Say no to touchy-feely simplicity 1

September 6, 2002

Michael Wood's contention that intellectual evolution may stop unless learning is made easier (Soapbox, THES , August 30) is disastrous in its implications.

There is a big difference between presenting some simplified ideas to students, so that they may proceed from a basic grasp of the topic, and treating such simplifications as sufficient knowledge. Knowledge evolves not in the direction of simplicity but from simple to complex and from lower to higher understanding.

Knowledge is not - as in Wood's Cartesian-managerial thinking - a product deliverable to all, but understanding apprehensible according to varying individual capacities. Even the calculatory advances cited by Wood depend on higher intelligence. Computers would soon cease without the science underpinning them.

Wood's argument hovers uneasily between a recognition of human genius accessible to only a few ("Einstein") and the desire to make all knowledge accessible to simply everyone: an impossibility.

The simplification of knowledge would reverse its evolution as each successive generation of students would know less than its predecessors, until knowledge itself disappeared.

Nigel Probert

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