In re "Philosophy : Freedom of scientific information"

Sunday, 18 November, Year 4 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

I am going to do something stupid. Namely, I will argue philosophy with an investor. This, obviously, is forbiddeni, but I will do it nevertheless. Obviously.

Andrew Hiresii wrote Philosophy : Freedom of scientific information years ago. In it, he glosses over a few problems, such as

The paradox between information’s cheap and expensive duality restricts the professional interactions of scientists. Restructuring this paradigm to a more open sharing of information will increase the pace of scientific progress and should be beneficial to adopters.

There's two presumptions in there which need addressing. The first is that more open a sharing of information will increase the pace of scientific progress. This notion seems right on a gut level, but by now I'm not sure if this gut reaction comes from natural law or ideologic immersion.

Let's look at the world through the eyes of Thomas Kuhn : science chiefly consists of a limited approach to data. The system which both establishes and enforces the limits in the approach he calls a "paradigm". Some things observed will be discarded by scientists in all times and places as "irrelevant", this is the very manner in which science works : it's an effort in focus, in order to progress you have to concentrate on a particular point. Surely during the course of time things that used to be central become banal and thus ignored, whereas things that were deemed irrelevant and thus ignored become the focus of scientific attention. This is as it should be. However, at all points in the process science works by not being open to the sharing of information. Science works by being quite opaque, not completely but selectively, science is if you will that famous "semi-permeable membrane".

So, will more open sharing of information increase the pace of scientific progress ? Maybe. Not necessarily, however.

The second is that more open a sharing of information should be beneficial to adopters. This proposition is quite problematic, and for a number of reasons. In a very general view anything could be said "should be beneficial", for instance a good beating should be beneficial to most children and (quoting Rhett Butler) most women, a good serving of castor oil idem and so forth. Conversely, nothing should be said should be beneficial, humans being blessed with this insane nature of theirs capable of turning any blessing into a curse. In the end, being able to turn any matter to gold by touching it should be beneficial, no ?

Leaving that aside : people will not pay. Joshua Belliii used a million-dollar Stradivarius for a few hours in the subway. His total take was dismal, and most of it came from people who recognized him. Or, to quote a self-enacted representative of our friendly average Romanian,

Ma fut pe cauza ta si nu o sa simpatizez niciodata cu cresterea produsului atata timp cat imi e suficient sa ma folosesc de el. Muie ba.

Which would mean something like

I dribble cum on your cause and I will forever be adverse to growth of your product as long as I can just use it. Fuck you.

There's an excellent reason culturally-relevant endeavours such as Facebook or Twitter are unable to even meet costs and are reduced to financing themselves by defrauding "investors" through vaporware IPOs of the most fraudulent sort. That reason is quite simply this : people will not pay.

And so... no. Information does not want to be free, people want information to be free. Work does not want to be free eitheriv, people want it to be free. In practice, some work will be free only inasmuch as it brings more pay for other work (you know, preparing for an interview for instance - free work you do for a prospective employer) and information will be free only insamuch as it brings more pay for other information.

Quite frankly, I see no problem with this midway solution. Yes, this means we will be spending most of our public time negotiating and re-negotiating where the exact middle point lies. I think that's fine, certainly a better use of our time than perpetually negotiating and re-negotiating the balance between might makes right on one hand and the meek shall inherit the Earth on the other hand.

  1. You probably know of it through the ulterior, bastardized, middle-class morality of "no politics at the dinner table". In practice, people were gathered around the table because they had business together, and the bourgeois do not wish to have higher considerations possibly interfere with their stuffing of the gullet, so they adapted an old rule for new needs. []
  2. Girls, he literally is a brain surgeon. To quote him, he does mice, which "is really hard because everything is so much smaller, but if you fuck up you can just get a new one." []
  3. “Bell’s playing does nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live.” []
  4. Although seeing what a propensity work has to turn into waste you could argue that it wants to be free just as much as you can argue the same about information. []
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2 Responses

  1. "In practice, some work will be free only inasmuch as it brings more pay for other work…"
    Isn't the benefit of making all "scientific" information free that a small but significant percentage does bring more "pay"(advancement) for other work?

  2. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    Mircea Popescu 
    Sunday, 18 November 2012

    If advancement pays 0 then that argument falls apart. If advancement pays nonzero then some limits to access will have to be imposed.

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