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Do Rocks Have Rights? McBride explores this idea in the Keefer lecture

April 22, 2013

Upon waking each morning most people check their smartphones before their feet even hit the floor. Thus, smartphones are now defeating gravity as priority, theorizes Tom McBride.

“We are quite possibly in a major revolution,” says the English professor and Keefer Professor of the Humanities. “And this revolution is going to be as big if not bigger than the Industrial Revolution, as big if not bigger than the Darwinian Revolution, and as big if not bigger than the Copernican Revolution. We are really living through a fundamental shift in how we operate things.”

Tomorrow (Wednesday, April 24) McBride will reflect on these matters in his annual Keefer and Keefer lecture titled “Do Rocks Have Rights? In an Age of Information, They Just Might!” Free and open to the public, the lecture will be held at 8 p.m. in Richardson Auditorium, Morse-Ingersoll Hall.

The question McBride will propose to his audience is how a liberal arts college like Beloit is supposed to react to such a stupendous revolution. He will present six ideas to consider when pondering the liberal arts in an information age, including the theory of rocks having rights.

Citing philosopher Lynn Townsend White, who asked whether or not rocks have rights, McBride argues that an age of information may be calling for a new set of ethics.

If rocks do have rights, their rights must be based on their existence, not on their lives, since rocks do not have lives. Rocks exist in the infosphere, a place where McBride says information itself comes to constitute one big ecosystem.

Anything that exists is a carrier of information, he says, and it deserves our respect and attention as well as the right to have its information ferreted out with accuracy.

“Since we all benefit from being in an ecosphere...does that not in fact give us as beneficiaries certain obligations as guardians?” McBride asks. “And we’re all beneficiaries of information, so should that not in fact mean we have certain ethical obligations to be guardians of information?”