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November 02, 2010


Wiliam Cullerne Bown

But there is a problem with this relentless focus on "original" blue skies thinking at the Battle of Ideas. It's thinking that is not firmly rooted in any discipline. I know that's the point. But it's also the weakness. The incremental development of thinking within a discipline means that each new contribution is supported and walled in by the previous work and that provides a kind of reliability. A given paper or talk may be only 1 per cent new, but the other side of that is that it is 99 per cent tried and tested. All this "originality" comes with no such trustworthiness, and can just be twaddle.

Will Davies

I'm not sure I agree that thinking has to be "firmly rooted in a discipline". Scientific method and research might, but that's a separate issue.

The clue is in the title: Battle of Ideas, not Battle of Knowledge. Everyone has ideas, even those who are ignorant. The question is whether ignorant people should still be allowed to voice their ideas and opinions in public environments. Clearly we accept this in various places already, such as The Daily Mail.

But in other environments, such as policy-making, we see people seeking to close down debate through invoking knowledge and expertise, telling the layperson that their view or 'idea' does not count and will not be heard.

I have no problem with well-organised forums of discussion based on ideas alone (the ideas may or may not be based on some knowledge, which may or may not be scientific, academic or valid), thereby bringing experts and non-experts together. The alternative is that knowledge produces its own echo chamber (policy-making) and ignorance produces another (The Daily Mail).

Wiliam Cullerne Bown

You are committing yourself to amateurism. If this is what the Battle of Ideas is aiming at, a better name would be "Battle of Amateurs".

Will Davies

So you think that ideas are the preserve of professionals?

By that logic, my MA in Modern European Philosophy and PhD in Sociology entitle me to tell you that you haven't thought this through very carefully.

Wiliam Cullerne Bown

It's not a question of employment status. It's a question of acknowledging the body of evidence and understanding that already exists. We could have a meeting to discuss solutions to Fermat's Last Theorem. But if the people there haven't read and reflected on what's already known and taken this into account in what they say, all you'll get is twaddle.

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