21 May 2009

Consilience: How to Understand Everything

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Understanding everything can be difficult, since so much knowledge and expertise is "domain specific." Eric Drexler maintains that it is possible to learn "a broad and integrative kind of knowledge," which would lead to a more productive creativity and fewer mistakes and blunders.
Looking back over the last few decades, I can see that I’ve invested far more than 10,000 hours in learning about the structures, relationships, contents, controversies, open problems, limitations, capabilities, developing an understanding of how the fields covered in the major journals fit together to constitute the current state of science and technology. In some areas, of course, I’ve dug deeper into the contents and tools of a field, driven by the needs of problem solving; in others, I know only the shape of the box and where it sits.

This sort of knowledge is a kind of specialty, really — a limited slice of learning, but oriented crosswise. Because of this orientation, though, it provides leverage in integrating knowledge from diverse sources. I am surprised by the range of fields in which I can converse with scientists and engineers at about the level of a colleague in an adjacent field. I often know what to ask about their research, and sometimes what to suggest. _Metamodern
EO Wilson discussed this type of integration of knowledge in his book Consilience. Inventor and visionary Buckminster Fuller was one of the leading examples of such integration in action.

Our society would be much better off, if it focused more on the development of this type of integration of knowledge, and less on the current dysfunctional hyper-specialised, disconnected hodge-podge of politicised education (cum indoctrination). Our educational and knowledge institutions are becoming fortresses of inbred dogma, competing for power and influence with other similarly walled fortresses.

Consecutive generations grow more specialised, with shorter attention spans and ever narrower ranges of expertise, as the broad body of human knowledge grows willy-nilly in all directions. With modern information technology we can store, categorise, and retrieve information as never before, but if knowledge remains untested, disconnected, and largely theoretical, it serves more as fodder in institutional games of power than in improving the human condition.

Competence for the present and the coming world does not require a single college degree. Competence requires something far more difficult to obtain in our modern environment of fanatical superficiality. It requires the making and testing of large numbers of mental connections, across many boundaries of knowledge and experience.

There are no apprenticeships or professional schools for learning competence as such. Competence attaches itself to doctors, lawyers, electricians, engineers, scientists -- all within their narrow fields of expertise. That type of competence has helped to lift the modern western world out of starvation, most of the killing infectious diseases, and extreme poverty and lawlessness.

But the type of competence that humans need to take the next step, is a much broader and more encompassing form of competence than modern human societies understand. It is the broad competence of a frontiersman combined with the technical and scientific savvy of a first-rate engineer or scientist.

Modern human civilisation is unstable. Top heavy, with minimal vision or competence to deal with the unexpected. The great mass of long neglected human ballast is apt to teach the arrogant self-annointed "legends" who are in control, a very nasty lesson. That is, if modern societies do not "wise up" and teach their children to be competent and knowledgeable in a broadly integrative way.


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Blogger Phil Ordway said...

Hi Alfin,

This is probably my favorite post. I love the topic of consilience. I recommend reading Michael Mauboussin's book more than you know. It's essentially a book on consilience.

Founder of SimoleonSense.com

Sunday, 24 May, 2009  
Blogger al fin said...

Thanks, Miguel.

"Al Fin Blog" is a Next Level blog, to distinguish it from extropian, transhumanist, and singularitarian blogs. Next Levels believe in broadly based competencies to provide their societies with firm human foundations.

Tuesday, 26 May, 2009  

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