Tuesday, July 12, 2011

To Piece Together or to Discard in Order to Find: Ways of Knowing

Each year John Brockman, founder of Edge an online publication, along with Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly, and George Dyson pose a question that Brockman then sends to the Edge list members who respond via writing.  Last year's question was: How is the Internet changing the way you think? 172 essays were published based on that question.

Of particular interest here is science historian Geroge Dyson's response. He wrote:
In the North Pacific Ocean, there were two approaches to boat- building. The Aleuts (and their kayak-building relatives) lived on barren, treeless islands and built their vessels by piecing together skeletal frameworks from fragments of beach-combed wood. The Tlingit (and their dugout canoe-building relatives) built their vessels by selecting entire trees out of the rainforest and removing wood until there was nothing left but a canoe.

The Aleut and the Tlingit achieved similar results—maximum boat/minimum material—by opposite means. The flood of information unleashed by the Internet has produced a similar cultural split. We used to be kayak builders, collecting all available fragments of information to assemble the framework that kept us afloat. Now, we have to learn to become dugout-canoe builders, discarding unnecessary information to reveal the shape of knowledge hidden within.

I was a hardened kayak builder, trained to collect every available stick. I resent having to learn the new skills. But those who don’t will be left paddling logs, not canoes.
Progress (Reilly, 2008)
Provocative, isn't it?  Wondering what you're thinking.

BTW, this year's question is: What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?

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