Maps and minds

The National Geographic Assignment Blog is featuring a short excerpt from my book The Shallows, illustrated with some photographs from National Geographic photographers. In the excerpt, I look at the map as an early example of an intellectual technology that both reflects and disseminates a new way of thinking. Read it.

4 thoughts on “Maps and minds

  1. Patrick

    “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

    The following quote from your interview with Tavis Smiley reminded me of a several instances encountered in my own 40 years in the international business world.

    Carr: “Well, I think it’s shifting the emphasis of our thought away from deep, attentive thought, contemplative thought, reflective thought and more and more toward a skimming and scanning type of behavior. So our minds are constantly bombarded by information and there’s a lot of good things about that, but we’re losing the ability to slow down and think really deeply about one thing for a long period of time.”

    The first was being presented with a hand made poster by an acquaintance I was replacing in the company’s head office after 21 years overseas. It read “there is so much background the foreground has gone underground. Anon Feed me ” Venus, F.T. With a background in R&D, technical services, direct customer and industrial contacts, I asked what it meant. He replied as a departmental manager you will now be a supplier of information, data,reports etc to your planning group, to your General manager, to senior management, to the corporate Strategic Planning Department and any other corporate Division that requests it. That was 30 years ago and he told me that Venus, F.T referred to the Venus fly trap in a play, “Little Shop of Horrors”.

    The demand for data, information for planning purposes, for the Baldridge Award, meetings and data collection, for ISO-9000 quality approvals for all activities, including clerical workers, and two R&D labratories, which would essentially shut down free thinking , out-of-the-box experimentation, was time consuming and certainly not customer related. The waste of manpower in reporting and studies was mind boggling and relentless. There was no time for thinking. The primary objective of both government designed and supported quality and management excellence programs was to develop conformity, group think not individual excellence.

    Your point was also found by Richard Feynman as described in the following:

    The following is from a review of Richard Feynman, A Life in Science by John Gribbin and Mary Gribbin

    “Some time towards dawn, (Goodstein after reading Watson’s book “the Double Helix”) looked up and commented to Feynman that the surprising thing was that Watson had been involved in making such a fundamental advance in science, and yet he had been completely out of touch with what everybody else in his field was doing.

    Feynman held up the pad he had been doodling on. In the middle, surrounded by all kinds of scribble, was one word, in capitals: DISREGARD. That, he told Goodstein, was the whole point. That was what he had forgotten, and why he had been making so little progress. The way for researchers like himself and Watson to make a breakthrough was to be ignorant of what everybody else was doing and plough their own furrow. [pp. 185-186]..

    “What had gone wrong for Feynman was that he had begun taking too seriously the idea that modern knowledge is a collective enterprise. Just trying to keep up with his field had suppressed his own sources of inspiration, which were in his own solitary questions and examinations. This, indeed, is the fate of most research in most disciplines, to make the smallest, least threatening, possible addition to “current knowledge.” Anything more would be presumptuous, anything more might elicit the fatal “Don’t you know what so-and-so is doing” from a Peer Reviewer, anything more might invite dismissal as some off-the-wall speculation — not serious work.

    So Feynman “stopped trying to keep up with the scientific literature or compete with other theorists at their own game, and went back to his roots, comparing experiment with theory, making guesses that were all his own…” [p. 186]. Thus he became productive again, as he had been when he had just been working things out for himself, before becoming a famous physicist. ,,,,,,,,”

    “New ideas do not come from committees, and although this dynamic is so well understood as to be part of folk wisdom, researchers in many areas of science or scholarship are so blinded by their own herd mentality, or collectivist ideology, or rent-seeking behavior, that they commonly act, both for themselves and in judgment of others, in denial of it. Of all the “curious” lessons of Richard Feynman’s life, this is one of the best.”

    The internet has made it so much easier to become bogged down with information.

  2. Heller James

    The interview in the Jivin’ Ladybug — revealing the roots of Hinge Theory — is the best antidote I know of to Screen En-Slavement!

    Heller Levinson Interview

    Heller Levinson has appeared here since the Bug-Birth & his solid support & running commentary have been tremendous in keeping this online venture …

  3. Celeste Jones

    Just finished The Shallows and loved identifying with many cognitive changes I’ve noticed over the years of being “wired.” Wondered if you came across any research using Neurofeedback as a counteractive therapy to the “scattering ADHD effects” of too much internet? I was training in that field just before retiring as a neuropsychologist.

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