Twofish's Blog

December 2, 2006

The essential message of MIT

Filed under: academia, massachusetts institute of technology, wikipedia — twofish @ 4:32 pm

I’ve been discussing MIT a lot on the Chronicle of Higher Education forum. Something I’ve learned from my physics training is

  1. look for the deep message in everything. It could be a unifying equation or concept
  2. look for unexpected connections between things. Once you see a deep concept like energy, you see different manifestations of things.

There are other things that I’ve been taught over the years, that mix unexpected with those things, and which puts me in conflict with a lot of academia:

1. Power based on secret knowledge is bad and dangerous. This is an interesting concept that I got from Confucianism, but which my parents repeated emphasized. There is a passage from the Analects in which Confucius (or whoever compiled his writings) said *I’m trying to say what I mean and mean what I say*. This is interesting when you think of the different types of secret knowledge. For most people string theory and quantum mechanics and that is secret knowledge. I give you a textbook on string theory or quantum mechanics, and you aren’t going to made any sense of it. Things that are also secret, the source code of Microsoft Windows, the business plans of most companies, and what the admissions committee is actually looking for.

If you think about it, this puts me in conflict with the academia power structure. Tell me, why is a physics professor more powerful than an eight year old? The physics professor has secret knowledge that the eight year old doesn’t. So there is a conflict of interest. Suppose everyone knows string theory and quantum mechanics? Then the physics professor loses power, doesn’t they?

It also puts me in conflict with the Cecil Rhodes Society to Rule the World (yes such a thing exists and I’m quite mad at it) and Microsoft. It also creates an alliance with Wikipedia and Linux.

I sound like a conspiracy theorist sometimes, but the thing that makes me different from Lyndon LaRouche is that I don’t want to replace an old conspiracy with a new conspiracy. LaRouche actually is a rather smart person, but the problem is that he has created an “secondary conspiracy”. You are more powerful because *you* are the secret few that know the conspiracy. Also, if I empower you with open knowledge, then you can tell me that I’m taking rubbish.

There actually is a power elite that runs the world (or more accurate there are clusters of power that run different parts of the world). I’ve met them, and had lunch with a few of them. They are really nice people. *Somebody* has to run the world, and I don’t have too much objection to the current group being in charge, except maybe for the fact that I’m not one of them.

2. Power based on mastery of *open knowledge* is a good thing. So if power based on secret knowledge is a bad thing, what should power be based on. I’ve been taught that power should be based on *virtue* and *technical mastery of open knowledge*.

Anyway getting back to MIT.  Funny things happen when you mix physics and marketing.  I like looking at something and figuring the essential message.  The thing about a commercial is that it gets its power from hitting the mammalian brain, and when you strip it out the essential message, it looks kind of funny.  The bad way of deailing this (which I see in academics) is to say “ha, the masses are stupid to fall for marketing”.  The problem with this is that academics also fall victim to marketing and because of their sense of superiority they don’t have the self-reflection to realize that this happening, and it is often hurting them.

The essential message of a beer commercial is “drink this fizzy water, and it will make you attractive to women.”

The essential message of MIT is “you are stupid, but that’s OK, everyone is stupid.  you are stupid, your teachers are stupid, you will always will be stupid, but there is salvation, you can redeem yourself by trying to be less stupid.”

The interesting thing is that this is same message as fundamentalist Protestant Christianity.  “You are a sinner.  We are all sinners.  But there is the possibility of redemption.”  (There are slight differences in the essential message.)

It is an incredibly liberating experience to realize that you are stupid (but so is everyone else!!!!)  You have *SINNED* against the LORD, but *SO HAS EVERYONE ELSE*.  You are *DOOMED* to a life of ignorance. but so is everyone else.

I am free!!!!!

It removes a huge burden ofguilt and shame.  I’m ashamed that I’m so stupid.  I’m guilty because I don’t work hard enough.  But if I realize that I *always* will be stupid, and *everyone* us stupid, then I don’t have to feel guilty about being human.  I just have to accept Jesus into my life in the case of Christianity, or learn more and more about the volatililty curve in the case of MIT.

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