By GUY LAMOLINARA and CRAIG D'OOGE
Following is the second of two articles covering events from the Library's first Bicentennial symposium. Part 1 (see LC Information Bulletin, July 1999) reported on the first day of the conference, June 15; this article reports on the June 16 and June 17 proceedings. The symposium was made possible through the generosity of the American Academy of Achievement and the Heinz Foundation.
The "Frontiers of the Mind in the 21st Century" symposium offered a program no less ambitious on days 2 and 3, as more disciplines were discussed in past and present terms.
Chair George Rupp, president of Columbia University, said, "There are wonderful baskets of knowledge" to be discussed June 16, "and there are connections between them: "Religion and the State," "Canonical Texts" and "Moral Philosophy."
Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago, provided a "faith-based critique of modernity," during which time freedom has become "divorced" from truth. According to Cardinal George, the "fruits of this great divorce" in America are "the millions of abortions annually, the divorce of human reproduction from the embrace of human love, the increased application of the death penalty, the practice of euthanasia, the conviction that the hopelessly handicapped are better off dead, the seemingly indiscriminate and sometimes disproportionate use of the military, the gun violence in the streets of our cities and the corridors of our schools. ... what the pope has called 'the culture of death.'"
Yet, it should not be assumed that the Roman Catholic Church advocates creation of a theocracy. "Nothing could be further from the truth," the cardinal said. The church opposes "coerced" faith and does not seek to grasp the reins of political power. Rather, the church "seeks to create a culture."
Mohammed Arkoun from the University of Paris gave a spirited presentation of the need to reconceptualize the relationships between Islam and the West, building upon the intellectual and liberating traditions of Islamic thought rather than solely upon the recent "fundamentalist" assertions of Islamic polities.
Michael Fishbane of the University of Chicago explored the layers of historical and textual criticism of the Bible developed during the 20th century in his discussion of canonical texts. "For as the purpose of study shifted from the resources of sacred Scripture to sponsor religious life and thought to its role as a source of historical information and traces of an ancient polity, the self was cut loose from a canonical core and cast upon new paths."
Mary Douglas of the University of London extended the subtle discussion inaugurated by Mr. Fishbane to other kinds of textual canons. She mirrored his hope that, following the dogmatisms of deconstruction, a more balanced sense of the relationships between a text, with all its historical layerings, and the reader, who brings to it a number of contemporary assumptions, could be achieved.
"Moral Philosophy" was broached by John T. Noonan Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. According to Mr. Noonan, "Morals are expressed at different levels. There are those articulated by advanced moralists, there are those embodied in law on the books and those actually enforced by the legal system, and there are those dispensed by the media and those popularly practiced. ...
"Decisions of appellate courts often reflect the ideals generally enough accepted to be enforced and in some cases to be practiced. They serve me here as indicators of the measures in use, as benchmarks of the changes."
In her commentary, Christine Korsgaard of Harvard University discussed the dead end into which the linguistic approaches of the midcentury had taken moral philosophy. She then discussed some of the newer approaches of the past 20 years, which have led to a vigorous revival of moral concerns as a central focus of philosophy.
The afternoon session's chair, Dennis O'Connor of the Smithsonian Institution, dispensed with any remarks and moved directly to an introduction of Marcia K. McNutt of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.
She began with an overview of what was known about Earth in 1900, and then stated:
"What it is even more impressive to reflect on is how much of what is now established in Earth sciences was not known at the dawn of the 20th century." For example, "It was thought that mountains rose and seas subsided in response to vertical forces of unspecified internal origin that reshaped the planet." It was also thought that the world was only 25 million years old, "despite geological evidence to the contrary."
Frank Press, former director of the National Academy of Sciences, laid out in his commentary the governmental policies that made possible the tremendous advances in scientific understanding outlined by Ms. McNutt.
Wallace S. Broecker of Columbia University discussed the connection between the pattern of ocean circulation and climate. Although in 1906 it was proposed that changes in ocean circulation "went hand-in-hand with ... climate cycles ... it was not until 80 years had passed that this idea received full recognition."
"Clear evidence exists that circulation changes did accompany and perhaps even trigger the abrupt climate changes that punctuated the last period of glaciation."
His dire prediction: "Were greenhouse gases to continue upward along their business-as-usual course, late in the next century yet another reorganization of the ocean's circulation system might be triggered."
Bert Bolin of the Research Institute in Stockholm placed the climate and current circulation patterns into the longer historical alternations of ice ages and deglaciations, confirming the accelerating trends apparent at the end of this century.
A no less gloomy outlook was proffered by Peter H. Raven of the Missouri Botanical Garden, who noted that the world's population has more than tripled in this century. With that increase, "the level of consumption in the industrialized world has risen to heights undreamed of just a few decades ago."
