Archive for November, 2014

Newsletter 18: The Society of Knowledge

November 29, 2014

We live in a knowledge society but we don’t have a universal class of knowledge professionals. Every profession deemed universal is represented throughout society. Doctors ply their wares in rural clinics, small town hospitals and the Harvard Medical School. Lawyers occupy the White House every four years. Engineers and architects work for the department of transport, the local real estate contractor and Google. There’s a teacher in every village.

However, we don’t find knowledge professionals anywhere besides universities, where they’re typically called professors. Even there, professors aren’t certified as knowledge professionals but as bearers of some specialized body of knowledge. There’s nothing that makes a professor into a professor; there are only professors of history and chemistry. That’s strange, for lawyers can’t be lawyers without passing the bar, engineers need to be certified and teachers need a degree in education. We mark our respect for a profession by declaring a badge that certifies entry into that profession. That certificate also universalizes the profession, so that it can take root in every nook and corner of modern society. Every startup has a CEO, a CTO and a COO. They don’t have CKOs. The ivory tower has prestige, but intellectually, it’s as much a ghetto as it’s a beacon.

You might say that a PhD is the certificate for professors. It’s partly true, but most PhD’s aren’t professors and will never be one. Most PhD’s leave the profession of professing, or worse, languish as adjunct faculty. If the certification is a signal of respectable livelihood, then a PhD is a very poor guarantee. Imagine the heartburn that would ensue if 70% of those with a law or medical degree had a position that paid close to minimum wage and no hope of getting a better job.

In any case, a PhD is a certification of specialized knowledge, not of knowledge as such. A knowledge bearer should be closer to a philosopher, a practical philosopher, than a possessor of arcane information. Socrates thought his role was to be the midwife of wisdom. I believe that role is far more important today than it was in Athens in 399 BCE. We are deluged by information on the one hand and plagued by uncertainty about the future on the other. The information deluge and uncertainty aren’t unrelated; the world is changing quickly, which leads to more information – both signal and noise – and more uncertainty.

In times of knowledge scarcity, knowledge professions are gate keepers to access – which is why we have priesthoods and ivory towers. We have moved far from those times. Knowledge is no longer about access but about value: what trends are important and what are fads? What’s worth learning and why? In the future, every individual, every company and every society will rise or fall on the basis of it’s understanding of value. We need a new category of professionals who will act as weather vanes for the new winds that are blowing; people who understand data making and meaning making. They shouldn’t be content with being midwives of wisdom. Instead they should boldly go where no one has gone before and take us with them. 

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Newsletter 17: Communicating Knowledge

November 23, 2014

I have been thinking about knowledge and collaboration for a long time, for it greatly affects my own life as an scholar and researcher. The open source movement didn’t invent collaboration; academics were collaborating freely – both as in beer and as in freedom – before software engineers. After all, professional engineers work on products that are bought and sold, while academics (in principle, if not in practice) share their wisdom in return for society’s generosity in funding their exploration.

In practice, software engineers collaborate a lot more and a lot more freely than academics do. Wherever you look, the situation is better in industry with all the cut-throat competition than in academia, with its public charter. Some of it is because academia is actually a lot more cut-throat than industry – there are fewer jobs and there’s less money. Further, unlike an industry professional who can sell expensive widgets for a living, an academic only has their data and their content to flog to the world. The sociology and the economics of academia is well understood now and I will remain silent on this issue from now on; you can always read the Chronicle of Higher Education to see the daily lamentation.

Let me talk about a structural issue instead. You might have heard of the famous slogan: “the medium is the message.” In other words, the means through which you communicate influences the content of your communication. TV news is not the same as newspaper news. For the same reason, academic collaboration isn’t the same as software collaboration. Software collaboration – mostly done via version control systems – is real time, ongoing and continuous. The time cycle is in the order of hours, if not minutes. The technologies that support collaboration are more or less instantaneous: you run a git push origin master and your collaborator has your contribution in front of them.

Academic writing is a lot slower. Its collaboration technology is built around citations, responses and feedback that have a time cycle of months or more. Worked well in the seventeenth century; now, not so well. It’s true that you can write your scientific paper on a Google doc and see your collaborators’ response in real time. That’s missing the point – collaborating on an office document has none of the language and ritual of paper writing. Every element of a scientific article, from the abstract to the introduction, the citations, the data, the discussion, the conclusion and the references, is designed (unconsciously, as a result of a slow evolution over centuries) to address a single problem: how can I communicate my work to a community that lives far away from me and doesn’t have access to my mind or my lab? It’s that mental organization that has enabled a scholarly edifice, built on top of each other’s work. Unfortunately, that design has a half-life of months.

