Part 5 of the essay series Research and Knowledge Accumulation
Euclid vs. Galileo vs. Freud
Some thinkers’ ideas are refined and built on for decades, centuries, or millennia. Other thinkers’ ideas are explored but then abandoned.
Euclid and Galileo are examples of the former. Euclid’s Elements in 300 BC presented a framework for what came to be known as Euclidean geometry. Mathematicians built on this for over two thousand years and are still studying it now. …
Part 4 of the essay series Research and Knowledge Accumulation
Left to itself, knowledge naturally decays. Yet we see many cases around us where researchers make discoveries and knowledge accumulates. What allows knowledge to accumulate in these cases?
In this essay, we will introduce the idea of an intellectual Schelling point. This will help us to understand the phenomenon of knowledge accumulation and more about when knowledge does and does not accumulate.
Intellectual common ground
For knowledge to accumulate among researchers, those researchers must have enough common ground. When you have enough intellectual common ground, you can share ideas, correct errors, challenge assumptions, and learn from each other. …
Part 3 of the essay series Research and Knowledge Accumulation
It is easy to believe that knowledge accumulates automatically. We see many instances of knowledge accumulation — in math and physics, on Wikipedia and the internet, in our own lives as we learn things and teach things to others.
However, knowledge accumulation is not automatic.
To see this, we can think about cases of lost knowledge — or cases where knowledge would have been lost, had we not worked very hard to preserve it. …