“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Monday, October 5, 2015

Anti-STEM Death Ray

I just figured out, for the second time in my life, but this time using Word instead of paper and pencil, how to solve simultaneous equations. It was like riding a bike after not having ridden for a while. Then the following thought sequence occurred.

All the math you learn in school isn't math. It's computation.

All STEM subjects boil down to computation.

So humans are now being told that learning to compute is the most important (the stem). (Care to analyze that ideologically, someone?)

But computers (the clue is in the name) can compute at least trillions of times faster than humans. (Care to analyze the weirdness of being told you need to ape a computer, only trillions of times slower.)

So learning this way is worse than useless, because what we have learned is that computation isn't the same as math (e.g. set theory, number theory...). And computers do this already. (Thanks to 150 years of computational machination.)

So STEM subjects are worse than useless. (NB not the actual disciplines, but the subjects as conceptualized by the government. Chemistry is awesome.)

So STEM is not the stem.

What is number? What is math? At some point, you're going to have to ask a philosopher.

The core, or stem indeed, is in the humanities.

I propose an alternative model: core learning, and things you can do with things you've learned. The latter is computation. It is secondary to the core. NB "core" is not an acronym (hooray).

To compute, you need something to compute. You can't get this from computation. You get this from the core.

Add to this, of course, the fact that science (when it's not just computation a la engineering or math-as-computer-aping) is about appearance: data.

While the humanities are about reality: the ungraspable nature of things.

We do reality. They do appearance. If the STEM/non-STEM distinction is a reality/appearance distinction (of course it is), it's totally upside down.

But you don't need this second set of moves. You just need the first. STEM isn't the stem.

1 comment:

D. E.M. said...

I'm giving a talk about the humanities v big agriculture tomorrow.
Reality v the production of bullshit (literally and metaphorically)