Terre des Hommes, part IV
This builds on previous posts about "Terre des Hommes", Saint-Exupéry's autobiography (the preceding one can be found here).
(Bréguet 14. Source: link)
Just as I thought, I was much less interested in the book's plot than in its more philosophical passages. Towards the end of the book, I came across the following:
Si on les instruit bien, on ne les cultive plus. Il se forme une piètre opinion sur la culture celui qui croit qu'elle repose sur la mémoire de formules. Un mauvais élève du cours de Spéciales en sait plus long sur la nature et sur les lois que Descartes et Pascal. Est-il capable des mêmes démarches de l'esprit?
"While we instruct people well, we no longer cultivate them. Someone who thinks that culture means memorizing formulae must have a negative opinion of it. A poor student of math & science knows more about nature and its laws than Descartes and Pascal ever did. But is he capable of thinking like them?"
Saint-Exupéry touches on an interesting topic here. How much of our education should be devoted to knowledge memorization, and how much should be earmarked for honing the skills of knowledge production and knowledge discovery? He argues that the former was overrepresented.
In order to produce new knowledge, is it required to learn the past and current knowledge first? I am on the fence about that. It is definitely the way I was taught most sciences. For example, in physics I learned what the different generations of scientists thought, and how they improved upon the previous state of the art. While this gave me a historical account of how physics has progressed, did it give me insight into how new knowledge is produced? Perhaps it did shed light on what led to past discoveries, which may be inspirational for future discoveries.
However, the flip side of that coin is that by studying in full the reasoning of past generations, one may become blindsided to truly new perspectives. This harkens back to previous reflections in this book, where I wondered about the influence of artefacts on our worldview. If we are using all previous artefacts (in this case, scientific models) it may constrain our imagination to specific directions, and quantum leaps may be less accessible to the mind as a result.
Of course, the flip side of the flip side is that by ignoring previous knowledge, one runs the risk of reinventing the wheel.