He also told how humans are using approximately 45 percent of "the total net biological productivity on land and using more than half of the available fresh water."
The 10 billion people who will be on the planet by 2050, up from the current 6 billion, "will clearly have an increasingly difficult time" maintaining the current standards of living, much less "achieving the lofty goals that our historical progress seems to have made available to us."
Robert Watson of the World Bank Group spoke from his experience in many parts of the developing world about the great difficulties of sustaining agricultural lands and water use unless some fundamental social and economic patterns could be modified through the participation of many millions of people.
Mr. Gifford chaired the afternoon's final session, in which he predicted "the metaphors of science presented in the previous sessions would be reflected in the discussions of culture," specifically semiotics, music and poetry.
Vyacheslav V. Ivanov of the University of California at Los Angeles pointed to the "shift from the logographic representation of words to the later alphabetic principle that makes it possible to perform successive operations not only on letters but also on natural numbers and other sequences of discrete symbols" as being one of the major developments in the history of semiotics.
He then compared the study of natural sciences and semiotics by using a simple example: Just as in an alphabetic system, where sentences contain words such as nouns, the elements contain components such as atoms. Thus, "in a way, an important part of natural science can be interpreted as similar to cryptographic work."
Music, another discipline concerned with the interpretation of symbols -- in this case, notes -- was the topic of Charles Rosen, a music historian and concert pianist, who expressed dismay with the state of musical performance today: too few concerts are held, especially in small towns. He did note, however, that more people today are able to hear music than ever before. "The public performance of music is a recent phenomenon," whereby people purchase tickets to hear music in a public venue. Most of the music of the 19th century and before was intended for "private performance," he said; that is, it was performed upon request for a specific purpose.
One of the most lively discussions of the conference involved the study of music during the 20th century. Was the term "ethnomusicology," originally coined because "musicology" was limited to the study of European music, necessary any longer? Has the point not been reached where music from all parts of the globe interpenetrated, so that "musicology" should be extended to the music of the world? Could this be done without comparable historical and critical materials, such as had been available for scholarship on European music? Mr. Rosen discussed these issues with Kwabena Nketia from the University of Ghana.
The day's final presenter was Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, whose Bicentennial project, Favorite Poem, is recording citizens across the country reading their favorite poems. His remarks supported his belief that poems are most poignant when they are read aloud.
"The medium of [poetry] is the body of the audience and the breath of the poem is whoever reads it."
It is this "vocality" of poetry that gives it its strength, Mr. Pinsky emphasized, before reading three of his favorite poems.
The final day's discussion ranged from economics to a session on international relations and foreign policy.
Michael Woodford's views on the greatest achievements in economics of the last hundred years can be neatly summarized in three words: John Maynard Keynes. With the publication of Keynes's General Theory in 1936, the field of macroeconomics was born, as distinguished from the field of microeconomics, which was already well-established by the turn of the century. Mr. Woodford saw Keynes's contribution primarily as one of providing a methodology that made possible the creation of quantitative econometric models by mid-century. The models, in turn, influenced government policies and proved to be of practical value in designing economic instruments and institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Mr. Woodford acknowledged that the notion that there has been progress at all in the field of economics might itself be controversial, particularly when its "shortcomings" were so dramatically highlighted by runaway inflation in the 1960s and 1970s. But he defended Keynes against the charge that he was responsible for this state of affairs, calling such notions as bigger deficits are better "vulgarizations" of Keynesian theory that were spread by politicians, not economists.
At any rate, by the '70s economists learned that the rate of inflation that people have come to expect is related to the inflation they get and that it is not enough merely to keep output from overshooting potential. Economics, Mr. Woodford explained, was more complicated than rocket science because the direction of a missile does not depend on the missile's conjectures about what is being done to it.
Considerations such as this led to a type of "new practical economics" in the mid- to late 1970s that was one of three major critical assaults upon Keynesian economics this century, as identified by Mr. Woodford. These assaults, in his view, did not overthrow the basis for mainstream economic theory so much as create a new synthesis that restored elements of Keynesian theory that had been "truncated." The other two assaults were the monetarism of the '60s and '70s along with something called "real business cycle theory" in the 1980s that allowed economists to model potential output along with deviation from potential.
The field was left "a lot healthier" as a result, according to Mr. Woodford, giving the field a stronger conceptual framework that will help keep government policy on a safe course, away from disasters such as a depression or hyperinflation.
Looking to the future, Mr. Woodford identified three areas he would like to see progress in his field.
The first is a return to work on structural econometric models that are now relatively "unfashionable" because of their failure in the 1960s to fulfill what he called "extravagant" hopes that were made for them.
