The missing links, what separates us from singularity
So you just read the title, and went through the eclectic graphic tapestry! What’s on your mind then? Do the bells ring? Did you find the missing link between the images?
If you did, then I adore your intellectual landscape. But even in the case otherwise, I hope the following exploration will persuade you to expand your landscape as well. Read On!
Charles Lyell, the geologist, had proposed that the beautiful creeks amidst the massive canyons (like the one shown in the 3rd image above) were responsible for carving out its passage across the humongous rocks, nibbling it grain by grain. This proposal faced its own well deserved heat. But the impact that it had was far reaching, only waiting to be felt by someone on the other side. And that someone was Charles Darwin; who in his arduous journey, both across the sea and across the opinions of his sceptics, embraced this impact to find an analogy between canyons and life as it is on earth. He proposed that just like the small but continued passage of water can lead to seemingly unfathomable changes in the geology of a landscape, small changes in the environment can also yield a large variety of fauna and flora, that may apparently be disparate (This links the 4th image to the 3rd). This theory created waves across the community; be it theological, political or scientific. This weakened the belief that we are created in the image of God and forced us to look around for ancestors on this very land. This also laid impetus to the research towards finding a mechanism within the living, that holds “information” that governs the characteristics of that living being. For it was now conjectured that this information is the one that can passed down, changed and then be used to create different kinds of organisms from the same source. This is when you link the 1st image to the 3rd and 4th, which is the Photo 51. Photo 51 is an image of the human DNA’s helical structure which indicates that information of a being can be encoded into simple strands, which are also susceptible to changes, leading to an altogether different being. The characterisation of the human DNA buttressed the theory that the diversity of life follows from simple changes to each organism: creation of an elaborate ecosystem of beings emerges from simple and similar sources. This emergence is not just registered in natural phenomena but also in totally abstract subjects like maths. Here comes the 2nd image (The Mandelbrot Set), a cliche example for all those familiar with complex systems. The intricate pattern shown in the image is actually a fractal into play. Fractals are simple elements repeated with/without variations multiple times. Such simple repetitions can lead to an intricate emergent behaviour, just as in the story of the 3rd and the 4th image.
So now that you know the story behind each of the images, what is the epiphany? It is that the knowledge across diverse genres can help you find solutions quickly in each of them. We now realise that the topics discussed in each of the images are not as disjoint as the images, but rather are closely coupled with each other. And it would not be too much to say that it was the knowledge of the other in each of these images, that helped to some extent unravel the mysteries within them by the respective pioneers. And this exactly is what is missing with us. Missing in our education model. A lot of the things are often claimed to be missing from the education system (vocational training, pragmatic approach, industrial connect, etc.) but personally, I feel this cross domain link to be one of the major gaps that holds substantial contribution. Why is it that innovations generally occur at the junction of several fields and why is that innovations are not common? It may most probably be attributed to the way we are taught. We are often imparted knowledge in disjoint compartments, separated from each other in the form of different subjects. To add to it, we are also evaluated separately for each of these streams of knowledge. This subtle decision makes an immense impact on our knowledge assimilation process. I would like to draw your attention momentarily to a very important learning concept: neurons that fire together wire together. This crucial concept signifies that if our brain registers two different activities together, it encourages their learning to be related to each other. So next whenever any one of the two is summoned, the other one follows. This is also how “habits” are formed. This should be the reason why reading as a habit is encouraged, as then we indulge into cross-domain knoweldge accumulation which strengthens those “links”, enhancing the integrity of the knowledge model in our brain (a holistic approach of learning). This shall also be the reason why practical experience is weighed more than theoretical knowledge as then we are tested not merely on artifically curated narrow tests but organically occuring circumstances that by their very nature demand the application of cross domain expertise (a holistic approach of evaluation). This strengthens the “links” as we summon everything in our might to come out with a practical solution, thus strengthening our knoweldge model and acumen. Coming back to the schooling system, now that we are taught and evaluated on the subjects separately, those crucial links across the different learning areas do not get much chance to develop. In fact on the other end, it can often be the case that these links across different knowledge domains are suppressed. So what do we expect then? We expect less of such thinkers who can relate observations across domains as most of us are habitual of wearing those horse blinkers while thinking. Also, we often see the ‘Innovators’ to be the kind of people who possess cross domain knowledge (Just think over it for a while). We are unknowingly (unless its a big plan!!) made to curtail our imagination by creating a compartmentalised structure of knowledge into our brain. In fact, if I may extrapolate, this limitation of ours hinders our exponential growth, given the knowledge we already have. We as humans have substantial knowledge in several domains, but we as individuals are hardly able to collate them together as that is not how we are trained/wired. This exactly becomes one of the reasons why we depend on singularity for exponential technological growth. One aspect of singularity is connection of different knowledge domains by several machines and then combined usage of all that knowledge as a single unit for exponential advancement, exactly where we lack. For that matter, we got a peek into such a feat already, when the AI based machine, IBM Watson, defeated two world champions of the game Jeopardy. It was a sheer display of the usage of cross domain knowledge (literature, poetry, language, general knowledge, etc.) to win at the game. More such feats await us as supposedly singularity has been predicted to hit us too soon (some even say 2029).
I feel until then we should not restrain ourselves in the compartmentalised learning structure. We need to start peeping into other domains, cherish the interoperability and foremost reward ourselves not for a good reapplication of a piece of knowledge but for our ability to knit across multiple such domains.
Let the links proliferate in your compartments!