We now expect instant feedback from our communication systems – wherever you look from phone and Skype to SMS, Whatsapp and Facebook messenger, people are used to ongoing, real-time conversation across the world. When I first came to the US in the early nineties, I was still writing letters by hand to my friends and family. Most of them didn’t have a phone or a computer. I would write a letter, post it and then wait for a month or so before I received a reply. In a couple of years, we had all switched to email. It’s true that the handwritten letter had an emotional impact that an email can never have, but for most purposes we don’t need that handwritten note. Certainly not in an academic setting. Scholarly collaboration needs to reflect this new cognitive landscape. A revolution in knowledge needs a revolution in communication.

Weekly Newsletter #16: Text is Technology

November 16, 2014

If you have been following my newsletters, you know that I am obsessed with text in its various forms:

  1. Writing
  2. Code
  3. Mathematics
  4. Stories

and so on.

As a – more or less – universally literate society, we have pushed text into the background. We read text, but we don’t examine the mechanisms behind text. It’s useful to view text through an engineer’s eyes, since text is technology . It is, in fact, the technology that makes idealism possible.

Philosophers have talked about the clash between idealism and realism for millennia. Simply put, realists privilege hardware over software, while idealists privilege software over hardware. That distinction plays out in every human endeavor. In science, idealists privilege ultimate laws and principles (think string theory) while realists privilege manipulation and prediction (think biology). In foreign policy, realists talk about “the national interest” while idealists talk about democracy and freedom. In IT, idealists write software and realists build hardware.

I am a software kind of guy, though I find hardware immensely fascinating; every major human advance is an interplay between the two. Gutenberg makes both Cervantes and Galileo possible. Computing brings texts and materials together in an unprecedented manner that we’re only beginning to unravel.

Why do I say that?

Consider the archetypal piece of hardware: the machine. Turing showed that machines are nothing but text – the essence of machines is about drawing 0’s and 1’s on paper while erasing and writing those digits. With computing we are now able to control and move objects by writing about them. How amazing is that?

We don’t really understand how that happens though; I think we await new innovations in abstraction before we will understand how text can move stuff. If that sounds awfully like the mind-body problem, you would be right. In other words, AI, cognitive science and the philosophy of mind are tied to the evolution of writing. Put another way, the future of media is the future of the mind.

This Week’s Links

Two articles on media and text.

  1. Why text still rules. Posted earlier, but especially relevant to this discussion.
  2. The future of new media.

Weekly Newsletter #15: Coding Philosophy

November 9, 2014

As I have said on other occasions, code is language and programming is a natural evolution of writing. In my opinion – I am a biased observer – philosophy and literature are the high points of textual culture. Mathematics comes a close third, but I tend to subsume mathematics under philosophy, since it’s a humanistic pursuit masquerading as science. Let’s set literature aside for the moment and ask how writing influences philosophy and mathematics.

Philosophical prose is most effective when it invents new forms of writing. Technical concepts are essential, but so are symbolic representations, of which logic is the most important. Logic has been the medium of philosophizing. Starting with Aristotle but greatly enhanced in the last hundred odd years, we expect rigorous philosophical argument to be cast in logical form.

Logic was my first love before I turned toward other mathematical pursuits, but I didn’t find it expressive enough for my needs. On the other hand, while mathematics is expressed formally, it doesn’t concern itself with the nature of form itself. So we are stuck with two alternatives:

  1. Logic, with its emphasis on syntactic form and lack of expressive richness
  2. Mathematics, with it’s extraordinary diversity of expression, but lack of curiosity about the nature of form 

Is there a third alternative? I believe so; in fact, I am beginning to think that programming is that alternative. Programming is rich in expression – it is grounded in text, but makes room for many other sensory inputs; it also interfaces with most of the devices we make these days. Programming also concerns itself with the nature of form – one look at the sharp debates about the merits of various programming languages (C vs C++ vs Lisp vs Haskell vs Javascript) and programming paradigms (OO vs Functional vs Imperative) shows the depth of concern over the form of programs, not just their content. 

In this picture, programming is distinct from the theory of computation. In fact, the two are no more related than literature is related to the theory of pens and pencils. It’s time to abstract programming from it’s origins in computation. Once you do so, it becomes clear that code is an excellent vehicle for philosophy. Let’s take a look at one prototypical use of programming to improve current philosophical practice. 

