Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Silly Rabbit, Don't Go Down That Hole

People seem to enjoy making bad decisions. Two articles that I read today really highlight this. The first one is about teaching through crowd sourcing techniques and the second is very scary. Seems a scientist took the bird flu and modified it so that it was capable of killing half of the people on earth.

Doctor Tipster - Dutch Researcher Created A Super-Influenza Virus With The Potential To Kill Millions

What reasonable person would create a flu that is capable of killing half of the people on earth? In the book "Faust" by Goethe there is a scientist who creates a little human man. The little man is constantly causing the scientist trouble and Faust asks the scientist why he created the little man in the first place. The explanation was that he wanted to see if he could. That is poor logic when it comes to putting others at risk.

The Globe and Mail - Physicist's crowd-sourcing philosophy gains traction in the classroom

Basically the article is promoting group think or at least that is what we used to call it. I have written about crowd sourcing before, in teaching situations I consider it pure poison. The fact that ten people might come to a good conclusion does not mean that they learned much individually. Let me try it this way, I understand how subtraction works and you understand how multiplication works, we can together arrive at the answer to some math problems; but, neither of us learned anything more, we just used what we already knew.

Working collaboratively has great value, consider the things that we have built that could not be done alone; however, the byproduct of compartmentalization and specialization is the inability of anyone to understand how things fit together, to understand the big picture and consequences of our actions. That sort of brings me back to the first article, the scientist created a thing that has dangerous consequences because he was more concerned about what he was capable rather than understanding that what he was doing was dangerous with little to no value.

Two sides of the same coin, two extremes. The truth is that some of us know more than others; but, all of us are part of a greater community. Not everyone is going to understand quantum physics, be able to create great art, find the deepest philosophical understanding or reach the limits of our human potential because each persons potential is unique to them. At the same time, our duty to the community should keep us from thinking just about us and when we impact the community in too extreme a manner without a valid reason then the community should censor us.

The problem is not one of individual freedom nor is it one of societal dictatorship, it is about reasonableness and balancing both. As we head towards a world where because of technology anyone will be able to bio-engineer something that can kill everyone on earth we need to seriously consider how we will limit these technologies and to do that we need to understand their consequences, it requires wisdom and groups do not exhibit wisdom because that is more comprehensive.

The internet has given us the opportunity to tap into the knowledge base of people worldwide and find new solutions and come to a greater understanding of one another. In the end though, there must still be the individual and he must also be allowed to flourish. We cannot advance society by holding back the individual's search for meaning and we do not have a society worth living in if we restrict variety; but, that does not mean anything goes.

Our national representatives have sold us out (seems completely unrelated doesn't it). Currently congress is considering passing a bill called Senate Bill 1867. This bill would allow the military to imprison Americans without trial indefinitely. This is prohibited by the Constitution as we have a right to go before a judge and have a trial by a jury. The "Patriot Act" denied these rights to foreign citizens and this bill would deny those rights to American citizens if the government so chose.

Theoretically, the relevant language is intended to catch "terrorists", presumably so they do not become the dreaded "terrorrizer guys", the modern day equivalent of the boogeyman. The changes in our laws and the outright rejection of the constitution as the law of the land has happened because people failed to pay attention to what was going on. A few have been telling people about the erosion of our basic liberties for years; but, none listened until all could see. The people we should listen to are not the people who control the world; but, instead the people who can and will honestly explain what is going on. The world needs outliers, those who are unique because they bring a perspective that no group ever would.

I am absolutely exhausted and would have preferred to have discussed these articles at another time; but, I didn't want my readers to miss them. Not my greatest post by any stretch; but, things to consider. More important that either of the articles is the question of the relationship of rights and responsibilities within society, the relationship between the individual and the group, both matter.

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