Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?
Those are the questions Paul Gauguin posed in his famous painting, “D’où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous.” It’s a self-indulgent question we might associate with artists and thinkers rather than a practical person who wants to build a career.
Except when the times are a changin’, as they are in the 21st century. Technology continues to transform our lives. Artificial Intelligence could end employment as we know it while opening up new possibilities for life and work. Assuming the climate doesn’t collapse before then. On the positive side, the web has enabled global learning and collaboration at a scale unprecedented in history.It’s never been easier to find peers and collaborators who share your interests, whether they live across the street or across the road.
The pandemic has quickened all these transformations
We don’t know how things are going to turn out, but we can train ourselves to be prepared for the future, especially since we know which developments will influence our lives in the next decade or two. Here are a few:
- The Information Revolution: everything from artificial intelligence and robotics to bitcoin and cryptocurrencies. Software continues to eat the world. Will it eat our jobs as well?
- The Energy Revolution: we are increasingly aware of living on a planet with finite resources. Sooner or later, we will have to stop using fossil fuels altogether and that will involve entirely new ways to power our homes and fuel our cars.Can we do this fast enough?
- The Moral Revolution: Whether we wanted it or not, we have become the rulers of this planet. That position comes with enormous responsibility, not only towards other humans but also all the other creatures that inhabit the earth with us. Are we ready to fulfill our responsibility toward the earth?
Every one of these questions forces us to combine technical understanding with a human sensibility. The engineer will have to become an ethicist. The historian will have to read about hydrology. While proficiency in one domain remains as important as ever, the ability to connect domains has never been more important. That synthetic ability is the hallmark of a wicked mind.
At Socratus, we think about wisdom for the 21st century. At the same time it’s a revival of two older but neglected approaches to learning: the ancient ideal of cultivating humanity and the more recent ideal of a liberal arts education, though with a few twists. One, it recognizes the enormous influence of technical and scientific culture on our modern world. The scholar sitting in his library has to talk to the coder at her computer.
Second, we are human-centric in two ways:
- The content of the traditional arts and sciences, with it’s attention to reasoning, weighing of evidence and clear articulation.
- In our focus on an even older ideal: the cultivation of our humanity. Whether we call it contemplation or meditation, or we delve into the quantified self movement, there’s a clear need for the systematic development of human capabilities.