Remembering Theodore Roszak

Theodore Roszak, author of Making of a Counter Culture and The Longevity Revolution— and another two dozen books, more or less– has died. I interviewed Roszak a few years ago for a project on the future of aging, and loved the passion and energy of his first book, on the counterculture. In effect, in those two books Roszak chronicled the Baby Boomer generation’s great impact on American society and culture. As I explained a while ago,

Roszak spent his career at Cal State Hayward, and retired a few years ago. A decade ago, he went through a medical crisis “that would have killed our parents or grandparents. I came through this realizing that… I might live another twenty or thirty years,” he recalled to me last fall.

His experience revealed two things. First, surviving an event like this is “a profoundly transformative, spiritual experience” that makes you “wonder what you’re going to do with what you now see as a gift.” Second, he wasn’t alone: for more and more people, events like this are becoming a passage into a new, as-yet undefined phase of life.

I really became a fan of his when I came upon a review he wrote of Buckminster Fuller’s Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth that was one of the most critical, smart attacks on Fuller’s worldview.

My other substantive encounter with Roszak happened a decade ago, around his book From Satori to Silicon Valley, which he was kind enough to let me republish on my Making the Macintosh project. He was quite supportive of my interest in the book (which makes an argument about the link between counterculture and computing later explored by Fred Turner and John Markoff, and more recently applied to theoretical physics by David Kaiser), and gracious in letting me reprint the book.

Finally, I recently rediscovered a book he published in 1986, The Cult of Information, which I’d picked up at a book sale and never actually looked at in detail. However, it prefigures some of what I talk about in contemplative computing, particularly in acting on an understanding of the difference between human and computer intelligence and memory:

Two distinct elements come together in the computer: the ability to store information in vast amounts, the ability to process that information in obedience to strict logical procedures. Each of these will be taken up in turn in Chapters 5 and 6 and explored for its relationship to thought. There we will see how the cult of information fixes upon one or the other of these elements (sometimes both) and construes its intellectual value. Because the ability to store data somewhat corresponds to what we call memory in human beings, and because the ability to follow logical procedures somewhat corresponds to what we call reasoning in human beings, many members of the cult have concluded that what computers do somewhat corresponds to what we call thinking…. The burden of my argument is to insist that there is a vital distinction between what machines do when they process information and what minds do when they think.

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