19 February 2009

human and technological growth

As the human population grows quickly one of the many challenges we as a race face is the attempt to have human intellectual development come even close to keeping up to the rate of population growth. The obvious pressing issue that I am ignoring for now is that a majority of the human population spends much of their lives concerned with basic subsistence and thus is unable to contribute much to species development beyond the scope of genetics.

A smaller issue but one nonetheless on my mind is that of the greater chance of "reinventing the wheel" as a greater number of people work in any particular discipline.
Certainly the revolution of information technology that has characterized my life time goes a long way towards alleviating this phenomenon however I believe the revolution to be far from complete.

As academics we need to stop pigeonholing ourselves as "this kind of economist" or an economist, or a "social scientist", we are professional thinkers...all of us, hard or soft scientist, mathematician or marine biologist, or (ugh) statistician. The sooner we stop sorting knowledge by the goals we are trying to achieve and start opening ourselves up to the compliments and contradictions that other disciplines can offer us the faster we will develop intellectually as a civilization.

There two steps that should be taken:
1. The monopoly on higher education shared by the more generally privileged members of needs to shattered. This is a common argument and I will not continue it here beyond to say that free education shouldn't be second rate education.
2. The way we approach science (and knowledge in general for that matter) needs to change. Academics need to come down from our ivory towers. Great research has had and always will have its place, but there needs to be a new focus on collaborative learning through teaching. Continued interaction in a teacher student format beyond that of a formal classroom setting is not even on the radar of many intellectuals. Sharing knowledge among friends? Interaction with intellectuals outside of one's own department is often frowned upon by colleges. Interaction with non-intellectuals is often considered a waste of time completely. We are missing great opportunities through academic elitism. The attitude of restricting higher knowledge to people who have "earned" the right to learn it causes a major drag on scientific advancement in this world.
It is time that we work collectively to change the culture outside of academia towards those of us in it. If we truly are doing anything worthwhile then we should be proud of any opportunity to share our work be it theoretical or applied with people who are outside of our area of expertise.

Free information and the time to learn it do not have to be luxuries in developed economies.
Wow this post went in a totally different direction than I had planed .....oh well.

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