Re: does success depend on knowledge

Subject: Re: does success depend on knowledge
From: mpriestley -at- VNET -dot- IBM -dot- COM
Date: Thu, 1 Sep 1994 15:10:31 EDT

>a degree is bestowed. Colleges must, and most do, provide both. Students
>must, and many do, take advantage of both the career training and the
>liberal arts broadening.

I just want to point out that you can come at this from both ends: my
degree is firmly liberal arts (drama, english literature, and philosophy),
with a few courses in astronomy and computer science on the side.

I certainly don't think my few courses in the sciences prepared me for
a career in them, but they served admirably as a marketable focus for the
skills I had honed in my other courses (such as analysis and presentation).

Similarly, I think a few courses in english or philosophy serve admirably
as an introduction to those subjects. They certainly don't compare to
the rigour of a full degree in them, but they can serve to open a student's
mind a little, and, more pragmatically, highlight any natural ability the
student has in that area.

However, it's important to note that a few courses cannot replace a full
program. I don't have the background to write a compiler, even though I
grasp the basic principles and can tell someone else how to use one.
Similarly, someone with one or two courses in philosophy is not prepared
for discussion and analysis of issues on a professional level. Note that
this is a generalization: there are always talented "amateurs" who break
the rules, just as there are untalented "professionals" who unfortunately
do likewise.

I can certainly sympathise with the philosophy professor, even though I
think he overstated his case: philosophy is an extremely good way to learn
how to think, because its subject matter is not constrained to a limited
knowledge domain. I have met brilliant people, capable of lightning-quick
dead-on analysis within their familiar domain, who can't think their way
out of a paper bag in any other situation. But pragmatically, thinking
alone doesn't fill your stomach. You've got to find someone to pay for it.
And thinking is a lot easier to sell when it's attached to a science degree.


Michael Priestley
mpriestley -at- vnet -dot- ibm -dot- com
Disclaimer: speaking on my own behalf, not IBM's.

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