What is there left to think about? That question was the subject of a Crimson Op-Ed this morning. I disliked the author’s approach to the question but it did leave me feeling elevated in my capacity as a computer scientist to see the bigger picture beyond what the average computer user might consider. In particular, I see the meta-reality of Google solving a problem that our parents couldn’t: previous generations had the challenge of synthesizing volumes of information. In the past, we did it in our heads, or through a trip to the library and perusal of dewey decimal system cards. Today, Google and other search engines provide an amazing resource for us to search the plethora of knowledge out in the ether. Nevertheless, the task doesn’t simplify our job as human beings to “think.” I fear that the primary fallacy of the op-ed was the writer’s assumption that to “know” facts is equivalent to “thinking.” Regurgitation, of course, isn’t “thinking,” at least in the profound sense that I’m sure Aristotle implied by “to think is to have a soul.” Assuming we have some reverence to the notion of a soul, the task still remains to do something useful with those facts that we can so easily query the internet for.
Why not consider the open challenges that are obvious if a person looks beyond the gates of Harvard… or Cambridge… but especially our national borders? Extreme poverty. Human trafficking and slavery. These are pervasive issues that do even manifest themselves in a non-minute way in the United States.
Sure, we can ask the Internet to return half-baked or even thoughtful approaches to these issues; however, fellow Harvardians, let’s get our heads of the sky, let’s move beyond paper to see these plans in action! Sure, it’s scary for us to commit ourselves to a plan or set of plans that might be wrong :: gasp :: but negative results get at our ultimate aim (Sandel, yes, eat your heart out at my teoleological reasoning… apologies to those of you who’d like think I’m a Aristotle fan-boy… wrong!) and that ultimate aim is the betterment of society. Knowing what not to do is just as valuable (and, perhaps, more so) than knowing what exactly to do.
There is no perfect answer right now in the most calculated, controlled, prescriptive, tangible sense; however, there is hope! Let’s act on it!