Improving Knowledge

2004-08-26

Carl Malamud's report on restructuring the adminstrative functions of the IETF kindly recognizes the contribution of the JSF to IETF meetings:

Assistance from members of the community is an important part of staging an IETF meeting. In addition to formal secretariat activities, at least three teams of volunteers have been active recently....

A team of volunteers organized by xmpp.org manages a series of XMPP servers which are used for general commentary by participants, creation of informal transcriptions which are archived, and for a variety of personal productivity enhancements.

More significantly, it brings together some background information about standards organizations such as the Institute of Radio Engineers and, even earlier, the Royal Society. Regarding the latter, Malamud links to an essay entitled On the Advisableness of Improving Natural Knowledge by Thomas Huxley, which ends as follows:

The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin. And it cannot be otherwise, for every great advance in natural knowledge has involved the absolute rejection of authority, the cherishing of the keenest scepticism, the annihilation of the spirit of blind faith; and the most ardent votary of science holds his firmest convictions, not because the men he most venerates hold them; not because their verity is testified by portents and wonders; but because his experience teaches him that whenever he chooses to bring these convictions into contact with their primary source, Nature -- whenever he thinks fit to test them by appealing to experiment and to observation -- Nature will confirm them. The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.

Thus, without for a moment pretending to despise the practical results of the improvement of natural knowledge, and its beneficial influence on material civilization, it must, I think, be admitted that the great ideas, some of which I have indicated, and the ethical spirit which I have endeavoured to sketch, in the few moments which remained at my disposal, constitute the real and permanent significance of natural knowledge.

If these ideas be destined, as I believe they are, to be more and more firmly established as the world grows older; if that spirit be fated, as I believe it is, to extend itself into all departments of human thought, and to become co-extensive with the range of knowledge; if, as our race approaches its maturity, it discovers, as I believe it will, that there is but one kind of knowledge and but one method of acquiring it; then we, who are still children, may justly feel it our highest duty to recognise the advisableness of improving natural knowledge, and so to aid ourselves and our successors in their course towards the noble goal which lies before mankind.

Well said!


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