Friday, April 18, 2008

Thinkers and the New Web Age

At the ThinkerNet, I posted a new article that addressed the role of thinkers in the new Web age. Here are a few additional background thoughts about the post.

As we know, in the long history of mankind humans are seeking for new knowledge to understand unknown world and to invent new products. A standard (and probably the most standard) way humans have practiced to expand knowledge is a method called "divide-and-conquer." At the very ancient time, there were very few branches of knowledge such as mathematics, philosophy, and literature. With the evolution of human society, these raw distinctions of knowledge were no longer enough for people to explore and invent knowledge. Hence gradually we had people focus specifically on niche domains such as physics, chemistry, and biology. When it comes to our modern age, these old niches have already grown to be major branches of knowledge and thus we divided them further into more detailed niches such as molecular thermophysics and physical biology. This process of division is still going on and goes narrower and narrower with regard to the scope of new niche domains. This is the so-called "divide-and-conquer" method: when we do not know details of a niche and we want to understand it, we develop a new branch of science of it to conquer.

Nevertheless this "divide-and-conquer" paradigm has led us the flourishing of modern science, it has its negative impacts---we need aggregation beyond division. In nowadays, the branches of science have been so narrow and particular that our PhDs might no longer been called "Doctor of Philosophy." How many new PhDs (even if they are graduated from MIT or Stanford) really have unique philosophy in mind besides knowledge of their professional realms? Now is a pitiful age that has no "new Einstein". This process of division can continuously raise scientists who are good at their professional areas. But it is harmful to raise thinkers that can aggregate knowledge in creative new ways. As Lee Smolin pointed out in his article, this type of creativity is hardly appreciated by the mainstream academy and thus fewer real thinkers can emerge out of surface.

Fortunately, the evolution of World Wide Web opens a new door for the thinkers. With the Web, new-age thinkers can emerge without the recognition of academy. The people all over the world will vote for real creativities. At the level of thinking, we can trust that the collective wisdom of crowds would always beat against the biased view from ivory tower. Hence new-age thinkers will rise from grass-root instead of ivory tower. Let's all expect and watch.

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