Saturday, April 11, 2009

Knowledge it still too slow?

Today, people all over the world, irrespective of their economic status, social status, and geographical location, are equipped with very easy means to communicate with each other. A celebrity staying in Manhattan can put his/her thought on a blog and a reader staying in a remotest village in India can read them on very same day and can even write back his/her comments. The situation was definitely far different just a few decades back. There must have been many scientists working on a same problem but having very limited means to know what their colleagues in some other part of the world are doing.

The vast improvement in the means of communication naturally accelerates the process of knowledge transfer among people.  For example an engineer working in the field of renewable energy should know, within short time, about a breakthrough in material science which can substantially improve the efficiency of solar cell. Similarly a student studying physics in some small town should get to know about a breakthrough discovery in nuclear science taking place at NASA. In reality, the process of knowledge transfer, however, seems to be taking a very long time. Consider following observations

  • For many years economics assumed that people are rational and selfish. Not later than 1970s, these assumptions were challenged and then scientifically proven wrong by many psychologists. Economists have also accepted the fallacy in there earlier assumptions. This is clearly evident from theories such as Bounded Rationality, Prospect Theory. However, many elementary books, either targeted to economics students or general public, still teach economics based on same old assumptions.
  • As far as I know, people, in genearl, still believe that genes of an animal are like a computer program and completely control the behavior, traits and many other important things regarding the animal throughout its lifetime. However scientists working in the field of genetics have long ago realized the limitations of genes in controlling behavior or traits of animal. One of the reasons behind this particular knowledge gap is probably the propaganda adopted by MNCs in the field of genetics.

It is understandable if discoveries in a very specialized and narrow field are taking time to reach people. But discoveries which shake the very foundations of disciplines (like the ones described above) must reach people, at least those working in the same discipline, within short time.

Trying to find out reasons behind above observations, I think

  • Probably discoveries like fallacy in basic assumptions of economics are not instantaneous. They take place over a long period of time as scientists debate for a long time before concluding anything.
  • In some cases, like genetics, there are some entities that are benefited, directly or indirectly, from incorrect beliefs of people.
  • Even though we have easy access to all the developments taking place around us, the capacity of a human being to assimilate knowledge limits the rate of knowledge transfer.
I am very happy to post my first blog. Hope I will continue the process.

  1. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. "Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases" Science, Sept 1974, Vol. 185 (4157), pp. 1124-1131.
  2. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. "The Framing of Decisions and the Psychology of Choice" Science, Jan 1981, Vol. 211 (4481), pp. 453-458.
  3. Daniel Kahneman. "A Psychological Perspective of Economics" American Economic Review, May 2003, Vol 93 (2), Pages 162-168. 
  4. Fritjof Capra. "The Hidden Connections", Flamingo, 2003

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