For the most part, philosophical arguments are written in prose with a leavening of logic – if you’re working in the analytic tradition; I have no idea how continental philosophers leaven their prose. The architecture of these arguments is difficult to decipher. Try reading Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and you will see what I am talking about. Philosophers do use tools such as thought experiments to convey their intuitions, but the arguments remain as dense as ever. 

Now imagine rewriting philosophical arguments as computer programs, with thought experiments and other “active” elements being written in code and the main flow of the argument in the comments (as in commenting on the code). Further, we can modularize philosophical arguments into separate code chunks and invoke relevant chunks as function calls or as separate modules. A typical argument module would look like this: 

theory_of_justice.phil

include veil_of_ignorance
begin argument
....
end argument

The cognitive advantages alone are worth the effort – it’s so much easier to create shared mental models when the design of an argument is well organized and available at a glance. When expressed in code, philosophy becomes an active discipline; a discipline one can experiment with and demonstrate to the public. These are some of the deepest intuitions that human beings have ever had about the nature of reality. All of us care about them but most of us can’t access them except in a watered down or new-agey form. That’s a real pity. Socrates conducted his philosophizing in public, our in the street. Programming can help return that spirit of street metaphysics. Code can do to philosophy that calculators did to arithmetic.

I am deliberately staying away from the idea of philohacking, but the phrase is on the tip of my tongue. Philohacking makes it that much harder to bullshit one’s way through philosophizing. At the same time, philosophy will get a second wind; it will no longer be consigned to it’s current role as a commentator on the sciences. Instead, this oldest of subjects will reconnect with it’s roots in the aesthetic and creative impulse. 

The advantages for programming (and programmers) is equally deep. For one, the philosophical lens will help formalize what all programmers know already: the comments are as important as the code. Philosophical training can help programmers become as rigorous and creative about the comments as they are about the code they write. Think of the philosopher as the yin to the programmers yang: ultimately, both are building symbolic structures grounded in language or language like formalism. The merger of the two will create an entirely new discipline. 

This Week’s Links

No links this week – wasn’t reading enough and nothing that inspired me in the limited reading that I did. 

Dark and Dairy

November 9, 2014

This is the extended version – with data and footnotes – of the article on the treatment of milch animals that I wrote with Krithika Srinivasan and Smitha Rao. It appeared in the Hindu on Sunday, November 9th, 2014. Your comments are welcome. 

Dark and Dairy

Rajesh Kasturirangan[1]Krithika Srinivasan[2] and Smitha Rao[3]

Kamadhenu, the mythical cow of yore, would be puzzled by India’s interactions with her descendants. India has been making national and international headlines because of its soaring beef exports (BBC, 4 May 2014; Times of India, 30 July 2014)[4]. The domestic tumult about the treatment of cows has focused on the rights and wrongs of killing animals that are sacred to many people in the sub-continent. However, while there might be ambivalence about India’s place in the beef market, there is more or less unquestioned pride about the nation’s status as the world’s largest producer of milk[5].  On the one hand, we have riots over rumours of cow slaughter, while on the other, the consumption of milk and milk products such as curd, ghee and butter is a near universal habit in India, probably more so among vegetarians than others, as indicated by National Sample Survey data[6]. India has a long tradition of Ahimsa, in which compassion for nonhuman animals plays an important role. We revere cows as mothers because we use their milk. But if our dairy practices are any indication, we don’t treat our mothers well.

It’s clear to everyone that meat comes from a slaughtered animal. It’s much less obvious that dairy production is as traumatic and lethal to animals. Attention to the biology and economics of dairy farming shows that beef and milk are two sides of the same coin, especially in India where cattle and buffaloes are farmed primarily for milk. There are no ‘beef’ animals in India – the Indian Livestock Census (2012) classifies cattle and buffalo as milch, draught or breeding animals. Yet, bovine meat constitutes 62% of India’s total meat production, with buffalo and cattle contributing more or less equally to the figure[7]. Beef, in India, is sourced from the dairy industry which, as we shall see, becomes economically sustainable only because it is supported by the meat and meat by-products industries. The beef industry in India wouldn’t exist without dairy farming. The same goes for the leather industry which is the second largest in the world; this industry credits cattle and buffalo as one of the main sources of ‘raw material’ for its annual output of 2 billion square feet of leather[8]. Therefore, if we care about cattle, we should first look into the lives of milch animals, including buffaloes which account for nearly 55% of the country’s total milk production.

