Why We Should Choose Not To Be Indifferent


Friday, 6.08pm

Sheffield, U.K.

All politics are based on the indifference of the majority. – James Reston

Two films that are on now are “Don’t Look Up” and “Tomorrow War” on Netflix and Amazon Prime. In one an asteroid is on course to destroy the planet and in the other an alien species is going to wipe out humans in the coming decades.

Both films are stories about choices. We know something bad is going to happen but what is going to make us do something about it?

You can give people the information they need to make informed choices. You can show them what’s going to happen to their children if they do nothing. You can shout and scream and pray. And people will make choices one way or the other.

Both films tell you what could happen when it comes to the challenges posed by climate change. Will we do something or won’t we? What’s going to happen?

Perhaps the one thing to take away is that it’s very easy to be indifferent. To do nothing. Indifference is the problem, the danger. The enemy.

As this year draws to a close perhaps one resolution for the next one is to stop being indifferent to what the problems of climate change are going to do to the planet. And those of us that can do something should take action to improve things.

Happy New Year.

Karthik Suresh

How Many Notebooks Do You Need?


Wednesday, 8.54pm

Sheffield, U.K.

When you write non-fiction, you sit down at your desk with a pile of notebooks, newspaper clippings, and books and you research and put a book together the way you would a jigsaw puzzle. – Janine di Giovanni

How many notebooks do you need to get your work done? How should you organize them to get the most out of your work?

I’ve just finished Notebooks, English Virtuosi, and Early Modern Science by Richard Yeo. It’s a scholarly work, a third of the book seems to be the references section, and it studies the work of seventeenth century scientists in considerable detail.

It turns out that for a long time the main way knowledge was passed on was by remembering it. You memorised stories, ballads and sagas and passed them on from generation to generation. Then the means of writing came along and the most precious words were put down on stone, clay and eventually paper. This was a skill limited to a few people and the materials were expensive.

Skipping over the history of paper making we go from scrolls to the codex, the recognizable form of the modern book. Before printing, books were created by hand, copied and shared with others. If you wanted to have your own copy you had to write the words out for yourself and this led to a tradition of commonplacing – copying extracts into a single notebook that was your own personal library of the best you could find out there.

For a long time this was the way people gained knowledge, by reading texts, mainly religious, and extracting the good stuff. But around the seventeenth century the idea of a scientific approach to gathering knowledge started to take root. That meant gathering data, not just copying what had come before and the old ways of commonplacing just weren’t flexible enough to deal with the needs of the modern world.

People looked around for new ways to collect and record information and found it in the ways that merchants kept their accounts books. If you have a business you have to do two things. You have to record your daily transactions and then summarise them in accounts so you can figure out where your money has gone or come from and if you’ve made a profit or a loss.

Building on these insights you ended up with the idea of data collection and data analysis. On a day to day basis you need a journal, something that you collect information in that comes at you. This is a chronological record and, for scientists and engineers, this is standard practice – to keep an engineering notebook is something you’re taught in your first year in school.

What you collect needs to be summarised and that’s where the commonplace model starts to be useful again. You go through your journal and pull out the important bits and collect them using topics, themes or summaries. You can also index them, pointing to where the information is in your notebooks.

These two notebooks help you start to engage with your material, first to collect and then to summarise and group information.

But I think there are two more things that can help us. One is a book where you start to collect your arguments. As you collect and summarise material you’ll start to think of an argument, a position or view that you’ll set out for others to consider and agree or disagree with. These arguments are like outlines that you’ll build into papers or books depending on how long they are.

The last one is the practice of reflection, perhaps with a diary. Something that helps you go over what you’ve been working and thinking about, looping over and reflecting on what has been done.

Now, do you need physical notebooks for all these or can you go digital? Digital is clearly an option and arguably makes it easier to process text and index your material if you know you way around text files and scripts. Reflection, in particular, is the kind of thing you can do in a blog. It’s not just notebooks either – you could use a Zettelkasten or card box to do your topic summaries and develop your arguments.

But digital bits are invisible and it’s hard to see the physical work pile up. I feel like I’ve lost a decade of work because 2010 to 2020 was mostly digital. And there’s something about working with pen in a notebook that helps you engage with the content more deeply, inscribing it into your brain. A notebook rather than loose paper makes the long-term task of archiving easier. Loose sheets are just too easy to throw away when it’s too hard to put them in order.

