I’ve previously called philosophy a “diseased discipline,” for many reasons. For one thing, people working in philosophy-the-field tend to know strikingly little about the philosophical progress made in other fields, e.g. computer science or cognitive neuroscience. For another, books on the history of philosophy seem to be about the musings of old dead guys who were wrong about almost everything because they didn’t have 20th century science or math, rather than about actual philosophical progress, which is instead recounted in books like The Information.
You’re right that these “old dead guys” didn’t know all the math and science we know today, but then again, neither did Shakespeare or Dostoyevsky! I mean, sure, the central questions of philosophy have changed over time, and the human condition has changed as well: we no longer get confused over Zeno’s paradoxes or the divine right of kings, and we now have global telecommunications and the Pill. I just don’t think either human nature or human philosophical concerns have changed quickly enough for great literature on them written centuries ago to have ceased being great.
Reading less-read things will give you an orthogonal base of knowledge from your peers. This will make you more valuable as an individual. (Though if you're ignorant of the cogwork everyone must know as general knowledge you might face job dangers.) By definition adding another dimension to what you know gives you a whole new place to explore that you never could have gone to beforehand. There is a lot more potential to be found by reading the more uncommon things.
Since we're all leaving book recommendations, the last book I read was The Information, http://www.amazon.com/The-Information-History-Theory-Flood/d.... Not incredibly rare but not incredibly common--hardly any of its elaborated history was ever mentioned in my K-12 education. I wouldn't say everyone should read it, though I thoroughly enjoyed it, and you can read the reviews on Amazon if you want a sample of opinions.
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
Great detailed historical perspective and lots of aha moments.
Recently read Gleick's excellent The Information (http://www.amazon.com/Information-History-Theory-Flood/dp/03...) which made a similar point.
Moving from oral to writing as the primary units of information of communication allowed us to make huge improvements in thought. Argument became enunciable and then able to be analyzed, rather than being a big game of telephone.
It's on Kindle. Just go buy it now. The Ada stuff is in Chapter 4, location 1841. It won't disappoint.
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