Is theory better than practice?
As technology accelerates, there has been an increasing focus on engineering and practice than theoretical pursuits. In a system with limited brain cells, these are competing priorities and the focus on one at the exclusion of the other will have long term deleterious effects on Science and Humanity. To make matters worse, the superstars in the press, the emerald king who invented everything and the shopping guy, now heading to Mars to escape it all, take a disproportionate mindshare from the next generation. But this is not a good thing.
Theory eats practice for lunch. There could not have been any practice without Theory. The man who theorized in Princeton with just paper and pencil added far greater value to humanity than those who figured out how to pump government subsidies into shareholders’ pockets through “electric cars,” while saving the universe. The advocates of String theory provides a far higher context for learning than getting finer and finer pictures of the universe through variety of instruments launched into space. The so what question has to be asked before decisions on technology investments are made.
The human brain is likely the most fascinating instrument we have seen. And in its raw form, without using any mechanical crutches provided by engineers, it is more powerful than anything else. To do this, one has to pull away from the noise of technology and think on pure terms. We are close to delegating all practice to machines releasing human brain cells from the drudgery of life and in such a regime, only theory matters. That’s to say the objective of a human cannot be making things from known principles but rather seeking the unknown. One could argue that finding the unknown requires data and measurements through technology, but this is not necessarily so. I am not suggesting we stop all experimentation but sending instruments into space to find more and more data, albeit marginally useful, is likely not a priority. What we need to do is to return to Mathematics and seek truth, perhaps without manufactured data, but with intuition. This skill has been declining in the modern world as technology accelerates and the guy who is embedding chips into monkey brains is the God.
It is time humans returned to focusing on theory. This requires a bottom-up redesign of educational systems, still largely focused on practice. It requires a society wide appreciation of contribution, away from billionaires making toys to those rich in other attributes making discoveries. It requires humans to grow up.