David Isenberg is the champion of stupidity. Not in people, but in networks. He has pushed the key attribute of our blessedly stupid network–the Internet–so we’d understand that its brilliance rests on being the dim bulb of networks. Here’s what he wrote in 1997, when he worked for AT&T. When he left and they realized what he was saying, they made him take it down, but David Weinberger hosts it for our benefit:
David is a scientist, biology Ph.D, specifically, who knows that scientists’ special way of thinking means that they must be more open to new ideas than the rest of us and more critical of unproven assumptions. Scientists also get it, like Plato’s mistrust of the shadows on the cave wall, that our picture of reality is always under development, like a book that’s still being written.
A while back, Dr. Isenberg decided to put his weight behind the Howard Dean campaign. If we value the characteristics of the Internet, we’ll join him. I believe he’s telling us that it’s pretty crazy for any Netizen to not be enthusiastically behind Dr. Dean, who happens to be the only Presidential candidate in memory with scientific training, let alone one who depends explicitly on the Internet for his elective hopes.
David is inviting scientists to join him and Bob Kopp, originator of the Scientists for Dean site. Here’s his invitation on their Deanspace-based site:
The plan is to attract the thought leaders from the scientific community to save science from the attacks it’s been undergoing since ideology has replaced even the pretense that we govern our society based on principles.
There’s much to be said for enlightened self-interest, which the Republicans worship and Democrats often mistrust. I think that we all should support Dean because he will protect our interests, not out of some abstract ideology. That’s what the scientists are doing, supporting science through Dean. Just as Dean the scientist would.
This brings up some thoughts from 14 months ago, inspired by a couple of other biologists, Howard Bloom and Richard Dawkings. In that post, I argued that bloggers willingly expose themselves to peer review, an essentially scientific process. I think these are themes that David Isenberg and Bob Kopp would support.
High Wire with a Neural Net
Howard Bloom’s Global Brain suggests that the blogging community is a self-organizing superorganism thinking like a neural network, promoting its central meme. The blogging meme would be something like,
But there’s something even more important going on. Bloggers (I think) are exposing their personal thinking to others’ debugging in the way that programmers do, and to an extent that only open source programmers do. That’s a big deal. Consider the thoughtful, respectful dialogue around Doc’s Blogo Culpa over just a hint of conflict of interest. Look around your office or PTA or condo board and see if regular folks in meatspace routinely expose strong opinions for which they expect, even demand, debugging. I’m not seeing it out there. Are you?
Who We Are and Aren’t
People who blog expect suggestions that range from helpful to inflammatory. We do it because our collective purpose is so important and because we believe in the scientific method. There have always been disciplined thinkers but it’s never been a widespread pursuit. Managers and leaders and parents and priests are rarely interested in a partnership seeking the best way to reach a goal. I guess you’d call it collective debugging. It’s the defining characteristic of the part of western society most worth preserving.
There’s a large and growing group of people who suppress collective debugging:
Fundamentalists are proud of their resistance to thoughtful discussion. Collaborative debugging vs. Fundamentalism is the war we’re engaged in, not America vs. Terrorism, Palestinians vs. Israelis, North Koreans vs. South or Islam vs. Everybody Else. The sooner we understand the core nature of the deeper conflict, we can start some real life-saving.
But fundamentalism lies even deeper than religion. It describes any group that relies on a single creed with no allowance for discussion of “foreign” values. The Crips gang is fundamentalist, but not religious, like the cult around the Jonestown massacre. Examples of secular fundamentalism are everywhere – supporters of the O.J. acquittal, the Ku Klux Klan, most forms of patriotism, liberalism and conservatism. The problem is that science and the scientific method have reached a critical mass and a global presence. (Of course we’re not very good at disciplined thinking. The point is that we think we should be, and we try to recognize it when it shows up).
The common thread of fundamentalism is lazy, uncritical thinking. If you defer all choices to a received text, even if current, you’re abdicating Choice – the greatest gift God gave us.
The religious right’s support for a war to “defend our way of life” is an irony you’d never put in a novel. Our way of life – democracy itself – is about being able to live your life as you want while not harming others, a bear hug of diversity.
It Takes Real Faith
Just because Copernicus won the sun-centered universe debate does not mean that society bought into his methods. Patriarchy has ruled our lives forever and has a few good generations left in it. The key to patriarchy is absolute alpha male dominance of the household
The point of accepting Copernicus’ and other scientists’ views is the greatest act of faith possible. Real Faith is when you understand just enough of another’s guesses and investigative methods to trust what they report back to the rest of us. Real faith lies in trusting your annual report to 50 million lines of code built by people you’ll never meet under conditions you’d never endure, using circuits that would not work without quantum physics. Or boarding an airliner with no clue as to what Bernoulli’s theorem is about, trusting the chain of conclusions he started.
Real faith is not the simplistic regurgitation of an inspiring ancient text for parables to inform our daily actions. Such texts are seductive for their simple-mindedness but not very useful for taking responsibility for your actions in a world that must include diverse views. If we condone killing those who think most differently, do we then support killing those who think a little less differently? That sounds pacifist, but it’s not.
People of Real Faith, Infiltrating From Within
There are fundamentalists everywhere. They haven’t infiltrated our democracy to tear it down from within, they’ve always been in control because they are the natives here.
We are the infiltrators with our notions of healthy diversity and a method to arrive at a truth that hasn’t been written down yet. All the hallowed texts were penned by followers of rabid iconoclasts and we are their protegés, fighting the same fight against the same kind of people: patriarchal lazy thinkers with little faith in others’ ideas and observations. They’re pissed because we’re driving a conceptual wedge between patriarchy and the young disciples they want to automate. As it has always been done.
That’s our meme and we’re sticking to it.