In Huxley’s Brave New World, the future is a dystopian reality where science and technology keep us sufficiently distracted to avoid realizing the truth about reality. In R.F. Georgy’s novella, Notes from the Cafe, the digital age has realized Huxley’s vision of a dystopian world packaged as a utopia. Georgy brings back Dostoevsky’s the Underground Man in order to offer us a chilling image of the information age. Speaking of information, Georgy’s Cafe Dweller declares, “Information paints no picture, sings no song, and writes no poem.” I must confess that when I first read this line I was stunned by its poetic style. Not since reading Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground did I question the benefits of the information age. Georgy makes one of the most compelling arguments against progress, so much so that I was forced to confront all my preconceived notions about science and technology.
“You believe in progress. You believe in the perfectibility of man. You believe in the rational ordering of human beings. You believe in the crystal palace. You believe in… wait, no you worship the number four. You look puzzled, I know. I speak in parables. You, gentlemen, prefer the concision of facts and figures. Let me explain what I mean by the number four. According to mathematics, twice two is always four. Isn’t that a wonderfully rational statement, gentlemen? Isn’t it precise and accurate? Now what has the digital age done with this statement? It has built an edifice over it. The foundation of the digital age is, after all, mathematics.” Georgy creates the ultimate Neo-Luddite who reduces the digital age to a series of mindless distractions. According to Georgy, we “overinflate the epistemic value of information and confuse it for knowledge.
Once he is done debunking the illusion of our digital complex, Georgy moves to God by forcing me reassess by agnostic position. In one of the most devastating arguments against agnosticism, Georgy argues, “The agnostic will demand proof before he submits to the divine order of things. What’s wrong with that, you say? I will tell you what is wrong with it. How the hell do you know what the proof should look like in order to acknowledge it as the proof you require? Do you see the extraordinary arrogance in demanding proof? We have assumed all along that those who require proof have no responsibility other than to sit back, relax and wait for something extraordinary to slap them into believing. We have been lead to believe the onus of proof is on those who affirm unsubstantiated claims. What you don’t realize, gentlemen, is that those who demand proof have a greater burden placed upon them.” I’ve always assumed that asking for proof is sufficient reason to keep the possibility of having faith open. What Georgy is saying is that demanding proof requires that we understand the knowledge framework under which a proof is rendered valid or invalid. If I argue science should be the standard of proof, then is it not upon me to prove why science is the only acceptable form of proof?
By the time I finished Notes from the Cafe, I was dizzy with questions. This book challenged me, angered me, and provoked certain emotional responses that forced me to confront my own belief system. I believe this book will go down in history as a classic that will be studied by all who engage the digital world. This book should be required reading.