One from the vaults. In response to DavidWeinberger : http://www.hyperorg.com/backissues/joho-feb26-01.html#professionals
Sent: Tuesday, February 27, 2001 7:53 PM
To: David Weinberger
Subject: on academic philosophy
just read your February JOHO on academic philosophers as gatekeepers.
Here's a couple of thoughts. I have a lot of empathy.
I've just fucked up my Phd after 7 years, and I'm feeling pretty
out of sympathy with academia. I worked in an area (Artificial
allowed a lot of interdisciplinery reading and dialogue between AI,
philosophy, biology, psychology etc. I loved the interdisciplinery
atmosphere, I loved the discussions, I loved hanging out with smart and
enthusiastic students. But I was also unable to discipline myself,
too easily sidetracked by one idea after another. My actual work seemed
narrow, and lacking in content. I couldn't read real academic papers
because of the extraordinary dullness of the language. My eyes slipped
over the words and equations, taking in nothing.
So I screwed up. I wrote a pathetic thesis in the last 6 - 8 months of
my 7 years. I didn't sleep properly. I wrote sarcastic footnotes and made
puns and used ironic quotations, because I was too tired to care
wasn't the correct way to write. The examiners
said I demonstrated no understanding of scientific method (in fact I read
too much Popper and Fayerabend) - and worst of all I didn't cite
hundreds of other sources to demonstrate that my work was the result
of systematically reading all the possibly relevant literature.
Naturally enough, failing is very very painful. It's great to be in
academia when you feel you have a right to be there. But the moment you
fail, you feel delegitimized. How can you sit in on a talk and ask
demanding, critical questions of a speaker when you (and your
colleagues) all know that the speaker is qualified but you aren't?
At the same time, I've been an avid reader of web writing, of Cluetrain,
of the weblog phenomenon. In a sense I feel like someone realizing that
they're gay, and struggling to accept their sexuality. On the one
seduced by the sense of freedom, the exhuberance of web-writing. And the
possibility : "I can take my research, my philosophical thinking and
writing to the web. I can discuss freely. I can say something meaningful
using aphorisms, or anecdotes, or weblog entries. I don't have to be
scholastic to contribute to knowledge."
OTOH there is a repressed side, where the academic super-ego still
dominates. "Publishing outside the official journals, without
is for the eccentrics, the nutters. Only those whose work isn't valuable
enough to publish in journals will resort to vanity publishing on the
web. That's for the coloured crayon brigade. Without the self-discipline
to organize your ideas into a thesis format, to survey the relevant
literature, your ideas will be half-baked. " And perhaps its true.
Anyway, that's where I'm coming from. But when I read your piece something
clicked into place for me, and weirdly web cultural theory has made me
suddenly more sympathetic to academia. The realization I just had was that
"citing is linking". Of course, in a sense, that has been obvious all
along. But culturally the two stood (at least in my mind) for entirely
opposite things. Citing was part of the mystic rites of academia. Boring
days in the library searching and photocopying papers that said pretty
much nothing more than you expected them to (or that a dozen others
also said) in laboured detail. Why does it matter to note that Hegel
said something similar two hundred years ago? I'm saying it now!
Whereas linking stood for the alchemical magic of the web. The chain
reaction that let the world's online knowledge reach critical mass and
explode in a utopia of free discussion. When I think about the hyperlinked
web, I am happy that due to blogrolling hundreds of weblogs say pretty
much the same things, each from a slightly different perspective. I am
happy with pages that serve no function other than to link other
and whose only real contribution is that they present a different
clustering criteria for these resources.
Suddenly, now I realise that citing is linking, I can forgive
exegetic philosophers that behave the same way. Perhaps when your
correspondant sent you a large list of previous philosophers who have made
similar points, the spirit isn't RageBoy's cynical "shut the fuck up" but
a present of a page of links to other resources,
Thinking about it, before computers could automate the process, the skills
of "scholarship" (a word I used to detest) were the only way for humans
to animate a web of hyperlinked information. And of course, (I think
optimistically) now that computers DO automate the process for us, we
really don't need to do it for ourselves. There is no other magic
of scholarship that we need to concern ourselves about.
What, Panglossian? Me?
See also :
- Seb has a posting with good links on a related theme : which http://radio.weblogs.com/0110772/2004/06/16.html#a1613, which seems to key into his "think like an outsider" point. Maybe seek the value at the edge of the network should take us to a variant of SocialOriginOfGoodIdeas and WorstConnected and PeerToPeer too.