The dairy system inflicts suffering at every stage. Let’s start at the beginning, with the calving process. Whether extracted by milking machines in a large dairy farm, from sitar-listening cows in organic establishments, or from an animal that is hand-milked at your doorstep, milk comes from a cow or a buffalo that has calved recently. For dairy farming to be financially viable, animals are made to calve at least once a year (for cows) and once in 15 months (for buffaloes). The calf himself or herself awaits a lifetime of misery starting with the first few days of existence.

Calves, male and female, are separated from or at the very least significantly restricted from accessing their mothers 3 – 4 days after birth, instead of the 7-14 months in a natural setting. This separation is deeply traumatic for both mother and calf, and also bad for the calf’s health, but is nonetheless carried out for a very simple reason: a 15-30% increase in milk availability for humans when calves are weaned rather than suckled[9].  Following separation, calves are mainly fed on milk substitutes; this is less expensive than letting their mothers feed them without restriction. The mother’s milk is instead diverted for human consumption. 

The calves’ trauma continues after weaning. Male calves are of no use except as breeding animals. But since a single bull is sufficient to impregnate multiple female cattle, most male calves are either sent for slaughter or turned loose to starve. Some male calves are shunted off to work as draught animals –  they are subject to castration (without anaesthesia), nose-roping, and whipping, and a life of hard labour till they are old and weak, at which point they are sent for slaughter or abandoned. The economic undesirability of male cattle is evident in the stark gender imbalance in bovine populations in India – 64.42% female and 35.57% male in cattle, and 85.18% female and 14.8% male in buffalo[10]. The slaughter of male calves – whether intentional or incidental – is integral to milk production.

Female calves, if healthy, are kept alive for use in the dairy industry. When the female calf becomes a cow, she enters the cycle of milk production. The only way to keep a cow “productive” is to keep her lactating. For this, animal husbandry manuals recommend re-impregnation around 60 days after calving – a longer calving interval will be uneconomic, and a shorter interval will reduce milk production because of physiological impacts on the animal. Impregnation is increasingly carried through artificial insemination in order to enhance reproductive efficiency. India’s current National Dairy Plan aims to use artificial insemination on at least 35% of all fertile animals in the country by the end of the year 2017, which will require the production of at least 100 million doses of semen annually (from the current 66.8 million doses)[11]. Artificial insemination for animals is not the sought-after reproductive luxury that it is for human beings. In cattle, it involves extracting semen from selected bulls and forcibly placing the same in the vaginas of restrained cows using invasive techniques. This technology is used to breed animals that yield higher and higher volumes of milk; it also reduces the need for bulls and thus further enables the routing of male calves for slaughter or abandonment.

After a lifetime of violence comes the inevitable conclusion, since dairy farming involves the killing of unproductive, infertile and ‘spent’ cows and buffaloes. Milk production starts to decline after 3 – 4 lactations (pregnancies). At this stage, cows and buffaloes are either passed onto middlemen who sell them for transport to states where slaughter is legal, or are sold to a smaller farmer who will use them for an additional 2 – 3 lactations before selling them for slaughter or abandoning them because of the financial burden they pose. An infertile or unproductive animal shares the same fate, only much earlier. India’s world-beating output of 132.4 million tonnes of milk in 2012-13[12] would not have been possible if female cattle and buffalo were taken care of for the entirety of their natural life-spans which can range between 15 – 18 years. None of this, of course, takes into account the impacts of practices such as the use of the hormone oxytocin to increase yield or the painful repercussions of milking by hand or machine, such as chronic mastitis.

Dairy cattle have a terrible choice: life can be nasty, brutish and short, if you are male – or nasty, brutish and slightly longer, if you are female. Beef is an inevitable consequence of dairy. The data bears out our hypothesis. Figures provided by National Dairy Development Board from 2004-5 to 2011-12 shows[13] that the monetary value of milk production almost tripled in this period. The monetary value of beef production almost tripled as well. In fact, the statistical correlation between the value of milk and beef production is .986. Put another way, there’s a 98.6% match between milk and beef production over the years.

Furthermore, both qualitatively and quantitatively, a milch cow or buffalo has a worse life than an animal bred solely for meat which is sent directly for slaughter without first going through repeated cycles of forced impregnation, childbirth, separation from calves, and painful milking. Why, then, do we believe dairy to be better than beef? Why is vegetarianism touted as the appropriate response to concern about animal wellbeing?