The second is to apply recent developments in theory to the task of integrating macroeconomics into fields that have been reserved for microeconomic theory such as labor, development and finance.
Finally, Mr. Woodford hoped for a better understanding of "expectation formation" in the coming century, based on the supposition that as the speed of information increases, society can model expectations based on the premise that, more often than not, people generally understand their environment correctly.
In his response, Robert Solow of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sought to explain why the field of macroeconomics is so controversial. Of the three reasons he identified, he called "ideology" the least important, saying that the academic system generally has worked to keep ideology from masquerading as science. Far more important, Mr. Solow suggested, was the "reality" that economic studies constantly change. Economic structures are not immutable, but change with the times. The concept of "rational expectations" is an attempt to get around this fact. The final reason economics is controversial is related to the second. Unlike other fields, say astronomy, economics does not have a long run of stationary conditions to study.
Mr. Solow basically agreed with Mr. Woodford, but reserved a few differences for himself. Economists, for example, tend to identify themselves as either Keynesian or not and this acceptance or rejection of "the whole package" stifles innovation. Keynes's contribution was a more dynamic view of the economy; he did not see it as necessarily moving toward equilibrium after an initial disturbance. Keynes thought that a process might move away from equilibrium and never get back, Mr. Solow said.
Neil Smelser of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (right) took on sociology next, listing four things that were particular to the field:
- the way sociology tends to fuse with each person's perception, based on his or her own circumstances;
- its "multiparadigmatic" character;
- its permeability, borrowing and lending from other disciplines "shamelessly"; and
- its continual "quest for itself" as a discipline.
He then listed three trends in sociology this century, beginning with a "solid accumulation" of knowledge based on empirical fact, followed by internal differentiation of the field often centered around changing social problems and, finally, certain historical "pulsations" in the field as it responded to the growth of other fields, important books, the "great undoing" of the 1960s, and the collapse of Marxist sociology since that time.
For the future, Mr. Smelser sketched out five areas that he termed both predictions and needs: new theories and research on human bonding in a modern world of "hypermobility," expanded communications and other factors; a new synthesis of knowledge about human diversity in light of recent research in other fields such as psychology, linguistics or genetics; new knowledge about inequality in light of changes in occupational structures and the gender revolution in the workplace; new directions in the macro social sciences due to internationalization of the world and the change from the nation-state as the fundamental unit of research; and a look at the impact of notions of sustainability in relation to the drive for economic prosperity.
Daniel Bell of Harvard University (left) responded by describing his views on how the social structure has changed in the past 200 years, focusing on three questions: How was it that economics detached itself from the lives of people? Why did capitalism arise in the West and not elsewhere? and How does one conceptualize these changes?
For the future, Mr. Bell said there would be continued political fragmentation, not just as a result of the fall of communism, but also from newly emerging political voices in places such as Scotland and Wales. At the same time, he also noted a kind of retreat into "primordial identity" as well as a mismatch of scale in the components of modern society that can lead to trouble.
Ward Goodenough of the University of Pennsylvania (right) spoke next on anthropology, which he described as the study of the "whole human story -- who we are and how we got that way." As such, anthropology is less of a social science and more like a natural science, especially when paired with the explosion of our understanding of human evolution as the result of technical innovations in the field of archaeology, for example.
At the beginning of this century, there was no dating system, but carbon-14 dating led to a revolution in anthropology the same way that the electron microscope made possible the field of molecular biology.
He called for a greater attention toward the description, cataloging and study of basic human activities, for these are the arenas in which the individual develops language and thinking.
Laura Nader of the University of California at Berkeley (left, photo by Pat Fisher) took issue with Mr. Goodenough's emphasis on the importance of technology in driving changes in the field, which she saw as evolving through a broadening of perspectives, particularly centered around the study of power relationships and unlocking biases within the profession.
"The world is messier than we thought," she said, "and it can only be made coherent if we leave out power."
With reference to many different anthropological studies, from Bolivian tin mines to the study of menopause in Japan, Ms. Nader described how the epistemology of anthropology has expanded to include many different areas of human behavior, even to the point of asking whether Western ways of knowing can provide humans with the truth. For the 21st century she sees a greater emphasis on synthesis, as people who used to be merely "informants" become "collaborators."
In the afternoon, Manuel Castells of the University of California at Berkeley gave a summary of the paper he had prepared for a conference on the culture of cities. As more and more people live in metropolitan areas, Mr. Castells noted the paradox of cities fading away as cultural forces, largely because of mass communication and globalization.
