Formal systems, studied by logicians, mathematicians, philosophers and others, are (usually) characterised by a specified and restricted set of symbols, rules for making statements from those symbols, plus rules for generating new statements. So from these basic rules and instructions, statements can be generated that are regarded as products of the system; they are called theorems.
In our professional lives, we are surrounded by and endlessly use and manipulate information and systems that are based on formal logic. The worlds we occupy are structured by theories, models and systems that are more or less logically coherent. If our aim is to make the world a better place, then starting with an understanding of logic beyond the simple analysis of arguments is a necessity.
Werner Herzog’s recent documentary film ‘Lo and Behold’ is a thoughtful meditation and exploration of the internet, digital connectivity, artificial intelligence, and some of the ethical and social issues that these technologies raise for us. It covers a range of thoughts and ideas that tax me too: the future of work, education and ideas.
I recently had a discussion with a friend about whether there could be life on Venus. I contended, rather dogmatically, that there could not, based on our current theories about how biological life is understood and the limits that there might be on the biochemical complexity possible in the universe. My friend replied that we do not know what forms that life could take in the rest of the universe and I could not possibly make such a claim. It occurred to me later that we were both right, but also that each of us had weaknesses in what we were saying.
A recent article in the Economist’s Schumpeter column has prompted me back to the keyboard. The piece in question is Philosopher Kings. The author argues that many business leaders would benefit from “inward-bound” short courses where participants explore ideas in great literature and the uses of philosophical concepts. Going beyond the moment-by-moment experiences that mindfulness practices cultivate (although I question this characterisation of mindfulness), an “inward-bound” session would enrich the thinking and inner life of business leaders, providing inspiration for thought and decision-making with refreshed frameworks drawn from the works of philosophers and thinkers whose ideas have had significant impact on how we understand ourselves, each other and the world, and how we act in that world.