Tuesday, October 04, 2005

EinsteinFest: Babel, Einstein, and Web 2.0

I’m totally psyched about tonight’s lecture at EinsteinFest Approaching Babel: Psychology as a “new science” in 1905! Sonu Shamdasani, from University College London (an expert on Carl Jung) will be reviewing how those studying psychology at the turn of the century were committed to making psychology a science in the same way that chemistry and physics were regarded. If they succeeded, then the scientific revolution would be complete.

Before judging psychologists from the turn of the 20th century too harshly for their arrogance and presumption, perhaps we should pause to appreciate how inflated and egotistical are our own times. I’m not saying everyone attending the immanent Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco is an egotist (there might be a few kicking around, though), but the media hype and marketing nonsense we’ve seen in the past year or so about the Web 2.0 phenomenon is very similar to the dot.com fiasco – bluster, bravado, wild claims, followed by a huge letdown.

Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) is an excellent metaphor for what must be a basic human trait. I’m as guilty as the next guy of hyperbole when it comes to talking about something that I find exciting and believe will impact the world in a positive way.

But we should probably distinguish between optimism, hope and positive anticipation from exaggeration, marketing hyperbole and …well, yes… bullshit. Martin Seligman’s work on something he calls learned optimism appears essential to a mature, useful, positive approach to all life’s endeavours. I hope the Web 2.0 conference falls into the latter category. Certainly dot.com and the claims of turn-on-the-century psychologists do not.

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