The thing with writing anything, as the quote that starts this post suggests, is that it’s a process of assembly but you don’t know the parts or what they look like and you definitely don’t know how they fit together. You go out there, gather what you find and hope that you can make something useful. Having good note making practices will help.


Karthik Suresh

What Do We Have To Learn To Get Better At Doing Research


Tuesday, 7.52pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Predicting rain doesn’t count. Building arks does. – Warren Buffett

As we come to the end of the year many of us look back, asking what we’ve done over the days that have been and gone. Did we do the right things, the right way? Is there a different way, a better way we could have chosen? And how can we tell whether one way or the other is better or worse?

Learning how to carry out research and reading critically is a skill – a craft that has to be developed with care over time. It’s easy to pick up a book and accept the ideas in there uncritically. When you realise that there’s always more to the picture, however, you start to slow down, which means you learn less and end up with more questions.

For example, I picked up Derren Brown’s Happy from a pile off the floor. It starts with the idea that things happen around you but you can choose how you react to them. In the past I’d have accepted that statement but now I’m not that sure. Say someone insults you – you can choose to ignore it, to be the bigger person and that’s up to you. But actually, why should you have to deny your feelings? Isn’t the person who says something to you that’s insulting to blame for making you feel the way you do?

And what is a feeling anyway? Is there a difference between the chemical signals that trigger a flight or fight response and other signals that trigger hurt or discontent? In order to assess the message of the book, which goes on to talk about stoic philosophy, you find yourself diverted into semiotics, neurobiology and chemistry to really understand whether you have control over the way you feel or not. This is the subject of Disney’s film Inside Out which Yuval Noah Harari, in his book “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”, points out suggests that humans are essentially large robots controlled from a control centre staffed by chemists that inject a mix of chemicals to get us to do what they want us to do.

It’s very hard to really get a handle on anything. It’s perhaps easier to give up and trust in easy answers, go with faith in anything that seems right, whether it’s a god or the latest airport non-fiction bestseller. True learning takes longer, and perhaps never comes at all.

Hippocrates is famous for the aphorism “vita brevis, ars longa”, which means “life is short, art is long”. The full version, from the Greek is “life is short, the art is long, occasion sudden, experience dangerous, judgement difficult.” Studying anything takes time. In the last six or so months I’ve looked at 200 or so papers, highlighted around 31, taken notes on a few, dissected others and tried to model ideas.

What you realise very quickly is that this is a hard thing to do. Looking through the vast quantities of published research that’s available these days is a challenge. You don’t have the time to learn everything or analyse everything. Getting a handle on any of these ideas and its relationship with other ideas requires you to first create a system where you can hold and work with ideas. A machine, if you will, that processes ideas and produces something useful.

This is not a new problem. Early modern scientists were grappling with these issues in the seventeenth century. How do you take notes on a field, identify the key heads, topics and themes and build your own understanding? How have approaches to this problem changed over time? We’ve gone from a world where people once thought they could “know” what was going on to one where we accept that we know something for a while until something else comes along. What we know is often only true in a certain context under a set of constraints. There are challenges of time and space. We live life and collect data one second at a time but we make sense of it through the creation of patterns, building relationships between pieces of data we’ve collected at different times.

The skills needed to do this are considerable and not taught enough. That’s possibly because there’s too much to do and not enough time to learn it all. We may need to come to terms with the possibility that we will not solve the problems that concern us, that perhaps it will take more than one lifetime. That’s what the scientists of the past have done, worked away at an area of interest in the hope that what they find will make sense in their lifetimes but, if not, that it will be built on in the future.

Suggestions for how to get these skills are going to take more than a single post. There are a few books that deal with the topic but I don’t know how good they really are at helping one get better at doing research. Maybe it’s something I need to explore a little more.


Karthik Suresh

How To Get Somewhere


Monday, 9.58pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle you arrive in. – Bill Bradley

The ambition loop is a concept I first came across in a talk by Nigel Topping on what was needed to make meaningful change on decarbonisation. It’s a simple idea. Make a plan. Take action. Repeat.

There are several problems with setting targets – and they usually have to do with incentives. For example, if your bonus is based on you hitting a particular target then you will focus on doing the things that get you closer to your target. What happens if the “right” thing to do is something that takes you further away? Will you do the right thing even if that means you don’t get your payout while others do?

