyberworld has become a way of life. It seems ripe for a philosophy to catch up with it by offering a purposeful affirmation that is crafted for the context.

Or maybe I’ve got things backwards. Maybe the current habit patterns, once etched for a bit longer, will be retrospectively characterized as the philosophy of the times.

Anyway, no matter which direction that stuff takes, a few things have reminded me that, one way or another, it’s in the works.

One thing is the pending holiday season. I’m hard-pressed to see a gift on the list that doesn’t have a chip in it. I can see the day coming when youngsters think I’m off my rocker when I describe how, when I was a kid, we’d throw around an oblong piece of pigskin that was inflated with air.

The world of footballs, passing, catching, grass stains, sprained ankles, and tackles will be a complete mystery to them. Actually, it already is. Pigs and air seem to be OK, at least for now, but who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Meanwhile, Nov. 12 news reports announced the passing of Douglas Rain, a career stage actor whose voice received cinematic fame in the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Rain was the voice of the movie’s villain, a computer called the HAL 9000. The computer decides to snuff out its human colleagues on a space mission, and it speaks in an eerily smooth and detached manner.

This contest between man and machine was often referenced, and HAL’s speaking mimicked, when people talked about computers for the next 20 years or so. Oddly enough, though, as computers became part of daily life for most people, the HAL-inspired cynicism seemed to fade from general view. By that point, if you wanted to hold a job that didn’t involve flipping burgers or chipping paint, you spent all day with a computer. Meet the new boss; not the same as the old boss.

In 1989, a new voice was recorded and associated with computers. This time around it was friendly and chipper. “You’ve got mail,” it said. This came from America Online, a very early internet company that’s still in business. The human behind the voice was a gentleman named Elwood Edwards.

There’s no need to mention anything that came along since that point. The trajectory hasn’t changed at all. And now that I realize how many years this has been rolling, I can see that the new Weltanschauung isn’t merely preparing to arrive.
It’s already here.

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at EdStephensJr.com. His column runs every Friday.

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