A Thought On Academic And Intellectual Progress

Last year, when I was studying a text on cultural anthropology, I found myself thinking that it is a poorly written textbook. I found myself trying to mentally rewrite the textbook such that it makes more sense to me. And then a thought occurred to me: academic progress has been stalled by bad writing.

It feels to me that the modern Information Age has yielded few important scientific discoveries that actually impact our lives in meaningful ways. It is very possible that this perceived stagnation is merely a matter of exponential complexity. That is, there are less important scientific impacts as time goes on because more advanced discoveries take an exponentially longer time to achieve on account of the increased level of complexity. In the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans, scientific and intellectual ideas were simpler, and so mastery of any field took less time.

Regardless, I believe that it is in the best interest of academics to make the knowledge that they synthesize as easily digestible as possible. It can only benefit the sciences to have fresh new perspectives to explore in new directions. I feel that by the time one becomes a postgraduate academic fellow, much creativity is drained away from one’s intellect. My feeling is that academics need new blood in their circles, and that making accessible the basic knowledge that creates the discipline’s framework can cause an influx of original ideas. Academic circles are immensely insular, and the cost of entry is high. I believe that many smart people can provide valuable insight and varied perspective to the academic world, if only the basic framework were accessible. People do not need to be bogged down with details and intellectual minutiæ like the attribution of names to theories and dates.

The length and depth of the academic training required to get to the point at which one can make valuable contributions to the scientific body of knowledge is so immensely long that it saps one’s ability to be creative. There are also politics involved. For instance, we need to eliminate the publish-or-perish model, and we need to encourage the publishing of all findings, not just the ones that result in positive results that confirm certain hypotheses. The academic field, in sum, needs to be reformed such that taking a bold new stance and direction on long-established “truths” are not met with punitive actions but rewards; it also needs to be made more accessible to more people so that people from all walks of life may enter into the field.

Granted, there does need to be a way to filter out the rubbish. Otherwise, the scientific community would be inundated with so much noisy static that the ideas worth pursuing would be lost in the sea of bad ideas. Still, imagine a world in which science was made to be a lively creative field in which young men and women were able to pursue research in their ideas under the guidance of a faculty member. Older more experienced members of the field should be given incentives to find fresh new young talent. We need frameworks to nurture and guide young new talent. Not having been given access to the inner workings of upper academia, I cannot say how we can improve things on that front. But I sure can dream of a more liberal and freer academic sphere and the rewards that would bring.