Quantitative limit to societal learning
Nature: Just as no individual can absorb all information, so it is not feasible for any group to do so even by sharing the load amongst its members. In fact it is only practical to devote a limited proportion of time and resources to absorbing or disseminating information. Furthermore much is destroyed after a certain period. In an important sense humanity lives in a forgetting society. Much information quickly becomes irrelevant, especially in rapidly evolving disciplines. Groups, like individuals, can suffer from information overload. There is no way that some countries or institutions can absorb the amount of information considered relevant by their better endowed counterparts. This is an aspect of the problem of transfer of know-how. Such groups are unlimited in their capacity to continue to learn, but there is a limit on the rate at which they can do so. Another fruitful aspect of this question emerges from comparison of the rate of increase in knowledge production with the rate of increase in population. Each advance in knowledge increases awareness of what remains unknown but, perhaps more significantly, each unit of knowledge produced becomes increasingly difficult to disseminate through the learning process, because of the increasing competition for attention time from other units to be learned. Under such conditions each unit of knowledge produced can usefully be seen as increasing the ignorance of those who are unable to absorb it, for whatever reason. The production of new knowledge for some is therefore matched by the reduction of others into greater ignorance. And the amount of ignorance so produced increases much faster than knowledge production because of the effects of population growth.
Claim: Each significant document entering the international system increases the ignorance of those who fail to absorb it. The question is when the ratio of ignorance to knowledge in society will be such as to render knowledgeable decision-making unimplementable because of ignorance on the part of those who are needed to support the decision in a democratic process. Given the prevalence of ignorance (and the impossibility of eliminating it) would it not be more creative to investigate it in the hope of discovering properties which would enable it to be viewed and used as a resource ? For example, given its inherent 'boundedness', it could presumably provide insights into the structuring of society into 'information cells' of many types, linked by a variety of information networks. Then the question becomes how groups and individuals can learn to benefit from their state of ignorance.
Problem Type: F: Fuzzy exceptional problems
Date of last update 23.08.2001 – 00:00 CEST