Second Enlightenment


Are we having a second enlightenment? To answer this question, we need to understand what an enlightenment is? Enlightenment is an historical term to define a period in human history. During this period, humans had an ability to understand the depth and breadth of knowledge. This allowed them to have an understanding of a wide range of topics from science to the arts. Moreover this knowledge had academic rigour and was verified through peer review. This allowed for a range of new theories and understandings to emerge.

An example of an enlightenment thinker is Kant. It has been called the ‘age of reason’. Newton developed thinking that governed the world by natural laws. The encyclopaedia was created during this time and was structured to support greater understanding by all that could read. In politics, there was the development of separation of powers and checks and balance.

Now we have the internet. This provides us with access to a breadth of data and information. The portals for information are government departments, research centres (e.g. Metrological Office), think tanks (e.g. New Economics Foundation provide books and pamphlets), online courses (e.g FutureLearn), podcasts (BBC iplayer), online videos (e.g. TedTalks). All these resources provide a range of data and information. How do we as humans turn this in to knowledge and wisdom?

Knowledge comes from putting forward hypothesis and testing these against facts. If the facts disprove the hypothesis then it is wrong. In this scenario, knowledge has not been advanced. In addition, there is a depth of information and data that is required. This starts to require technical language. For example climate change, scientific language is used to analyse data and information. To be a critical thinker in this space you have to understand the language. If you do not then you are excluded. However, once you develop your understanding do you lose your ability to critically assess the data and information? Thus there are challenges with creating knowledge.

The body of knowledge that is accepted by the majority is large. Can we quantify it? I’m not sure. This is because there is still disagreement between scientists. If these disagreements are played out in front of people outside of the field of expertise then this can be disconcerting. People start to question what they should and shouldn’t believe. The two main examples that stand out for me are Climate Change and Creationism. In the case of Creationism, scientists such as Richard Dawkins have spent time writing books such as the God Delusion and setting up websites to put forward the argument against Creationism. Does this mean creationism is knowledge or information?

I believe there is a second enlightenment, as more people can engage in the debate and advance knowledge and wisdom. What will we do with it?