People who think about systems argue that everything is perfectly designed to do what it does. If you take a system and give it a target then it could do that for a bit but eventually it will revert to what it’s designed to do. For example you can decide your cow is a horse and ride it for a while. Eventually, however, you will regret it. When you’re slipping down a neck towards a pair of horns I can assure you that you start wishing you were anywhere else.

Targets can also give you the mistaken impression that there is a single point that you need to hit. In reality things wobble around and your target is more of a space, with an inside where you want to be and an outside where something is different for better or worse.

Despite all these problems targets have one overwhelming advantage – they’re simple to understand. If you have a daily target – a wordcount, a profit, the number of emails left in your inbox – you can take action that helps you hit your target. And when you hit it you gain confidence and that confidence helps you set more ambitious targets and so on.

Setting targets you can achieve is what builds you up. Setting unachievable ones can simply mean you give up. And that’s another challenge – do you set big hairy audacious goals, as the book says, or do you set goals you can meet? Should you bootstrap your startup with your own money or should you go out and raise hundreds of millions?

There are no right answers to this question but the ambition loop model can help you decide which targets are going to help you. The loop suggests that you have to be able to hit your target in order to move around the loop. Each time you go around you build up your store of ambition.

So, if you want to achieve something start small, start simple – and let it build from there.


Karthik Suresh

When Did We First Learn To Stop Fooling Ourselves?


Monday. 7.25pm

Sheffield, U.K.

I was wise enough to never grow up while fooling most people into believing I had. – Margaret Mead

One of the key issues we face in today’s world is deciding what to believe. What constitutes knowledge and how do you get any of it?

It’s safe to assume that most people don’t know anything about almost everything. If you look around you almost nothing makes sense – how is it possible to make and provide you with all the stuff that you own without using magic. And if you take away the human-made materials what’s left is no less amazing. It’s hardly surprising that people decided early on that the whole thing needed some kind of supernatural explanation.

It was only in the seventeenth century that Francis Bacon set out the principles of what would later become the scientific method. The world we live in today is a result of the application of this method. We also live in a world where the way people think is still dominated by the way people thought a millennium ago. 400 years is clearly not long enough to make a dent in the old ways.

But what are the new ways and why is it so hard to make them part of daily life?

Bacon believed that knowledge comes from sensory experience and what you have to do is collect “particulars”, details of the thing you want to study. These can include observations and measurements and these days we tend to think of quantitative information as being “proper” scientific data but qualitative data such as testimony and opinion can also be collected. This insistence on collecting data was in opposition to idea of “systems” – of coming up with premature grand theories that are unsupported by the data.

The problem in those days was that many people had ideas and saw a few things and then came up with a METHOD – something that would solve all your problems for a small fee. Half a century later most ads on YouTube are based on the same principle – premature generalisations from a small or non-existent data set that’s designed to part you from your money.

To protect yourself you have always start by collecting data. I was intrigued by one of these videos a while back but rather than pressing the buy button I searched for views on the Internet on the programme. It turned out that the material was essentially a pyramid scheme but they wouldn’t keep running the ads if they weren’t making something out of the programme.

When you collect “particulars” you will end up with a mass of details and you need some way to organise them – to make sense of them with heads and topics and themes. This is part of the working of the data, trying to make sense of what you have. But you have to do this slowly and carefully, sceptically, because it’s easy to explain some points while ignoring the inconvenient ones but you have to explain all the data. The explanation has to be “inductive” built on the observations you make and the most probable explanation for what you’re seeing.

For completeness you also need to point out the limitations and weaknesses of your work. You need to make it clear to yourself and others where the holes are in your thinking.

In addition to all that you have to be prepared for the possibility that you won’t explain it, that a lifetime can go by without discovering something new or making any money.

The truth, then may be out there. It’s going to be hard work collecting all the data and trying to make sense of it. You will constantly doubt yourself and look for flaws in your reasoning. You may never find an answer and it’s possible that all your work won’t make you any financial returns. So really, why would you bother? Is it also not unsurprising that the early “scientists” were almost invariably aristocrats who had no need for money? When you don’t need the money you have the time to look for the truth.


Karthik Suresh

Should I Invest In Klarna – A Fintech Disrupter?


Saturday, 7.19pm

Sheffield, U.K.

The stock market is a giant distraction from the business of investing. – John C. Bogle

An opportunity has come up to buy into the Swedish financial technology firm Klarna in an offering of secondary shares on the investing platform Crowdcube. This looked interesting but I also realised that I had no idea how to value this kind of business. So I did some reading and came up with a canvas to get started. Does this help?

