Negotiating the Flood

Posted by Edward Willatt on Thursday, April 11, 2013 Under: Architectonics

“I am not exaggerating when I say that this flood [of academic publishing] is eroding academic intellectual life. It has become impossible for anyone to maintain an overview of a single, even fairly narrow subject - let alone a discipline as a whole.  When I began work on a PhD on the philosopher Thomas Hobbes in the late 1970s, it was possible for me to keep up with almost everything new that was being published on Hobbes in Britain, the US and western Europe, while devoting most of my time to the great body of previous writing by and about him.”

“Across the field of knowledge, Chinese walls of mutual ignorance are springing up, dividing the territory into ever narrower domains. Some may like to regard those domains as cosy private empires; but for most academics they are prisons. Either you teach the same narrow subject over and over again, and your brain is numbed by repetition; or you try to cover a wider range of specialisms, and you have no time left for anything else.”

     Noel Malcolm, ‘Sinking in a Sea of Words:  As Academic Journals Proliferate’

This article on the rise in academic publishing has led to some discussion.  How does this help us think about how we can be interdisciplinary today and how the history of philosophy can contribute to this?  Knowledge is often seen as something that ‘makes a difference’, that initiates a shift of paradigm or world view.  The question of how anyone can navigate the rise in academic publishing returns us to the problem that no-one can keep up with, and contribute to, many disciplines.  Indeed, they might struggle to keep up with a part of one discipline that is their specialism.  It intrigues us to read of polymaths of the past like Robert Young (1773-1829) and see what we can learn from their academic athleticism.  Yet we cannot return to an age when less was published and fewer disciplines had formed. 

The seeming impossibility of mastering knowledge in a broad sense is brought out in this article.  There is no doubt that increasing specialisation brings about immense contributions to knowledge.  In medicine it is specialisation that ‘makes a difference’ to the chances of a life being saved.  What is lost is the potential of knowledge without practical application to effect change in the conceptual foundations and horizon of knowledge in general.  A pessimistic assessment of the age of information is that we cannot navigate this ever increasing amount of information.  We are offered more and more choice but, like a thousand satellite channels, we cannot find any depth, or at least if it is there we cannot distinguish it.  Such a pessimistic view would see the thinker of the age of information as the channel hopper, seeking something that will bring about change but in the end being numbed by the search, never seeking depth because the rush of apparently ever new content brings a soporific contentment.  Yet such a pessimistic, not to say luddite, view is to be avoided if the age of information itself is to be considered in depth. 

In : Architectonics 



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Negotiating the Flood

Posted by Edward Willatt on Thursday, April 11, 2013 Under: Architectonics

“I am not exaggerating when I say that this flood [of academic publishing] is eroding academic intellectual life. It has become impossible for anyone to maintain an overview of a single, even fairly narrow subject - let alone a discipline as a whole.  When I began work on a PhD on the philosopher Thomas Hobbes in the late 1970s, it was possible for me to keep up with almost everything new that was being published on Hobbes in Britain, the US and western Europe, while devoting most of my time to the great body of previous writing by and about him.”

“Across the field of knowledge, Chinese walls of mutual ignorance are springing up, dividing the territory into ever narrower domains. Some may like to regard those domains as cosy private empires; but for most academics they are prisons. Either you teach the same narrow subject over and over again, and your brain is numbed by repetition; or you try to cover a wider range of specialisms, and you have no time left for anything else.”

     Noel Malcolm, ‘Sinking in a Sea of Words:  As Academic Journals Proliferate’

This article on the rise in academic publishing has led to some discussion.  How does this help us think about how we can be interdisciplinary today and how the history of philosophy can contribute to this?  Knowledge is often seen as something that ‘makes a difference’, that initiates a shift of paradigm or world view.  The question of how anyone can navigate the rise in academic publishing returns us to the problem that no-one can keep up with, and contribute to, many disciplines.  Indeed, they might struggle to keep up with a part of one discipline that is their specialism.  It intrigues us to read of polymaths of the past like Robert Young (1773-1829) and see what we can learn from their academic athleticism.  Yet we cannot return to an age when less was published and fewer disciplines had formed. 

The seeming impossibility of mastering knowledge in a broad sense is brought out in this article.  There is no doubt that increasing specialisation brings about immense contributions to knowledge.  In medicine it is specialisation that ‘makes a difference’ to the chances of a life being saved.  What is lost is the potential of knowledge without practical application to effect change in the conceptual foundations and horizon of knowledge in general.  A pessimistic assessment of the age of information is that we cannot navigate this ever increasing amount of information.  We are offered more and more choice but, like a thousand satellite channels, we cannot find any depth, or at least if it is there we cannot distinguish it.  Such a pessimistic view would see the thinker of the age of information as the channel hopper, seeking something that will bring about change but in the end being numbed by the search, never seeking depth because the rush of apparently ever new content brings a soporific contentment.  Yet such a pessimistic, not to say luddite, view is to be avoided if the age of information itself is to be considered in depth. 

In : Architectonics 



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