[The] independence created by philosophical insight is—in my opinion—the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth. ~Albert Einstein
A focus on philosophy is too often viewed as an esoteric exercise unworthy of the scientific method – a view held by many in the field of engineering and technology. Not only is such a view unfortunate, it is ignorant. As we collectively create and process approximately 70 trillion bytes of data per second, our ability to tease the signal from the noise and ultimately knowledge from information and insight is hugely dependent on connecting dots (see my True Genius post) and gleaning knowledge and meaning from what on the surface appears as a meaningless deluge of raw data. If you don’t believe me, let’s consider how Albert Einstein viewed the role of philosophy in the sciences:
“So many people today—and even professional scientists—seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. Knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is—in my opinion—the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth.” (Einstein to Thornton, 7 December 1944, EA 61-574)
Use of sophisticated data analytics in a world teeming with raw data serves to uncover truths that impact how markets and businesses operate and people interact. In that context, it is important to recognize the value philosophical insight and perspective plays in the conception, design, development, and deployment of such systems. Philosophy is many things; chief among them is a disciplined search for truth. Without such a perspective, those implementing such systems tend to see what they want to see and infer what they want to infer with no real consideration for what is. Such an outlook, candidly, is a form of delusion.
An appreciation for and command of philosophy offers a perspective specifically designed to ferret out the truth regardless as to what it might tell us. After all, it is the truth. And armed with the truth all things are possible. In other words, the potential to leverage information technology to create and contribute is boundless.