Let’s look at the past, present and future of the business, starting with the numbers.

The business is priced roughly at at £33bn ($44bn), a 5% discount to the last round of fundraising in June 2021. Its revenue is around $1bn but it’s making a loss as it grows quickly and invests in its platform. It has close to 90 million users of which around 18 million are active. The value of transactions it processes is on the order of $50 bn.

So what does it do? The product is a buy now pay later service – effectively providing credit to consumers. Its customer base is made up of young people without a credit history who want the ability to delay payments but can’t access traditional credit arrangements.

Looking at the ratios, Klarna is valued at around 30 times revenue. It takes around 2% of its transaction values (including fees from merchants) and makes around $55 per active user, $11 if you count all the users. Although the valuation is high the company is a minnow compared to Paypal, the dominant player here, with a 66% market share valued at $360bn.

There are three co-founders and they hold a little over 18% in the business so have skin in the game.

The company’s growth strategy is to expand into more companies globally and recruit more online stores that use its platform.

One of the most important questions is whether the company has a moat – what are the barriers to entry into this market? I’m not sure what those are other than the ability to raise capital and manage the risk of customers with little or no credit.

The sector is facing headwinds. The product does have inbuilt problems – it’s the loan shark section of the market after all. How do you protect vulnerable customers from racking up debt they can never pay back? Through regulation of course, and the threat of regulation seems to have pushed the sector around 25% lower this year. That makes the previous raise look rather inflated – was it too high a valuation given the prospects for the sector?

It’s quite hard to make a decision on these kinds of startups based on the numbers – they’re growing too fast and don’t have enough history or information for us to make a judgment based on expectations of future cashflows. You have to look at a wider set of qualitative factors such as the ones set out in the canvas.

From a decision making point of view the question for me is do I buy now or wait? If I wait and Klarna lists and becomes large enough it will enter my portfolio through index trackers. Do I want to jump the gun and get in earlier now, because of the potential gains on offer?

On balance I think I’ll wait to see what regulation does to the sector. What would you do?


Karthik Suresh

p.s. This post is not investment advice. Make up your own mind

Links to information

  1. https://sifted.eu/articles/klarna-europe-rivals/
  2. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/17/buy-now-pay-later-stocks-tumble-on-us-regulatory-probe.html
  3. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/06/10/klarna-softbank-funding-round.html
  4. https://www.cityindex.co.uk/market-analysis/klarna-ipo-guide/

The Ethics Of Innovation


Friday, 8.54pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Without ethics, man has no future. This is to say, mankind without them cannot be itself. Ethics determine choices and actions and suggest difficult priorities. – John Berger

Nav Sawhney’s The Washing Machine Project is an inspiring example of using innovation and ingenuity to improve the lives of women in low-income communities that do the bulk of domestic chores such as hand-washing clothes. A hand-cranked washing machine that works without electricity saves them time they can use to “take charge over their lives”, spending it learning, socialising or finding work. At the other end of the spectrum is a company like Apple that has contributed to the creation of a world where you can map the relative affluence of neighbourhoods by counting the number of types of smartphones used. Spoiler – rich neighbourhoods are full of iPhones.

Some would argue that Apple, with its vast wealth and resources, should do more for the needy. Others might counter that it created a new category of pocket computers with keyboards and spawned an entire ecosystem of mobile devices for every price point, democratising access to computing capability and the power of networks. Are either of these arguments right? Are they both right? And what does ethics have to do with anything?

Ethics in a Western context has to do with deciding what is the right thing to do. Utilitarianism, for example, prefers the option that helps the most people. Apple wins here. Their phones and alternatives have given billions access to information and markets. Sawhney’s work, on the other hand, aims to empower a marginalised group of women and is an attempt to redress the unfair and unbalanced conditions they labour under.

The challenge is that determining whether a person or company is ethical or not is never a simple issue. It is instead a list-making exercise. You have to list the good and the bad and add up the points. Good Apple for innovation and beautiful engineering. Bad Apple for using suppliers that exploit labour and constantly changing headphone port designs. Who has the time to work this all out, especially when the question you are asking is whether to get a new phone or donate to a good cause?

A short-cut you may prefer is a rules-based approach, where the right thing to do is determined by applying a series of rules. The Ten Commandments are an early example of that. As an innovator you could do worse than starting with “Don’t be evil.” Although you could do better by aspiring to “Leave the world a better place than you found it.”


