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So let me just say Peter’s (and Carl’s!) timing for this recent flurry of thoughtfulness just happens to coincide with an interview by our friends at the Wall Street Journal of Ben Nelson, internet entrepreneur, and educational provacateur who threatens even Harvard with his new hip-tech university Minerva.
Among it’s virtues, Mr. Nelson sings, is that it will do away with all that “unecessary stuff” clogging up the tranditional university.
“In the Nelson dream curriculum, all incoming students take the same four yearlong courses. His common core won’t make students read the Great Books. “We want to teach you how to think,” Mr. Nelson says. A course on “multimodal communications” works on practical writing and debating skills. A “formal systems class” goes over “everything from logic to advanced stats, Big Data, to formal reasoning, to behavioral econ”.
Who needs wisdom when you have gigabytes and terahertz?
So, from where I sit, events of this last year are slowly starting to resolve into a pattern. We recently learned that the president’s campaign was given a huge boost by the Silicon Valley brainstrust in the form of Orca, the vast campaign database. Silicon Valley types have recently been courting other politicans such as Corey Booker in New Jersey with gifts like his own personal start-up company, Bezos buys the WaPo and Mr. Nelson wants to displace Harvard et al, with a technical simulcra of a university.
Are we seeing a class of elites emerging as a kind of high-tech Praetorian Gaurd ambitious to become the new King Makers. Are we entering the age of the Digital Jacobins?
Perhaps more to the point, if peoples understanding of events fail to transcend the narrow and pecuniary scope of the quantifiable, will anyone even notice?
Peter’s quote of Robinson seems particularly pertinent here:
‘Insofar as scientism affects the teaching of the humanities, public intellectuals, and even our art and literature, we find, as our theologian-novelist Marilynne Robinson observes, “persons understood as having radically limited self-awareness, a minimum of meaningful inwardness, very little ability to choose or appraise their actions.”‘
Not exactly the stuff of encouragement.
For those not endowed with a subscription to the WSJ, Walter Russel Mead has conveniently chimed in on the issue and has the relevant passage from the WSJ.
I read the whole thing… but my mind was distracted the whole time(as is quite usual).
What got me was this:
“Even God himself didn’t create himself out of nothing.”
Would that lead to an infinite regress or a God who believes in God, just as I could say that I didn’t create myself but my parents did, and my parents believe in parents?
It would “solve” Descartes problem of evil. God himself is subject to the principle that something cannot come from nothing!
In other words what if God does such a meditation and comes to realize that he did not create himself, because if he did he would have made himself perfect, and he would have made the world perfect, but he did not make the world perfect, therefore he is not perfect, and God’s idea of perfection, could not have come from a lesser being (such as Descartes), but had to originate in a perfect being?
In other words I think to hold to your quoted blip vis a vis Descartes would be to argue for something less perfect than God as Ultimate Cause, an issue which Descartes addresses and then dismisses.
But Descartes never established that the world itself wasn’t created by a God who potentially could acknowledge that he is not perfect, and himself has a God. Satan in this telling is simply a “god” who should know he has a “God”, but has perhaps decided that this is irrelevant.(or perhaps in the stubbornness that comes with great power perhaps a suspicion of a lurking infinite regress, and a willingness to play Real Politic, on the assumption that every God is a greater God’s Satan, such that while Jesus and God has created a home “Heaven”…Satan has create a home “Hell”, but that even the Christian Heaven is a Hell for the world created by god’s(our God’s) God. That is our God’s (in fact god’s) love of the imperfect earth(sinful man)…is much the same as a “Satanic” rebellion, against his God.
In any case the idea that God is himself a created being is probably quite Heretical, and certainly would be to Descartes.
Dude, when you talk of conspiracies and ‘elites’, I am so with you. And, the money sentence: “Are we seeing a class of elites emerging as a kind of high-tech Praetorian Gaurd ambitious to become the new King Makers,” may even offend the occasional PoMoCon, who, as we all know, stand for traditional ‘king making.’
Good stuff, all around, here!
It would be good for an alternative to The University to finally arrive, so The University can get back to being what it was supposed to be. The University was never intended to be an institution that provided a certificate stating that every young adult in society was now suitable for employment. If that sort of certificate is what We The People want, We should create an institution focused on doing that.
Why anyone would want to complete a four-year program in “Big Data” is completely beyond me. It’s as silly as being trained to be an expert in sprocket production. If you can’t see that your Big Data certification is utterly worthless and you will be replaced by some relatively small number of lines of software in far less than the four years you spend acquiring your certification, you deserve to be fleeced of whatever fees you’re willing to pay the con artists who came up with the idea.
“We want to teach you how to think”
This is what primary and secondary school “education professionals” have been saying for the last few decades. As far as I can tell, it is simply code for “We don’t know what we want to teach you, or how to teach it, or what we want you to learn, or how to enable it, but we want to make darn sure no one can actually claim that we are miserable failures adding nothing to society, so let’s make up a completely meaningless mission statement to make it sound like we’re really super-duper important.”
Brian, I think Nelson’s comments reveal that what they have in mind is the displacement of any conventional sense of education with hyper-expertise in the narrowly informational sense.
Particularly telling is the idea that these super students will not reside in any singular location but will travel to various global cities periodically, and presumably benefit by not being too attached to any place in particular but rather learn to become citizens in the global sense. There’s a whole discussion that could be had here about the ‘anti-placeness’ of such an assumption.
As for the elevation of informational expertise uber alles, I’m left to wonder how Mr. Nelson would answer the following question: how would a graduate of his university acted differently than the Graduates of MIT and Harvard whose data driven models were responsible for certifying toxic assets as worthy of triple A at the heart of the real estate boom. Would their computer models have told them anything differently?
This new class of Big-Data citizens appear to have succombed to the worste kind of scientistic reductionism. Their mistake is not unlike that of Marx, only wearas Marx reduced man to economic inputs and outputs, these fellows see man as merely streams of data inputs and outputs.
Pseudo: But it’s expertise that will be obsolete by the time the coursework is finished! Hence my sprocket comparison. They even concede this implicitly with their silly “teach people how to learn” nonsense. That’s not a skillset, or an expertise, or anything else that would make this whole exercise make any sense at all!
But I think the Scientistic mindset of Ben Nelson et al, views mastery of information flows in an almost gnostic sense, which is to say, as a way to secret knowledge. The protagonist in the movie Pi comes to mind:
Where yours and mine understanding of the usefulness of data ends, I believe there are those such as Mr. Nelson who think it to be unbounded. Of course I don’t think they realize the degree of their own mysticism. But this is the real problem.
Peter’s passage from Marilynee Robinson points to what I think is the heart of it. We’re talking about Eliot’s Hollowmen.
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