Thinking out loud

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Innovation or Consolidation

It has been very widely accepted that the last century or two have been times of tremendous growth of knowledge and ideas. What was once natural philosophy is now a thousand headed hydra called science. Men who were once natural philosophers are now computer scientists or botanists or cosmologists. There is so much knowledge now, they say, that one man can never hope to understand but a tiny fraction. He must decide whether he wishes to study urban waste management or political systems of the post-modern era. He cannot do both. Yet the irony, to my mind, is that this precisely is the recipe for stagnation of our understanding. We, as a race, have spewed out ideas and generated knowledge at a prodigal pace and yet we have no clue about how to organise it, consolidate it. Rather, we go about shaking our heads saying "Oh! No man can hope to understand this. " It is as if we, who relentlessly fought our way through the hidden pathways of nature, to understand her, have laid down our weapons in the face of our own creation - knowledge. Our only answer to this problem is a ghost of a real solution - collecting as many books and pictures and sounds in one place as we can. To that effect, we created the Library of Congress or the Internet Archive. We have taken the huge mass of ill-digested ideas in the form of cryptic and often confusing articles and books and put them into a hierarchy of subjects, which apparently are not supposed to have any bearing on one another; atleast none is suggested by the notion of a "hierarchy". And we have hardly done a satisfactory job at that.

Does nobody feel that this is inadequate. Does nobody feel that we would do well to atleast consolidate the ideas and knowledge we have generated so far. The way our society works today, it would seem that only those who create - whether ideas or goods - are the ones who are appreciated. Little, or atleast significantly less, value is given to him who seeks to unify and to clarify. The fact that there are hardly any "awards for clarification" as compared to "awards for innovation", is evidence enough. Is there no place in society for a person who only desires to clarify old ideas, to cut through the riff-raff and to bring forth a succint understanding of all that we, as a race, know? Perhaps I'm on the wrong planet!