Thursday, May 20, 2004


Some strong comments on Rocco's post on the recent Columbia theory day. In my own highly biased point of view, I find the study of efficient computation critical in a society that becomes continually reliant on computation on both explicit computers and implicitly in various biological, economic and physical systems. And how can one study efficient computation without developing reasonable models of computation and analyzing those models?

I don't mean to sound so altruistic; I get paid to do what I love. But I do truly believe one needs to understand the mechanisms that make up our world if we wish to improve them. I write this weblog, in part, to educate about the beauty and applications of theoretical computer science.

A comment about comments. I understand that many of you choose to post anonymously rather than register at Blogger and I'm fine with that. If you don't mind please add your name at the end of the comment. I like to know who is behind the comments and its useful to match up different comments by the same person. Of course, I'd rather get your comments anonymously than not at all.

Update 5/21: Stanley Fish, the departing Dean of the Arts and Sciences of University of Illinois at Chicago argues more for a separation of academic research and policy.

I exit with a three-part piece of wisdom for those who work in higher education: do your job; don't try to do someone else's job, as you are unlikely to be qualified; and don't let anyone else do your job. In other words, don't confuse your academic obligations with the obligation to save the world; that's not your job as an academic; and don't surrender your academic obligations to the agenda of any non-academic constituency � parents, legislators, trustees or donors. In short, don't cross the boundary between academic work and partisan advocacy, whether the advocacy is yours or someone else's. Marx famously said that our job is not to interpret the world, but to change it. In the academy, however, it is exactly the reverse: our job is not to change the world, but to interpret it.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with the idea that you shouldn't try to "save the world" with your research. I find that a lot of my PhD student peers who are socially conscious and concerned tend to go for that line of thinking. Personally, I believe as long as you take some sane measures to reduce you environmental "footprint", live a moral life, and contribute to others (i.e. "don't be an isolationist") that you are already helping the world.

    I think partially what is attractive about the idea of doing research or work to save the world could be explained not by altruism, but by selfishness: Trying to do something so profound can be a person's way to give thier life meaning. For myself, I find meaning in life through morality and spirituality, so the call isn't as loud.

    Of course, one must be careful when saying selfish-ism is at the root of all altruism; e.g. "He only did that because it made him feel good." The idea of calling someone selfish changes when you realize they have an expanded notion of what "the self" is. For someone who identifies with a larger community, their self is those around them. You could still call that being selfish, but I think the word altruistic applies better.