In a slogan: our hard problems require more smarter people than the hard problems of the past. The tightrope we are walking keeps getting steeper and more slippery and higher off the ground – requiring even better tightrope walkers, tightrope walkers “more better” than the rest of us than has been required in the past. Put more simply, there’s some acceleration going on, both with our levels of expertise and our levels of problems.
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I agree that knowledge today does require walking a tightrope of sorts. It requires knowing how to figure out which sources to trust, but also demanding transparency and clarity. If people lean too heavily on appeals to authority, then people can be misled due to the fact that even experts are fallible, and also, expertise can be faked (people who do not have a deeply ingrained critical mindset may respond to the need to trust experts by finding their own “experts.” You might not see this often, but I do.) In order to solve harder problems, we need skilled authority-questioners who are willing to learn from their mistakes and do not get high off their own bull****, and are also willing to defer to experts. But I believe that much of the difficulty in our knowledge landscape is not just due to educational inequality, but other forms of inequality as well. When there is rampant wealth inequality, our knowledge can be skewed due to some groups having more power and being able to evade responsibility for monopolies on information. When people are being exploited and gaslighted, they might feel more inclined to try to come up with their own explanations for things, because clearly the people in power have not sufficiently accounted for their life experiences. Knowledge-seeking and curiosity do have a personal motivation often, because people are more interested in the problems that pertain to them… experts are the ones most effective at modifying this through training, skill, and reflection, and they may have had life experiences that led them on a path to caring about abstract problems that don’t seem immediately relevant to the everyday stuff that concerns most people. I believe that a lot of our problems can be compressed to be more manageable, but this requires hard work from a lot of people, in academics, activism, art, writing, politics, etc, as well as creative solutions. I don’t think that everyone needs to become superhuman, but we need to improve the way that networks of expertise operate and how people are trained to evaluate knowledge. Putting resources in education will be crucial to this, as well as making education more strategic… some of it is a lot worse than it needs to be, and not because academics aren’t trying hard. We need some people to develop expertise in multiple areas, whether it seems beneficial to their career or not, because for example, knowledge of psychology can benefit knowledge of education and critical thinking, but if psychology does not gain rigor from things like philosophy, statistics, critical thinking about bias and politics, and just hard work, psychology ends up with a lot of fluff in it, no offense. But I enjoy reading about psychology and trying to apply it to as many things as possible… I of course fail to apply all knowledge of psychology, but I do find the experience both intrinsically rewarding and fruitful for my own little inquiries. Psychology is actually a starting point for much influential work in the hard sciences, because understanding how we interface with the world is crucial to knowing how to improve skills and avoid mistakes due to our natural psychological tendencies. I think that this is especially important as we see our lives and areas of study moving further from our evolutionary landscape, because our natural tendencies are both being exploited to a greater extent on purpose, and in many ways, our lifestyles are becoming less like what might be natural for a human. Some of these changes can be met with skill, or with reflective behavior modification, but some of them I think are just bad: unhealthy, a waste of time, counterproductive, or exploitative. So I think that solving our problems is not just a matter of getting better, but of tackling inequality and abuses of power in the information sphere.
I’m not sure if you meant to imply a causal connection between us knowing more and having bigger problems to (re)solve. It seems to me it’s more that we’ve unleashed things upon the world (various technologies/internet/globalization) and these have caused a lot of “bigger problems” but it wasn’t that we gained a lot more knowledge, it was that we gained just enough knowledge to unleash the thing but not nearly enough to understand it fully. So we definitely need more better knowledge to resolve our more sophisticated (and sophistical) problems but it’s not because we’re so smart, it’s because we’re just a bit too clever, and unwise. Hubris. And I’m afraid the desperation caused by the earlier foolishness will lead to more clever and overconfident foolishness.