Birth of Technology from Spirit of Alchemy

In ‘The Birth of Technology’ (1970), Simondon argues that “scientific spirit” (the lógos, as such, of technè) developed in the West as a result of the meeting and mingling of Eastern, Near-Eastern, orEgyptian technics on the one hand and the [principally Greek] contemplative and theoretical sciences onthe other (Alexandria — with its Ptolemaïc Pharos — was an exemplary hub of this confluence between thetechnical and the theoretical). Since it deals for the most part with what the ancient Egyptians called al-khem (the Arabic al-khimiya, the Latin alkimia, the French alchimie and the English alchemy, originallydesignating a fertile as opposed to a desert milieu: the generative “black earth” of al-khem as opposed tothe deleterious “red earth” of al-deshret), ‘The Birth of Technology’ could just as easily have been called ‘The Birth of Technology from the Spirit of Alchemy’ (the title of the present essay).

Del Re concludes his essay on ‘Alchemy and Technology’ with a statement the spirit of which isalso (beyond the bounds of its alchemical analysis) altogether Simondonian and indeed (in addition)Stieglerian: “those who develop technology without even a trace of the spirit of alchemy, i.e. without aparallel upgrading of their spiritual standards—particularly their sense of responsibility—may becontributing to the devastating ills of society[…] which no vaccine can prevent.” “The main spiritualphilosophy of alchemy,” he explains, “placed the search for the secrets of nature in the context of a pathtoward elevation beyond [individual or collective] ambitions and lust for power”; “as a condition formaking matter proceed toward its ultimate perfection, the operator [in any and every alchemicalundertaking] should tread the same path as the matter s/he is modifying and manipulating].”

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