Saturday, June 8, 2013

History and Technology

As I read "The Most Powerful Idea in the World" by William Rosen, I had a bunch of thoughts (as you may have guessed, this is the 3rd post after reading the book).

The first is of course that science as we learn in schools and colleges is mostly a linear narrative. Somebody worked on something, they invented it. Of course, narratives are not as simple as that - there are problems, opportunities, passions, networks, geniuses, unsung assistants and unglorified tries along the way, until it all falls in place. The fact that we miss the story behind the invention or the discovery is actually an exponential degree of enthusiasm lost. In reading a linear narrative, any reader is hardly ever going to be inspired.

Perhaps knowing the story and the person behind the science or the invention or the discovery is as useful as learning the fact of the matter.  Perhaps the history of technologies needs to be an important course in any engineering or science syllabus.

And perhaps it is a similar story in mathematics as well or biology.

Recently, I spoke to someone who has a deep passion for Unix and he said, "How can someone teach Unix without telling the story of Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson."

Indeed? What is the point of teaching a subject in a sterile way without arousing the passion of atleast some of the users."

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