Sunday, November 6, 2011

The frightening (and invigorating) endlessness of knowledge

Incidentally, one feeling I have all the time is the almost ungraspable vastness of the amount of thought and literature on any topic.

For any given point one might make in a minute or two, people have spent entire careers delving into that one detail. It is increasingly hard to bring things together into a coherent whole, all the more so when there is such an edifice of experts and prestigious received opinion on any one point. And so often the edifice is a fortress built to keep out other perspectives and protect those within. The inhabitants build elegant towers mostly oblivious of other currents of thought or related disciplines.

I watched some sessions recorded at a meeting of Nobel Prizewinners in Economics in Lindau, Germany a few weeks ago. There the brilliant winners sat, surrounded by official adulation and the rapt attention of three hundred economists from the younger generation who had been selected to bask in their glow.

And the winners deserve praise. But it also seems so hermetically sealed and invulnerable to anybody who has not spent thirty years painfully working themselves up within the academic discipline. It almost seemed like a visible incarnation of "normal science", as Thomas Kuhn put it (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions). "Paradigm shift" may be one of the most overused and abused words in intellectual enquiry. But you can see why they are so difficult and rare, as the Nobel Laureates sit on their airless summit.

A lot of the problem is that academia (at least in economics) rewards consistency of theories - rigor - which is only tenuously related to truth.

But, as we were just discussing, it is the process of recombination and synthesis that produces innovation, and that is what I'm trying to do in a tiny way here.

No comments:

Post a Comment