Why is it important to understand the way we think and the way we process information? Why must we perform these actions with clearheadedness and surety? Why do we want many of the best minds and talents to interact on any particular topic?
According to the author in question, doing all of this is desirable “for the invention of an infinity of devices that would enable one to enjoy trouble-free the fruits of the earth and all the goods found there.” Even more important, such engagement is primarily for the maintenance of our health, which “unquestionably is the first good and the foundation of all the other goods of this life.”
In other words, we must utilize our analytic skills to ensure practical outcomes - to add value to the complex world we inhabit. The best way to do this, moreover, is by “joining together the lives and labors of many,” so that “we might all advance together much further than a single individual could do on his own.”
Douglas Englebart, with his desire to augment human intellect in order to increase the “capability of man to approach a complex problem situation” (p. 95) in order to solve it, would have loved this week’s reading for Encounters. For, in the Discourse on the Method for Conducting One’s Reason Well and for Seeking Truth in the Sciences (or, Discourse on Method, if you’re tired), Rene Descartes seems to anticipate by more than three centuries many of Englebart’s preoccupations - the striving toward broad-based social improvements, the confidence in understanding information processing, the occasional playful optimism about the future. It is a delight to read them together and to imagine a dinner party with both men as guests around a table full of wine and candles and computer terminals.
My favorite point of comparison between the two radical thinkers is their hopeful sense of what intellectuals and scholars can accomplish when connected to one another. Descartes asserts that when this linking occurs it is possible to arrive at knowledge “that would be very useful in life and that, in place of the speculative philosophy taught in the schools, it is possible to find a practical philosophy” to render ourselves masters and possessors of nature,” while Engelbart describes the potential of our collective IQ http://www.dougengelbart.org/about/collective-iq.html
– our ability to, together, amass and harness our intelligence to deal with the steadily increasing “complexity of the human situation.” (p. 93).
To be clear, however, Engelbart is far from Panglossian. For, if we don’t recognize and deliberately take steps to create and then benefit from these connections, the possible implications are more than merely troubling…