Harry Potter seguing to magical universities

Courtney M Eckhardt cme at MIT.EDU
Wed Aug 9 20:16:36 EDT 2000


In message <=uCROZwRKxfo=kDKCxlg8ICnvbiL at 4ax.com>, Melissa Proffitt writes:
>On Wed, 09 Aug 2000 16:03:22 -0400, Courtney M Eckhardt wrote:
>>"...whereas the medieval culture depends more on the transmitted knowledge
>>of the ancients."  Yes, exactly!  The "dark ages" style of learning has a
>>lot to do with learning by rote and copying without really understanding
>>the subject matter.  For instance, one might descibe alchemy as the
>>intersection of mysticism and experimentation, where one only learns what
>>works and what doesn't instead of beginning to understand an area of
>>study.  This method of research, which is nonmethodical, highly
>>individualistic, often secretive, and possibly "proprietary", does not
>>lend itself to the university model.  If one takes this model of research
>>along with the pseudo-medieval magical society, one doesn't get
>>universities.
>
>Absolutely!  I like that bit about "proprietary knowledge."  An author who
>took this to the logical extreme (one of many probably) is P.C. Hodgell,
>with the thieves' apprenticeship system in _God Stalk_.  It's a common
>fantasy theme, but in that book apprenticeships were practically tradable
>coin.  Being apprenticed to a really good thief gave you not only prestige,
>but a more valuable knowledge base.  Similarly, if the knowledge of your
>master wasn't dilute--if it was proprietary--it was even more valuable to
>the apprentice.  Hence the furor over Jame, an outsider to the system, being
>handed what were essentially the Crown Jewels of Tai'Tastigon thievery.

Oh, how true!  Gosh, I'm not sure why I didn't remember that- and I just
re-read God Stalk recently...  Actually, I was under the impression that
that sort of secrecy and politicking is what Guilds were all about whne
Guilds were the professional societies... will one of the historians in
the house correct me if I'm wrong?  So, in some ways it was a logical
extreme that had already been used.  And this secrecy was what the United
States patent system was invented to deal with... people disclosed their
knowledge and techniques to the public in exchange for governmental
protection of the disclosed material for a certain reasonable time period,
so that good techniques were not lost with the deaths of their inventors.

>In writing this it occurred to me that this model means that increased
>secrecy means increased value.  That's *exactly* the opposite of the
>university model, where you want knowledge shared so other people can work
>on it and test it and make it stronger.  The medieval method says that
>openness is dilution, heresy--spreading the knowledge makes it more easily
>corrupted (because of course Aristotle knew more than anyone before or since
>his time).

Exactly!  This is the logical destination of an argument I ddin't quite 
manage to finish making.

But not only does speading knowledge corrupt it, it loses the discoverer
their corner of the market.  So job security requires secrecy too-
otherwise you wouldn't be able to market widgets made with your particular
technique, or steal things no one else knew how to steal. 

So in a marketplace model, you keep your place in the scheme of things and
your living by making sure you can do something no one else can... whereas
in a university, you're being paid to discover and share things, and if
you don't share what you discover, they think you've been sitting on your
butt and fire you!

>So, um...yeah.  What Courtney said.
>
>>Courtney (Melissa agreed with me! :)
>
>Aw shucks.  You're making me blush.  :)

Aw, shucks yourself. :P

Courtney
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