Musings on books, technology, entrepreneurship, nonprofits and umm.. everything else …


In a brilliantly written book, Samuel Arbesman talks about the fascinating world of facts, about how they are not frozen in time, but have their own “half-life” that can be measured in many spheres of knowledge. If “On Being Certain” spoke of how our brain decides that we know for sure that something is a fact, this book looks at the reality of how a “fact” itself changes nature over time in recorded history. It serves as a fascinating introduction to scientometrics, the quantitative study of science.

 

One of the interesting sections of the book revolves around hidden knowledge – how people have been able to make remarkable progress towards finding cures to certain diseases, or figuring out some unsolved puzzle in the real world by combining knowledge from published works in different fields of science. This was brought to the fore pretty rapidly through recent advances such as the crowdsourced innovation platform InnoCentive.

As we saw in the announcement last week around the advances made in solving a weak version of the twin prime conjecture, using existing tools of mathematics but looking at a problem differently is a key to problem solving that brought this as-yet “unremarkable” mathematician to the media spotlight. As the saying goes, the more we know, the more we know that the less we know. So true knowledge must necessarily make you less rigid, more humble and more open to questioning your views. It shines light on all the dirt and frayed edges around what we used to consider as the absolute truth and tells us that all is not cut and dry. It tells us that over the arc of time, facts do change, and things that we took for granted as obvious observations get shattered in the light of new findings. The key to staying sane, and succeeding in this world of ever-changing information where the timescales of change are also rapidly compressing, is to keep an open mind, and question all that you hear and see with the curiosity of a toddler. As the saying goes, “Tamaso ma jyothir gamaya” – from darkness, lead me to light …

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