I feel that Human Thought has currently reached a level of stagnation. Before all the PhDs holler at me, let me elaborate. I am really embarking on a thankless task. It is difficult to articulate and prove a statement like ‘Human Thought is stagnating’. First of all, this statement is highly subjective. What I may find as boring and stagnating may be stimulating to someone else. Also, an expert may always find something interesting which skips the layman’s interest. (w.r.t a certain field) That is why I ask you to read the article completely, before forming your opinions.
I strongly feel there is no genuinely exciting thought going around. This may seem contradictory/misinformed considering that we are the children of an ‘Age of Innovation’. However, this age of innovation strives to structure and commercialize creativity. Most of the attempts at ‘innovation’ are formulaic and end up only in incremental (or delta) improvements.
I agree that there is a lot of fairly interesting stuff going around. And I am not berating the importance of these incremental contributions. We have mobile phones which can pretty much do everything. At a deeper level, Wikipedia is a genuinely revolutionary concept. What I miss is more the ‘The velocity of light is same in all frames of reference’ kind of thinking. Anyone who hears that the first time, is struck with a feeling of incredulity and wonder which challenges even the most indifferent to read up on it.
Therefore, two things which I expect/ strongly wish that happen in the next twenty years are:
- An idea from somewhere which leads to another thirty years similar to the Thirty Years That Shook Physics.
- A radical re-look at the PhD program as it works today. I feel that the paper-publishing culture has now come to a stage where it is doing more harm than good.
Obviously, there are some counter arguments. I make it seem as if nothing brilliant ever happened after 1930. Not at all. The Second World War and the period after that was again an extremely fruitful era for Human Thought. However, I strongly feel that a tendency has come to systematize creativity and this leads people to label a lot of stuff they do as “innovative”. I feel that something (and I have no idea of that something), will come and shatter this attempt to systematize creativity. Something that disrupts attempts at contrived disruptive thinking.
Let us take an example. CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) is an interesting and useful field. No two arguments about that. While whatever may go on the theory level, at the practical level, CFD simulations involve writing down a few PDEs (Partial Differential Equations), making some approximations and using computation intensive algorithms to solve these. All CFD approaches involve some sort of differencing schemes. While these are interesting and there are tricky issues, the point is, it is still boring and ugly. If we could have some sort of a nifty transform which made PDEs so trivial that even say, XII std. kids could solve it, THAT would represent a really interesting and fundamental advance which would generate more exciting ideas.
(One way people do that is to convert a PDE into a system of ODEs and apply Laplace transforms on those ODEs but that is still tedious and boring)
An obvious shortcoming of my analysis is this: maybe some fields are experiencing truly great work which will come out / have come out, that I am not aware of. I admit that, but only grudgingly.
To conclude, the saturation is more in the sense that the tools currently employed are tried and tested and we should see a whole new set of tools which redefines our thinking abilities.