Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Philosophers and Technologists: Vicarious and Virtual Knowledge Constructs

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Philosophers and Technologists: Vicarious and Virtual Knowledge Constructs

Article excerpt


In an age of continual technological advancement, user-friendly software, and consumer demand for the latest upgraded gadget, the ethical and moral discoveries derived from a careful reading of any fictional literature by college students is struggling in the American college classroom. Easy access information systems, coinciding with the application of some excellent study strategies--such as topic sentence, points of evidence, etc.--have produced students who not only do not enjoy the process and the adventure of reading a story, but disconnect from the possibility of their own vicarious experience by over-utilizing the methodical breakdown of the components; therefore, reducing the "process of story or epic" to one of isolated facts to be memorized in a hurry-up world: individuated components of a scientific formula.

While the upper-echelon of modern science might enjoy the heady intellectual gymnastics of creating merged intelligence, as discussed in Ray Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, the non-reading college students as users / consumers continue to be unable to construct their own knowledge into applicable and meaningful forms of thinking. These forms include the critical thinking skills for ethical and moral thought for which individual immersion into literature allows--the test case of the imagination. The current trend toward utilitarian reading can be reversed through a concentrated and highly structured workshop approach that simultaneously demands personal responses to literature and creative expression by the student, so as to foster an appreciation of the telling of the human story. The arts and sciences, through a well-read population, should work together; otherwise, future moral and ethical decisions will be made upon the premise of expediency and the validity of performance, without the human-defining traits as embodied in the archetypal literatures of past and current cultures.


In the introduction to The Two Cultures, Stefan Collini comments upon the cultural anxiety felt by those contemporaries of the Romantic Era living through the birth pangs of the Industrial Revolution. As noted by multiple commentators, a paradigm shift of such significant import as to affect both practical day-to-day living and philosophical approaches to the established disciplines of thought occurred during and as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Encapsulated in this general anxiety were the specific fears "that calculation and measurement generally might be displacing cultivation and compassion" (Snow 1998, xi), as well as that of "religious belief and practical piety" (ibid., xi). The direct correlation to present-day social and educational anxieties, with the rapid infusion of applied science technologies in commerce, education, and leisure, is the "fissure in types of knowledge" (ibid., x) which could damage "both individual cultivation and social well-being" (ibid., x).

Just as an agriculturally-based economy was jolted and redirected into a manufacturing-based economy, and, since then, a consumer-based economy, so the reign of the sciences through applied technology and consumerism has superseded the humanities, most notably since Snow's lecture, with the advent of computers and software that is pervasive in most areas of life, particularly in the 21st century classroom. Although current Western social and educational systems advance the convenience and benefit of applied technology, it is this very emphasis upon speed and efficiency that may be fragmenting and confusing to students.

Consequently, within specialties within disciplines, a common approach, and a common language of definitions, must be defined by worldview and content. For instance, Collini's apt example refers to the divergent approaches in academic disciplines to the act of writing. Generally, humanities views writing as a process; whereas, science refers to "writing up" a paper or report. …

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