Where Are We

It’s quite understandable if you are wondering where we are and where are we heading. It may appear that what we discussed so far is not quite what would lead us to an understanding of how the world works. But that’s not quite so. What we are doing is getting a grip on a set of basic conceptual building blocks which we will use to build an understanding of the way the world works.

Let’s take stock. We have defined what technology is — just recipes — and as we go forward we will understand why technology matters. The world today is the way it is because of technology. We humans are able to do what we do only because of the technology that we have developed.

We have explored very superficially two basic concepts. First, there are resources — which are products of our technology. Resources don’t exit in nature. Stuff exists in nature. We create resources out of stuff that exists in nature using technology that we develop.

We know what to do with the stuff nature provides. The important thing is that this has everything to do with knowledge. Only we humans among all life forms on earth have the unique capacity to acquire, store and transmit knowledge across the generations.

The world we live in is the way it is because of our ability to develop technology, and use technology. Therefore to understand our world, we have to understand the nature of technology. It’s not that difficult but the matter is subtle and has to be approached patiently. It has to be approached in small, tentative steps without rush.

So where are we going next? We are going to distinguish between two absolutely different categories: objects and ideas.

Objects are things that you can hold and feel with your hands, taste with your tongues, and see with your eyes. But with ideas it’s an entirely different deal. You cannot hold ideas in your hand, only in your mind. Only your mind perceives ideas.

Ideas are what makes the world tick. If we wish to we can understand why that is so by reading the great philosophers such as the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. His 1818 work The World as Will and Representation is brilliant beyond belief but we can entirely ignore it for our present purposes. We can understand our world more easily by learning from the other kinds of philosophers — the so-called “worldly philosophers” aka economists.

Here’s what we are going to do in the 3rd online session of Jan 29th: explore the distinction between object and ideas. It will enable us to understand why the world was static for most of human history (going all the way back hundreds of millions of years) and why in just a few hundred years the world has radically changed.

I hope you will join the 3rd online session. I think it’s going to be fun. Talk you at 9 PM IST on Friday 29th Jan.

Author: Atanu Dey

Economist.

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