Part of the explanation lies in psychology. Meat is more obviously linked to the death of a fellow creature. A milk drinker has a more tenuous and less visible connection to the wellbeing of the animal. The impacts of dairy are easier to ignore; they are more easily veiled by narratives such as how it is only ‘surplus’ milk that is taken, or how the Indian veneration of the cow as a mother ensures its wellbeing. And of course the buffalo which provides more than half the milk that we consume as a nation doesn’t figure in any of these debates. Neither do the environmental consequences[14] of dairy farming, whether pollution caused by runoffs, greenhouse gas emissions, or high water footprints (nearly 1000 litres of water go into producing and marketing 1 litre of milk)[15].

Ultimately, Indian vegetarianism is primarily about us rather than the vulnerable creatures we claim to care for. We may prefer to turn our eyes away from the connection between our individual acts of drinking our filter coffee or morning chai and the cow or buffalo that produced the milk. The logic, however, is clear: drinking milk causes as much suffering as eating meat, if not more. Milk is bloodier than meat.

[1] Associate Professor, School of Humanities, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore

[2] Lecturer, Dept. of Geography, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, United Kingdom

[3] Independent socio-environmental researcher

[4]http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-27251802; http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/Beef-exporter-confidence-returns-in-India/articleshow/39279183.cms

[5] Food and Agriculture Organisation, Dairy Gateway: Milk Production, Available at: http://www.fao.org/agriculture/dairy-gateway/milk-production/en/#.VCaCvhaTGHg, Last accessed: 27 Sept 2014; APEDA, Govt. of India, Dairy Products, Available at: http://www.apeda.gov.in/apedawebsite/SubHead_Products/Dairy_Products.htm, Last accessed: 27 Sept 2014.

[6] Damodaran H and Kulkarni V, 2012, How vegetarian are we really? Business Line, January 2.

[7] APEDA, Indian Meat Industry Red Meat Manual, Available at: http://www.apeda.gov.in/apedawebsite/MEAT_MANUAL/Chap2/Chap2.pdf, Last accessed: 09/10/2014

[8] Council for Leather Exports, Leather Industry – Overview, Export Performance and Prospects, Available at: http://www.leatherindia.org/about-council/industryatGlance.asp, Last accessed: 09/10/14

[9] Kamboj M L and Kumar A, 2013, Effect of weaning on performance and behaviour of calves and their dams in dairy cows – A review, The Indian Journal of Animal Sciences, Vol. 83, No. 10, Available at: <http://epubs.icar.org.in/ejournal/index.php/IJAnS/article/view/33839>; Last accessed: 27 Sept 2014.

[10] Ministry of Agriculture, 19th Livestock Census-2012: All India Report, Government of India, 17th June 2014.

[11] National Dairy Development Board, Animal Breeding, Available at http://www.nddb.coop/English/Services/AB/Pages/Animal-Breeding.aspx; Last accessed: 27/09/2014

[12] National Dairy Development Board, Milk Production in India, Available at http://www.nddb.coop/English/Statistics/Pages/Milk-Production.aspx; Last accessed: 27/09/2014

[13] National Dairy Development Board, Value of Output from Livestock Sector, Available at http://www.nddb.org/English/Statistics/Pages/Livestock-Sector.aspx ; Last accessed: 09/10/2014

[14] World Wildlife Fund, The 2050 Criteria: Guide to Responsible Investment in Agricultural, Forest, and Seafood Commodities. Available at http://www.worldwildlife.org/publications/the-2050-criteria-guide-to-responsible-investment-in-agricultural-forest-and-seafood-commodities, Last accessed: 27/09/2014

[15] Allan T, 2011, Virtual water: tackling the threat to our planet’s most precious resource. IB Tauris.

Weekly Newsletter #14: Universal Knowledge

November 2, 2014

Many of us have a dream: make all the knowledge in the world accessible to everyone. Part of that problem is that we have struggled immensely to access knowledge – texts, mentors and a peer network. The internet has made accessing information much easier, but if anything it has made accessing knowledge harder, for it has added an additional layer of complexity to the seeker’s pursuit.

Information overload is arguably worse than scarcity, for it makes it much harder to know what’s worth pursuing. Add that to the inherent complexity of knowledge, and you have a very hard system to crack. Knowledge is not information. Information, for better or worse, is objective, mechanized and easy to access in the age of Google. It’s also (no longer, anyway) not a source of livelihood. Knowledge, on the other hand, is inherently value laden, socially mediated, greatly influenced by power relations.

