“Abolishing the Book Is Like Abolishing the Symphony”
David Gelernter is professor of computer science at Yale, chief scientist at Mirror Worlds Technologies, contributing editor at the Weekly Standard, and member of the National Council of the Arts. He is the author of several books and many technical articles, as well as essays, art criticism, and fiction. The "tuple spaces" introduced in Carriero and Gelernter's Linda system (1983) are the basis of many computer-communication and distributed programming systems worldwide. According to Reuters, his book "Mirror Worlds" (Oxford University Press, 1991) "foresaw" the World Wide Web and was "one of the inspirations for Java"; the "lifestreams" system (first implemented by Eric Freeman at Yale) is the basis for Mirror Worlds Technologies' software. Gelernter is also the author of "The Muse in the Machine" (Free Press, 1994), the novel "1939" (Harper Perennial, 1995), "Machine Beauty" (Basic Books, 1998), and most recently, "Judaism: A Way of Being" (Yale University Press, 2010).
Question: Why have you claimed that students should be taught largely from books and not computers?
David Gelernter: There are certain subjects which seem to me can be taught very effectively online, although they aren’t. I would love to see writing taught online because at university like Yale, much less at a high school like where my boys went to school; public high school in New Haven, Connecticut, there are not enough teachers who are able to teach writing well, or in some cases, there are none. Well, there are always a few. Teaching somebody to write is a labor-intensive activity. I have to go through somebody’s paper and mark it up as a copy editor would do, sentence-by-sentence. And I have to do that repeatedly. Now, I could have a student take the paper and send it to somebody in Alaska, or India, or anywhere who is capable of doing it; a world wide network of writing teaching would be very effective. It doesn’t exist. We don’t have the right software tools; we will have at some point. Similarly for marking exercises, quantitative exercises, maybe not so much in mathematics, but certainly problem sets in physics, chemistry, and engineering and things like that where answers and methods are clear cut, absolutely. I would like to see that done online.
I think the universities as we know them will be dead in 10 or 15 years. I’d like to see them replaced by something better, instead of something worse, and it’s not clear which way it will go. But the book is – abolishing the book is like abolishing the symphony, or sonata form, or the sonnet, or the wall painting. The book is a form in which some of the greatest masterpieces that mankind has ever achieved are expressed; not only fiction, but the great biographies, biographists, the great historians. There are great science books that were conceived as books. Feynman’s famous introductory lectures in physics, which have a beginning and an end, which are written with style ****, the book is a unit and is such a brilliant ergonomic unit. I take a book and I can judge a book by its cover. I can glance at it from the outside and know what it is. I can tell if it’s a novel, or a text book, or a history book. I can look at the side and tell about how long it is. I can flip through it and I don’t need a map to know where the table of contents are, the index is. I can find a photograph, if there is a section of photographs. I can write on it, which is tremendously important. If I read a book, the value to it to me in having the book another time is to remember what I said, what I wanted to know, and so forth. It’s portable. I don’t have to worry about stepping on it accidentally, or I can use it on the beach. I can use it anywhere; standing up in a bus. It is the greatest design in the history of ergonomics; I wrote a piece on it a long time ago. We still have books because they are so brilliantly suited to the way human beings absorb information and at their best, they are among the most beautiful things we have.
It’s terrible to think they’re disappearing, surviving only in libraries, but that’s not going to happen. People are too smart to allow it, even if the industry sometimes seems so oblivious that it wouldn’t care.
The Yale computer science expert believes books "are among the most beautiful things we have." To replace them all with digital texts would be a serious blow to learning.
Being kind to others positively impacts your physical and mental health, according to this groundbreaking research by Stanford professor Dr. James Doty.
The default "rest mode" of our brains is often taken over by a "threat mode" setting because of our stressful, "on-the-go" lifestyles. When we are chronically in threat mode, this leaves us with less capacity for compassion.
- Showing compassion or acting kind to others can actually change your physiology, taking you out of threat mode and putting you back into your natural "rest and digest" mode.
- Research by a well-known Stanford professor Dr. James Doty has shown that acts of kindness or compassion that put us back into our "rest mode" can have lasting positive impacts on our physical and mental health.
Is information the fifth form of matter?
- Researchers have been trying for over 60 years to detect dark matter.
- There are many theories about it, but none are supported by evidence.
- The mass-energy-information equivalence principle combines several theories to offer an alternative to dark matter.
Establishing cultural rights to protect diverse groups may not be the answer.
- While it is good to recognize societal diversity, it is difficult to argue in favor of creating cultural accommodations to preserve and protect specific groups.
- Creating protections for people who belong to certain traditions can result in the creation of cultures that did not previously exist. The challenge would be to find a way to provide protections that are not too explicit while also being careful not to advantage one internal group and disadvantage another.
- The classical liberal response is a principle of hyper-tolerance. Groups are free to form, members are free to dissent, and there are no acknowledgements of special protections or of the right to force conformity within cultures.