When I wrote my previous entry, I thought that the criticisms to rationality that I heard in a Philosophy conference a few weeks ago were just some extreme views by some professors operating on the fringes of academia. But I was wrong. After spending some time learning more about this topic and discussing it with other people, I realized that such views are moving now to the mainstream, while the case in favor of rationality is being pushed to the side, falling out of fashion.
The title of the debate was more provocative than controversial, but the summary in the event’s brochure certainly made me raise my eyebrows:
The Right Way to Think
(Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Paul Boghossian, Alister McGrath)
Reason was traditionally seen as the Enlightenment’s greatest legacy and as the origin of our success. Yet reason is increasingly derided as just the rhetorical bluster of an educated elite, typically, powerful and male. Is rationality merely the prejudiced claim of those who are sure they are right? Were we mistaken to think that reason drives progress? Or is it an unassailable and essential tool for social harmony and future flourishing?
Reason, a rhetorical bluster? Of an educated elite? Merely a prejudiced claim? Was this some kind of a joke?
Last week, before the flames were extinguished in Notre Dame, the two opposing sides that usually arise around this type of news were marching through the world (real and virtual): those who lamented what happened, and those who lamented the ones who lamented what happened. I could not say exactly how big these two groups were, but from my remote corner of the internet, it would seem that for every two moaners, dismayed to see the Gothic icon now turned into a pyre, there was one critic of them, unease with the sudden outbreak of solidarity.
I don’t have hard numbers for backing the following statement, but definitely, I have enough anecdotal evidence for bringing it forward: Women travel more than men. For me, this was not a sudden realization but rather a gradual process of awakening over the years, after learning the stories of many women in my life that have decided to make traveling a serious purpose in their lives. First, it was a cousin, then a couple of friends, then a colleague, and then a girlfriend. One by one I would hear about their big and small adventures, either crossing the channel or crossing the world.
In 1969, during the war for the supremacy in Artificial Intelligence, the symbolists dropped a bomb over their adversaries, the connectionists, that proved to be so destructive that it stopped the advance of what later would be known as Machine Learning in its tracks, bringing to a closure a conflict that has lasted over a decade. Fifty years have passed since these events, and the fortunes of both camps have reversed completely: While ML is on everyone’s lips, heralded as the engine of the next technological revolution, only a few readers would be familiar with the work of the symbolists.
Mathematics in middle and high school should be an optional subject, only taught to those students who have a genuine taste for it. It should not be part of the core program as it happens now, imposed on everybody as some form of a ritual of passage, separating the virtuous from the unworthy in our society. It should not have a preferred place in the academic program, hovering above the rest of the subjects. Arts, literature, philosophy, physical education: they should all be regarded with just the same deference as math. But most important of all, mathematics should not be a weapon to terrorize millions of kids that grow up with some form of post-traumatic disorder, victims of our obsession with treating mathematics as some form of divine discipline.
Last year a dozen friends or so approached me, wanting to know my opinion about how useful would it be for them to learn computer programming. The common feeling was that the job market was demanding that type of skills, particularly for roles on data science, and learning them could open some attractive doors. However, the over-abundance of books, online courses, and videos on the topic clutters the view and makes it difficult to decide where to begin. “Which are the good courses?”, “What language to learn?”, “How long would it take?”, and more importantly, “Would it be worth it?”