The epistemological conservatism of the accelerated academy

There’s an interesting section in Andrew Pickering’s The Cybernetic Brain discussing Ross Ashby’s experiments in building cybernetic systems and the design philosophy these undertakings led him to articulate. As Pickering describes on pg 128:

If, beyond a certain degree of complexity, the performance of a machine could not be predicted from a knowledge of its elementary parts, as proved to be the case with DAMS, then one would have to abandon the modern engineering paradigm of knowledge-based design in favor of evolutionary tinkering—messing around with the configuration of DAMS and retaining any steps in the desired direction.

This is a design philosophy orientated towards an esoteric class of projects in electrical engineering. But it also conveys an epistemic libertarianism, in which the impulse to build projects around established knowledge is suspended in order to create the space for exploration. It’s not a dismissal of existing knowledge and practice, only a reduction of its role to that of direction finder rather than final arbiter of epistemic legitimacy.

It left me thinking about the temporal conditions in which this epistemic libertarianism can flourish. Not only might it take more time, in the sense that it will be as conducive to missteps as to advancements, it also comes to look suspicious to any managerial techniques which asks people to account for their time. In both senses, the accelerated academy entails a subtle epistemological conservatism and chips away at the space in which which this exploratory work could take place.

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