Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Old Philosophy in Best-Selling Bottles

Santiago Montenegro is an economist and a 2008 visiting fellow at the University of Miami's Center for Hemispheric Policy.

His most recent book is Crisis Mundial, proteccion e industrializacion (2007)
In his recent article "Innovation and Philosophy" in Project Syndicate , Montenegro discusses the many trendy books on innovation. He is frustrated because the information in them is a re-hash of older philosophy. Many of the leading experts writing about innovation seem not to even be aware of the roots of what they write about or the demands of scientific method pressing against their ideas. As Montenegro notes:
No book on innovation that I have read makes the connection between innovation and the theory of knowledge and philosophy of science. This is unfortunate, because the theories of innovation may be subject to all the questions, conjectures, and answers that these disciplines have developed with respect to scientific knowledge.
I have found that the readers of books on innovation and proponents of innovation are even less aware of what they are talking about than are the authors. Adopting innovation means (as with adopting any pop theory without the background knowledge) that it can never be questioned; rather, it's a top-down assertion.

As Montenegro shows:
Once a plausible hypothesis is formulated, it must be tested against all existing theories and against all available experience and information. It has to be subject to open criticism from all directions, and only if it survives these tests and criticisms may it be adopted as tentative and conjectural new knowledge. Science and knowledge are made up not of winners, but of survivors of continuous and systematic efforts to refute. Theories are never certain and must always be prepared for an uncertain future. Or, as Karl Popper put it, truth is never definitive and error is always probable.
Hooray liberal arts education! Hooray for science education! If we need any prodding at all to value university, one reason might just be to protect ourselves from all the self-professed gurus who process old ideas into misunderstood pap.

I would like to invite Santiago Montenegro to my soiree.

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