Monday, March 12, 2012

Timothy Ferris: The World of the Intellectual vs The World of the Engineer

Timothy Ferris of Wired (2011) observes that intellectuals and engineers have historically taken very different paths enroute to knowledge creation.
Being an intellectual had more to do with fashioning fresh ideas than with finding fresh facts. Facts used to be scarce on the ground anyway, so it was easy to skirt or ignore them while constructing an argument. The wildly popular 18th-century thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose disciples range from Robespierre and Hitler to the anti-vaccination crusaders currently bringing San Francisco to the brink of a public health crisis, built an entire philosophy (nature good, civilization bad) on almost no facts at all. Karl Marx studiously ignored the improving living standards of working-class Londoners — he visited no factories and interviewed not a single worker — while writing Das Kapital, which declared it an “iron law” that the lot of the proletariat must be getting worse. The 20th-century philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend boasted of having lectured on cosmology “without mentioning a single fact.”
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Source: Ferris, T (2011, October 13), Timothy Ferris: The World of the Intellectual vs The World of the Engineer, Wired.

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1 comment:

Dr William J McKibbin said...

I would caution Tim Ferris on his statement, "The wildly popular 18th-century thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose disciples range from Robespierre and Hitler to the anti-vaccination crusaders currently bringing San Francisco to the brink of a public health crisis, built an entire philosophy (nature good, civilization bad) on almost no facts at all." The lineage to Rousseau implied and described by Ferris is too narrowly focused on evil, and is asserted at the expense of the good conscience, which is what Rousseau was more accurately prescribing...

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