eVolution for the hell of it

Posted on October 8, 2016

There is no view from nowhere. We are always somewhere crossing space and time. Our knowledge grows inside our heads and at the tips of our fingers. Records also move through time and space. They migrate and get translated, eVolved. Does a sense of their mobility, mutability and unpredictability filter through to the public opinion? Not always and not quite: most of us want to use knowledge as a drunk uses a lamp post. He is looking for support, not enlightenment. Is it bad? Not necessarily. Neither theory of relativity nor quantum mechanics would have survived if some of their offsets, byproducts and sidekicks did not include nuclear weapons. These weapons were attractive for politicians, so taxes were imposed and expensive programs implemented. Nuclear weapons ended World War II and almost ended history between 1980 and 1989.

But ideas eVolved further. And so did walls. One fell, others rose. Walls, like people, never walk alone. Neither do ideas. We are slowly beginning to understand that most of our ideas do not spring out of our heads as Pallas Athena from the head of Zeus. Ludwik Fleck saw it in the 1930ies, when he contemplated the origins of a scientific fact in a professional community. We negotiate scientific facts in professional parliaments. Thomas Kuhn re-saw it in the 1970ies, when he looked at the academic establishment. We rebel against academic establishments but end up replacing them with our own. Bruno Latour saw it at the end of the 20th century, when he wondered why we had never been modern in plotting knowledge. Today everybody climbs these steps to the ecology of mind as if they were steps measuring pilgrim’s progress to Santiago de Compostela.

eVolving ideas are not homeless individuals migrating through dangerous seas of forgetting and entropy. They are not looking for a shelter of recognition in the eyes of bored audiences spread on their couches, glued to their mobile phones, linked to their iPads and worried about their social security and retirement benefits. Isolating our ideas into particles of hard knowledge – a popular religious prophecy, a successful political activity or a promising scientific research program – makes them shrink to the size of butterflies pinned down in a collector’s showroom. Shrunk, dried up, isolated, dead. Is it not better to understand them where they originated? To save their environments and help them ripen where they came from? Should the South remain a magazine of raw materials for the high-tech industries of the North?

Slawek Magala

Cracow-Rotterdam, October 8, 2016