I would like write about the core concept of thought in the university environment, and civilization at large. This is a hard topic, long topic, but one I need to address for myself, so that I can point it out to others when needed. This will take some time, but let me start by arguing a premise. “Modern thought” is a new and different from what we had before.
The most profound change in our structure of our civilization over the 40 years has been the incorporation of computing into our work and leisure lives. The roots of modern computing with binary electric transistors go back to World War II, but even in 1980, having a home computer was a novelty. In 2018, computing is part of a sizable percentage of how we make things, change things, communicate, and have fun.
What is this “computing” that has become so ubiquitous? At the finest scales of scientific definiteness, computing is moving electricity/magnetism/light around to create patterns we want, and we’ve created machines and networks to help us do this. As a pragmatic philosophy, computing has become a tool of thought. We’ve a long history of creating tools to help us thing, from sticks in sand, to cave painting, to early writing on cuniform clay tablets, to paper and pencils, printing presses, recording telegraphs, to mechanical calculators and slide rules. Modern computing is the latest and most profound yet of these tools of thought. And it raises the quality of our thought to another level – we have worlds of information at our finger tips, can perform man-years of calculations in seconds, and can share what we learn around the world just as fast. Relatively speaking, a brain without computing assistance can hardly do more than a chicken scratching in the dirt. The accomplishments of the pre-computing age, while profound, were also profoundly slow compared to what today’s engineers can do.
We are still in the midst of a great transition, which has variously been called an great acceleration, accelerando and singularity by various authors. While the future is hard to see, we can say that by now, civilization has changed from one of thought based on only human intellect to one where our thoughts and ideas exist in a hybrid state between our brains and our computers. We have no name for this hybrid form of thought yet. Perhaps I can just call it “modern thought”.