"Can we enter an urban age without cities?" he asked. Citing his own research, Mr. Castells said that if information is power, then cities become magnets. Yet at the same time the new economic architecture is made up not of places but of networks that lead to decentralization. "Edge cities," such as the Bay Area of San Francisco are becoming more important, and often include rural areas that function as one market. This can lead to a mismatch in political control, as local jurisdictions strain to cope with unfamiliar larger issues. At the same time, spatial segregation between rich and poor is at an all time high, as all over the world, from Bogota to Cairo, gated communities are springing up, further weakening cities as systems of social communication.
Two professors from Carnegie Mellon University next discussed the history and future of computers. Raj Reddy started by reminding the audience that 100 years ago, a "computer" meant a person who performed laborious hand calculations. He then led the audience through a quick history of the computer, from the theoretical model first proposed in the 1930s, to the construction of the machine that cracked the German "Enigma" code in World War II, to the development of today's World Wide Web, first predicted by Franklin Roosevelt's science adviser 50 years ago. Mr. Reddy then showed a chart that extrapolated an exponential growth in computing power in the near future.
"By the year 2000, we will see a 'giga PC'," he said, "capable of performing 1 billion operations per second, with a billion bits of memory for under $2,000."
By 2016, he predicted a "tera PC," capable of 1 trillion operations per second, with a "peta PC" available by 2030 capable of 1,000 trillion operations per second.
"How will all this available computer power change the way we live and work?" Mr. Reddy asked.
Many things will stay the same, but there will be profound changes in the way we learn, work and obtain health care. By 2010 he predicted that 4 terabytes of disk memory will be available for about $50. This would enable storage of several million books as well as a lifetime of one's favorite music and movies.
All aspects of commerce will change as result of this, Mr. Reddy said. Customers will be able to buy things at any time, anywhere. Companies will be forced to compete globally and make fast adjustments to marketing strategies. Learning will be transformed, as each person will be able to use a computer in a way that best serves his or her individual learning style, with "translating telephones" conquering language barriers and things such as voice e-mail and video e-mail erasing the distinction between computer "haves" and "have-nots."
Michael Shamos then got up and declared books obsolete and inefficient "cocoons for carrying information." Using his laptop computer to race through the numbers with a clearly uncomfortable audience, Mr. Shamos put forth his own "modest proposal" to eliminate books altogether for a one-time cost of about $1 billion, as compared to the current $6 billion per year it costs to house them. This sparked a lively discussion among the panelists about the social, political and economic consequences of such an action.
In the last session of the conference, Dr. Billington chaired a session on international relations and foreign policy with former Rep. Lee Hamilton and Sens. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.). Sen. Lugar saw three major challenges on the horizon for American foreign policy. Ironically, the end of the Cold War has made the world a more dangerous place.
"It is difficult to believe that we won't have a nuclear weapon exploded in the coming decade," he said. The second major challenge is to feed the rapidly expanding population of the world. Three times as much food on the same acreage will be needed to meet the demands of the next 50 years. Finally, Sen. Lugar advocated a "Green Revolution" in energy, urging the government to invest in the development of biotechnologies that can convert agricultural residues into cheap fuel such as ethanol.
Lee Hamilton, who now heads the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, focused on the way in which the United States has become a key participant throughout the world.
"We live at a time where every country believes we are the key player in every spot on the globe," he said.
Without "active and generous" leadership from the United States, the global system does not hold together, he asserted. Such leadership in foreign affairs must come from the president, with "intervention" the most important and most difficult decision a chief executive has to make. Where American interests are important, but not vital, Mr. Hamilton advocated collective security with other nations, while not forgetting that the president must persuade the American people to accept such responsibilities before moving forward.
Sen. Sarbanes extended Mr. Hamilton's argument, warning against the twin dangers of isolationism and unilateralism. Global connections have given an international dimension even to domestic issues. The greatest threats to U.S. security are not from foreign invasion or the loss of basic freedoms, Sen. Sarbanes argued, but "transnational" problems such as economic stagnation, environmental degradation, the spread of diseases, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, drugs and the abuse of human rights.
Asserting Americans "unilaterally" to solve these problems is risky and misguided, he said, and threatens to cause a return to a form of Cold War logic in which "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." The United States does not appropriate enough money for international affairs, the budget for which is down 50 percent in real terms since 1985, the senator said. Instead of capitalizing on trends toward greater democracy and open markets throughout the world, America is reducing its diplomatic presence and cutting programs.
"We have failed to appropriate sufficient resources for international diplomacy since the fall of the Berlin Wall," the senator said.
Sen. Sarbanes said the United States must work through organizations such as the United Nations to find collaborative solutions to problems, so that others feel they are participants and not just imposed upon by American judgment. He ended his remarks with a quote from Harry Truman warning against the disillusionment and skepticism that could lead to a loss of faith in the effectiveness of international cooperation.
Mr. D'Ooge is media director in the Public Affairs Office.