The Second Sleep by Robert Harris is a novel that seems to be set in the Middle Ages but turns out to be several hundred years into the future. It’s a world in which our civilisation of infinite knowledge has collapsed and humans are living in a new dark age in which learning is tightly controlled by the church, for fear of humanity again bringing about disaster.Read More »
One thing that worries me about our attachment to knowing is that our knowing is outpaced by its impacts.
The systemic complexity of our world seems to be slipping beyond the wit of Homo sapiens to manage. This was evident in the financial crash of 2007, when it was revealed that those in charge of the banks had no understanding of the complex derivatives for which they were responsible. Google and Facebook have no real means to manage the uses of their networks by bad actors. In fact, their incentive to keep enabling malevolent uses of their networks pushes Google and Facebook themselves into the category of bad actors. And in Brexit, the UK Government is managing a process the consequences of which it seems unable to understand, still less contain. We shall see.Read More »
We shouldn’t underestimate how counter-intuitive it is to pursue unknowing. Knowing is at the core of what we understand being human to be. We call ourselves the man who knows, for heaven’s sake: Homo sapiens.We chose this name in distinction to other species of human that once existed such as Homo neanderthalensis (the Neanderthals), Homo floresiensis (the Man of Flores, in Indonesia) and Homo ergaster (the somewhat dismissively named Working Man).
We define ourselves as the clever species. But the earlier humans were not without knowledge. What kind of knowing enabled Homo ergaster to organise socially and employ tools without the level of language and cognition that Homo sapiens was to acquire?Read More »
I’m fed up with knowing. There’s too much certainty in our world. I’m not thinking here of the knowing of experts. I respect expertise. I’m thinking of the knowing that solidifies too readily into identity. The knowing on which polarisation feeds.
I’m susceptible to it myself. Over the past years, as the Government pursued an extreme version of Brexit with no effort to secure losers’ consent, I turned from grudgingly accepting Brexit to opposing it. And the more the left proved incapable of addressing its antisemitism, the more I detached from my lifelong affiliation with Labour.
But, broadly speaking, I prefer to wear my certainties lightly.