Today’s Solutions: May 23, 2022

Fast knowledge is about solving problems, slow knowledge is about preventing them.

Marco Visscher | July 2004 issue
Knowledge is being applied faster and on a larger scale than ever before – with consequences that are sometimes disastrous. Farmers can use the latest chemical pesticides to protect their crops, but the pests soon develop resistance to these new substances. This is an example of the failings of “fast knowledge”, according to environmental philosopher David Orr. Truly valuable knowledge is developed through a lengthy process of trial and error, he believes, and not by racing ahead with some new but untested innovation.
As a rule, fast knowledge – standardized, measurable solutions – is seen as the pinnacle of human progress. But many of society’s current problems can be traced to the fact that we apply knowledge before we took the time to consider the consequences. The speed at which we are confronted with new technologies – in communication, agriculture, health, energy, etc. – and with growing mountains of information in all fields, far exceeds the human ability to absorb and learn from it.
Orr, who teaches environmental studies at Oberlin College in Ohio, has begun championing what he calls slow knowledge, whose main themes are thoroughness, patience and harmony. In The Nature of Design: Ecology, Culture, and Human Intention (Oxford Press, 2002) Orr describes slow knowledge as resilient, elegant and, most of all, practical. Fast knowledge, meanwhile, is usually hierarchical, abstract, and based upon a sense of competition. Laboratories, universities and boardrooms are the places where fast knowledge is usually created out of reams of new data. Slow knowledge often arises from the wisdom of local communities. – MV

Print this article
More of Today's Solutions

New program seeks to break the cycle between jail and homelessness

Several factors can lead to homelessness: a lack of affordable housing, high costs of living, and even, sadly, mental illness. Another factor that contributes to homelessness, which is often overlooked, is incarceration.  Many individuals serve ... Read More

How a century-old cargo schooner is bringing back emissions-free shipping

The shipping industry is responsible for 2.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — putting about 940 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. Before 1960, however, when containerization started to take off, ... Read More

Dam! Europe removes record number of river barriers in 2021

In 2021, Spain began a movement to remove dams from the country’s rivers to restore fish migration routes and boost biodiversity across the nation. They successfully took down 108 barriers and inspired other European countries ... Read More

This contact lens releases glaucoma medication

While it is treatable, glaucoma remains a serious eye disease that can damage the optic nerve and lead to blindness if left untreated. Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of the disease, and research ... Read More

US soccer and national teams reach agreement to close gender pay gap

In a historic win for women’s rights, US Soccer and both the women’s and men’s national teams have proclaimed a collective bargaining agreement to close the gender pay gap and ensure that each player, regardless ... Read More

New immunotherapy drug combo slows liver cancer growth in mice

There is something of an art to the science of medicine. We’ve all heard that everyone’s different, and so is their biology. Sometimes, developing the right treatment for a patient’s condition takes dedicated and creative ... Read More