As a characteristically human activity, knowledge work is a plausible path to livelihood, career and identity. Making knowledge available to all is intrinsically tied to making knowledge work available to all. That’s a much harder problem than making information available to everyone because of the complexity of human knowledge.

The Minaret

Human knowledge has become enormously complex over the last five hundred years. Three hundred years ago, it was possible for a scientist to know all the science that existed. Two hundred years ago, it was possible for a good mathematician to know all the math that existed. A hundred years ago, a good algebraist would have known all the algebra that existed. Now, it’s impossible for a good algebraic geometer to know all the algebraic geometry that exists.

The Mughal emperor Shahjahan was imprisoned by his own son, Aurangzeb, and spent his last days in one corner of the fort in Agra. Fortunately, Aurangzeb was kind enough to house Shahjahan in a room whose window overlooked the Taj Mahal. From his minaret, the deposed emperor could look at his beloved ex-wife in whose honor he had spent half the empire’s fortune by building that great paean to romance.

Our own predicament as a knowledge civilization seems similar to the Mughal emperor’s downfall. Of all the things we are proud of in the modern world – from spaceships to ipods, from human rights to the UN – we are perhaps proud of knowledge the most. Technological fads come and go, scientific theories fall by the wayside, but our collective capacity to build layers of knowledge on top of each other is the foundation for all other innovation.

We believe that our collective creation of knowledge is one of the great edifices in human history. An unfortunate consequence of our impressive tower of knowledge is that we are all stuck in our respective minarets. That’s the price of success right? Isn’t it OK for us to be little cogs in the giant wisdom wheel?

Let me offer a counter view, that our knowledge system is obese and unhealthy. The very immensity of our knowledge system is making it unstable. Major structural errors are invisible to us because we only have access to a view out of our minarets. Now, there’s nothing wrong with an incomplete knowledge system; we are finite creatures and absolute truth is permanently hidden from us. However, our current knowledge system claims to be absolute in its aims; not only that, it behaves as a totalizing system in practice, with complete control over all the channels of knowledge, all means of legitimacy and advancement and access to livelihood. In other words, it is an idolatrous system. I want to start a constructive program to create an alternate system. A system that’s radically simpler, even simplistic. It literally should be child’s play.

Building Blocks

What might an alternate set of building blocks look like? Some thoughts below:

  1. Transparency: A building block should be cognitively transparent. If you are in a learning phase, the block can have a tiny bit of difficulty that get’s ironed out with practice. Of course, what’s cognitively transparent for me may not be cognitively transparent for you, therefore, we need smart ways of figuring out where a particular individual stands.

  2. Play: It should be fun, at least in the early years, to play with these knowledge blocks. Deep play, which teaches you new skills while situating outside the realm of social climbing is most likely to make old knowledge easy to digest and produce new knowledge.

  3. Craft. We should assume that the production of knowledge is a profession, like any other craft profession. Therefore, it should be rewarding, lead to a sustainable livelihood but at the same time, it shouldn’t be dominated by stars and elite conceptions. As knowledge that’s dominated by practice, there’s no reason to push “research” as the main goal of knowledge. We obviously want to push the boundaries of knowledge, but why should that be done in a spirit of competition, distrust and ego? Instead, we are much better off creating systems of collaborative pushing of knowledge boundaries. That’s the right thing to do in both senses of that term – it’s a surer path to the truth and it’s the ethical thing to do – uses fewer resources and creates public goods as a designed outcome.

  4. Livelihood. We now have an incredibly hierarchical knowledge system. At the top are the elite knowledge workers, the philosopher kings who are paid to think deep thoughts. Then there’s a much larger community of professionals who have permanent positions but aren’t seen as creators. Then there’s an even larger community of adjuncts who neither have security nor do they have any status as creators.

This hierarchical knowledge system is wasteful, for investigators see themselves in competition with each other for scarce resources. Instead, if we think of knowledge workers as craftsmen, they should be supported for the replication of their skills in other people. A knowledge society needs a large population of knowledge workers whether they create new knowledge or not, just as we need lots of doctors whether they can treat new diseases or not.

This week’s links

Only marginally related to the topic of the newsletter, but great reading anyway:

  1. Alan Moore’s million word novel in the making. 
  2. Rescuing “The Philosopher” from his caricature. FYI – Such was Aristotle’s fame in the middle ages that he was called the philosopher, as if no one else could attain that stature.