During the neotechnic phase, the sense of order became much more pervasive and fundamental. The blind whirl of atoms no longer seemed adequate even as a metaphorical description of the universe. During this phase, the hard and fast nature of matter itself underwent a change: it became penetrable to newly discovered electric impulses, and even the alchemist’s original guess about the transmutation of the elements was turned, through the discovery of radium, into a reality. The image changed from “solid matter” to “flowing energy. (Mumford 1934:217)
First as to the miner himself: “The critics,” says Dr. Bauer, “say further that mining is a perilous occupation to pursue because the miners are sometimes killed by the pestilential air which they breathe; sometimes their lungs rot away; sometimes the men perish by being crushed in masses of rock; sometimes falling from ladders into the shafts, they break their arms, legs, or necks. . . . But since things like this rarely happen, and only so far as workmen are careless, they do not deter miners from carrying on their trade.” This last sentence has a familiar note: it recalls the defenses of potters and radium watch-dial manufacturers when the dangers of their trades were pointed out. Dr. Bauer forgot only to note that though coal miners are not particularly susceptible to tuberculosis, the coldness and dampness, sometimes the downright wetness, predispose the miner to rheumatism: an ill they share with rice cultivators. The physical dangers of mining remain high; some are still unavoidable. (Mumford 1934:71)
The dark blind world of the machine, the miner’s world, began to disappear: heat, light, electricity, and finally matter were all manifestations of energy, and as one pursued the analysis of matter further the old solids became more and more tenuous, until finally they were identified with electric charges: the ultimate building stones of modern physics, as the atom was of the older physical theories. The imperceptible, the ultra-violet and the infra-red series of rays, became commonplace elements in the new physical world at the moment that the dark forces of the unconscious were added to the purely external and rationalized psychology of the human world. Even the unseen was, so to say, illuminated: it was no longer unknown. One might measure and use what one could not see and handle. And while the paleotechnic world had used physical blows and flame to transform matter, the neotechnic was conscious of other forces equally potent under other circumstances: electricity, sound, light, invisible rays and emanations. The mystic’s belief in a human aura became as well substantiated by exact science as the alchemist’s dream of transmutation was through the Curies’ isolation of radium. (Mumford 1934:246)
MUMFORD, Lewis. 1934. Technique and civilization. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.