The tipping point of learning

This is another one of those stories from Thinking Digital 2013.  It was a rich source of information.

This time it is about a man called Eddie Obeng who works on ‘The world after midnight’ .  His messages were repeated on the second day by other speakers and as the conference went on we all became acutely aware of the issue.  His basic (or not so basic) premise is that the world is so complicated now that we have passed the point of being able to understand it – hence why we have entered the period after midnight – and that this presents us with untold problems because we carry on as if we can.

Our lives are much more complicated yet our physical bodies have changed little in the last hundred thousand years.   Sir Isaac Newton, working in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, is even today highly regarded as one of the most influential scientists of all time.  He had a breadth of knowledge that was awe-inspiring.  It still is today.  He was able to apply his mind to a wide range of subjects including mathematics, physics, mechanics and cosmology while still finding time to be the Warden and Master of the Royal Mint.

Today an individual would struggle any one of these subjects.  Scientists can spend their whole lives considering a tiny fraction of a subject.  There is just too much knowledge and information available for one person to manage. 

Obeng describes this as the ‘World after Midnight’where our ability to understand and take in the world around us has been overtaken by the amount of knowledge out there.   In Newton’s day the key skill was to know and understand.  Today’s key skills are to be able to find and to interpret.  It is impossible to know everything yet as Obeng goes on to say “Most of us spend our lives acting rationally in response to a world we recognise and understand but which no longer exists.”

It’s time to move on.

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