Brockman on “The New Humanists”. Arts and Letters Daily features this essay from a forthcoming book by John Brockman that explores “New Humanism”: new ways of understanding physical systems, and new challenges to basic assumptions of who and what we are and what it means to be human:
“We live in an era in which pessimism has become the norm,” writes Arthur Herman, in The Idea of Decline in Western History. Herman, who coordinates the Western Civilization Program at the Smithsonian, argues that the decline of the West, with its view of our “sick society,” has become the dominant theme in intellectual discourse, to the point where the very idea of civilization has changed… As a counternarrative to this cultural pessimism, consider the twofold optimism of science.
First, the more science you do, the more there is to do. Scientists are constantly acquiring and processing new information. This is the reality of Moore’s Law just as there has been a doubling of computer processing power every eighteen months for the past twenty years, so too do scientists acquire information exponentially. They can’t help but be optimistic. And second, much of the new information is either good news or news that can be made good thanks to ever deepening knowledge and ever more efficient and powerful tools and techniques.
A worthy upbeat attitude in the midst of so much other negativity. Consistent with the Dorothy Parker observation that I use as my tag line.
I used to use a simple diagram in some of my presentations. It represented knowledge as an expanding circle. What was interesting to me is that if you looked at the interface between what you knew and what you didn’t know, the “boundary of your ignorance” grew as you learned more. The more you learned, the more things to be learned you became aware of. That’s a very energizing prospect and a humbling one at the same time. It means I will always have a list of things to learn.