07 May 2019

A new link between the humanities and sciences

    Written by

  • Luciano Violante

“Civiltà delle macchine” was founded by Leonardo Sinisgalli in 1953, and directed by him until 1958. Still today, its 31 issues represent an unsurpassed model of a magazine of the “two cultures”.

It was also admired for its elegance, the result of a unitary idea of culture and human civilisation. In 1951, Leonardo Sinisgalli wrote that «Science and poetry cannot walk on diverging paths». His magazine was the path along which – in that extraordinary phase of industrial transformation of Italy – poetry and science walked together for the first time, closely interlaced.

We do not have the ambition to compete with Leonardo Sinisgalli’s “Civiltà delle macchine”. Every magazine has a beginning and an end. Since that magazine came to an end, passively reviving it could only lead to disrespectful processes of mummification. A different approach is to take its spirit, world view, line of civilisation, integrating the humanities and technology with the eye of today. This is why Leonardo Company has established Fondazione Leonardo – Civiltà delle Macchine, and assigned it the task, among others, of republishing the magazine. This is what we intend to do.

We are living through a change of epoch. It is not the first time the world is changing. Augustine of Hippo wrote “De Civitate Dei” worrying about the fall of Rome, devastated by Alaric’s army. For Augustine, this tragedy marked the end of the eternal city and the advent of a new, unknown civilisation. The discovery of America, when the centre of gravity of politics and trade shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, benefiting the countries on the shores of that sea, led to a radical change in Western civilisation.

Other profound changes in the life of the generations, all over the world, were induced by steam and electricity. However, the current change of epoch has features that are different from those of the past, and cuts more deeply into the life of human beings. Today, for the first time, the life of humanity is being shaken not by one factor only, but by several together, all unprecedented, which interlink with each other and nourish entirely new contents of living and thinking. More than half of human beings are interconnected. 70% of the GDP of the G7 countries comes from immaterial goods which, in turn, depend on information and communication technologies. Vast migrations involve millions of human beings on every continent.

A different approach is to take its spirit, world view, line of civilisation, integrating the humanities and technology with the eye of today.

The origin of the plot, Davide Dormino, 2012, iron, environmental dimensions, willingness of the artist

The origin of the plot, Davide Dormino, 2012, iron, environmental dimensions, willingness of the artist

Fernand Braudel has taught us that at every decisive change in the production structure, at every deep innovation in the habitat in which communities live, new thoughts and new actors will arise. The new “Civiltà delle Macchine” is a learned and free space, open to thoughts and topics which can help us to understand, know and interpret modernity. We want to talk about the intertwining of technology and philosophy, artificial intelligence and contemporary art, robotics and human work. We want to reflect on the way past, present and future combine with each other. Times are separate only in our intellect. Every past has been present and future; every future will first be present and then past. We propose once again the link between the humanities and new technologies in order to invite each world to take a look at the other, so as to enrich human values and make technological development more aware.

The first issue of the old magazine published an editorial by Giuseppe Ungaretti who, at the end, asked: «What can man do to avoid being dehumanised by the machine, to dominate it, to make it morally a weapon of progress?». In the 66 years which separate us from that question, man has been dehumanised by fellow man, not by the machine. The prisoner of Abū Ghraib turned into an electrical guinea pig is the symbol of this greater tragedy. However, the message still stands: man must not dehumanise himself. If we reflect in a manner which is not random on the new frontiers of man’s creative capacity, we can perhaps help him to defend his essence.

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