Quote of the Week: John Locke on the Human Body of Knowledge

john locke
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“The improvement of understanding is for two ends: first, our own increase of knowledge; secondly, to enable us to deliver that knowledge to others.” ― John Locke (1632 – 1704)

English philosopher and physician John Locke was one of the most prominent voices of the Scientific Revolution (1550 – 1700). An advocate for many of the natural rights we take for granted in modern democracies like the right to free speech, liberty and gauging a person’s worth based on merit instead of social status, Locke is widely regarded as the father of Liberalism. His ideas on rights, property, and government permeate our Constitution and helped inspire the French and American Revolutions.

Challenging established institutions, interdisciplinary collaboration, the ability to say what we want whenever we want – everything that disruptive technologies are doing now was accomplished by then-revolutionary ideas just a few centuries ago. Those seemingly nihilistic ideas that shattered social barriers and inundated Europe with innovation during the Scientific Revolution are exactly what made way for the first Industrial Revolution.

We foresee a future where information is not only a commodity but perhaps more valuable than money.

Our practice of hoarding information behind patents mirrors how colonial monarchies hoarded gold and silver under mercantilism. Our future, however, will be defined by the free access to and free exchange of information like the industrializing markets under the Liberalism that John Locke’s ideas helped create. One could argue that the more people working on a problem, the better the chance of solving it (and faster).

Patents protect an individual’s right to their intellectual property and the right to profit from for that intellect. But, they can also arguably slow innovation by denying others access to the technology. Without access to the technology, others cannot steal it. They can also not improve upon it, either.

Competition has been lauded as the greatest driver of innovation. The rush to publish before someone else does, the rush to market before a competitor cuts you out…  However, as we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we’ll need to adapt the reigning economic philosophies that were developed under the First. Instead of guaranteeing competition in order to drive innovation, our definition of Laissez-faire will evolve to ensure collaboration and free access to information in order to drive innovation.

A rising tide raises all boats; the more accessible that information becomes, the faster we innovate and the faster we innovate, the more quickly we all benefit.

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