Studying a nonexistent field

Universities have been bastions of complex knowledge. Information is becoming freer and more mobile, but a density of knowledge remains. As Knowledge digitises, the tyranny of distance loses power, but (as of 2020) is still worth contending with.

Globally, it is possible to obtain a degree in nearly any specialisation. Whether our preference is for molecular biology or atomic gastronomy, a period of study gives you an educational foundation, some experience in the field, and hopefully a leg-up in the employment market.

Birth > Schooling > Specialised learning > More learning +/ Career > …

is the ‘normal’ progression – linear, predictable, and useful as a model.

Where this model fails to give ‘useful’ outputs – testable outcomes – is that it doesn’t deal well with rapidly emerging fields. This makes sense – if people are still in discover-create-experiment in a field, the knowledge will not have propagated down the dissemination chain yet.

This seems self-evident, but it’s worth reminding ourselves that for most of our history, this was not the case. Generally speaking, problems repeated themselves generationally for most of our histories. The complex problems the Master solved shaped the puzzles they set for their Apprentice, and so a loop sustained the transfer of knowledge.

Those truths still hold, but they are now one level up in terms of abstraction.