The computer in particular discloses a whole new range of sublime experiences. In a world in which the computer has become the dominant technology, everything – genes, books, organizations – becomes a relational database. Databases are onto-logical machines that transform everything into a collection of (re)combinatory elements. As such, the database also transforms our experience of the sublime, and the sublime as such. The mathematical sublime in the age of computing manifests itself as a combinatorial explosion. As Borges has shown in The Library of Babel, the number of combinations of a finite number of elements – in his story, 25 linguistic symbols – is hyper-astronomical (Borges 1962). Borges’s library, consisting of books of 410 pages, each having 40 lines of 80 characters – contains no less than 251,312,000 books. The number of atoms in the universe (estimated by physicists to be roughly 1080) is negligible compared to the unimaginable number of possible (re)combinations in the ‘Database of Babel.’ And the number of possible (re)combinations of the 3 billion nucleotides of the human genome is even more sublime (cf.Bloch 2008).
Twenty-first century man has been denied the choice to not be technological.
Moreover, by actively recombining the elements of the database (by genetic manipulation or synthetic biology, for example), we unleash awesome powers and, in so doing, transform the dynamic sublime. In our (post)modern world it is no longer the superior force of nature that calls forth the experience of the sublime, but rather, the superior force of technology. However, with the transfer of power from divine nature to human technology, the ambiguous experience of the sublime also nests in the latter. In the era of converging technologies – information technology, biotechnology, nanotechnology and the neurosciences – it is technology itself that gains a confounding character in its battle with nature. While technology is an expression of the grandeur of the human intellect, we experience it more and more as a force that controls and threatens us. Technologies such as atomic power stations and genetic modification, to mention just two paradigmatic examples, are Janus-faced: they reflect, at once, our hope for the benefits they may bring as well as our fear of their uncontrollable, destructive potentials.