Karthik Suresh

The Nature Of Research As A Practice


Tuesday, 5.52pm

Sheffield, U.K.

Creativity requires input, and that’s what research is. You’re gathering material with which to build. – Gene Luen Yang

I’ve never written a scientific paper and I’ve never written a book. I’ve created enough material to fill papers and books but that’s not the same thing. And that got me thinking about why we write and what we’re trying to achieve.

First, who are you writing for? I write this blog primarily for myself – how can I figure out what I think until I put it down and see it for myself? An academic paper, on the other hand, is written primarily for the editor and reviewers. You’re trying to fit your story into a universe controlled by them, so you have to create something they’re happy with. The eventual audience for your creation may be a community of peers but the gatekeepers decide whether your work goes in front of them or not.

If you put a proposal for a book in front of a publisher what matters is not the content or the quality but the potential for sales. If you are well known and have a ready audience then publishers will fall over themselves to offer you a deal. If you are not then it’s going to be harder to get someone to buy into your pitch.

Of course, we don’t need to worry about intermediaries in the age of the Internet. You can create and publish material at zero cost – but you still have the difficulty of finding an audience to read what you write. Some people get around this by finding what people want and giving them that – along with some help pointing them in the right direction. The measure of success is sales – you create what will sell.

It turns out that you’re always writing for a reason, whether it’s for yourself, for an audience or for the money. But whatever you’re creating you’re going to have to do some research.

And this is where the practice of research becomes an important thing to understand. A modern approach towards research comes down to the collection of details – of specific data in a situation of interest. We’re gathering what early scientists referred to as “particulars”. Thing of these like collecting droplets of water. The problem is that we’re never quite sure what these droplets are going to form. Will we get a puddle, will the droplets join a river, an ocean? Or will they simply hit the ground and evaporate, leaving no trace at all?

We gather details so that we can study them hoping that they will make some sense in the grand scheme of things. We share what we’ve found in papers and essays expecting that the insights we have coupled with the insights others have will create new and useful knowledge. Or maybe the work will be forgotten, lying in wait to be rediscovered in another time and place.

This is a constant process of slow and careful collecting followed by critical comparison and analysis to produce new material that can be studied and further the process of knowledge building. Everything we create will be discarded or torn apart and recreated again and again.

In Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance the main character, Phaedrus, sees this process of tearing down and rebuilding happening with theory. It seems funny at first and then he realizes that it strikes at the heart of the idea that there is eternal truth. If scientific theories are torn down – if Newton’s ideas about the way objects are is ripped apart by quantum theory which in turn is replaced by string theory – then we really only know something until something comes along to replace it. Truth is no longer eternal – it’s just what’s accepted until it’s replaced.

That makes me wonder about old books – especially the religious ones. Those tomes are supposed to reveal ideas that will guide humanity for all time. What we see, however, is that large chunks of what’s in them is either wrong or irrelevant. But people get very upset if you suggest that their reading material is out of date. Instead they’d rather torture the material into being relevant.

The practice of research is a state of mind. One that looks for the detail and collects “particulars” rather than leaping to grand explanations. It is the process of becoming comfortable with “not knowing”, being relaxed around uncertainty. Your ability to know that you don’t know it all is what will help you stay open to seeing what’s really out there.


Karthik Suresh

How To Decide What To Read As Research Material


Monday, 7.29pm

Sheffield, U.K.

My writing is a combination of three elements. The first is travel: not travel like a tourist, but travel as exploration. The second is reading literature on the subject. The third is reflection. – Ryszard Kapuscinski

Search engines lull us into a false sense of security. We think that the phrase we type will return results that are useful and tell us what we need to know. What they tell us, instead, is what’s popular, weighted a little by keywords that are similar.

For example, I’m currently looking for information on the ethics of action research. This is important because it’s a thorny area that is treated differently by other disciplines. Physicists don’t care about the ethics of gravity. Gravity just is. Ethnographers, on the other hand, make detailed notes on their “subjects” and write papers on what they observe which the people being written about may never see or know about.

With action research I might talk with you as a consultant, providing expertise and advice that helps improve a situation. The work is usually carried out under a non-disclosure agreement which means I can’t talk about the work or share what we’ve done or found.

That makes it difficult to show the world the value of a particular approach. If you can’t provide evidence because you’ve agreed to keep things confidential then what can you share?

One of the things you can share is method – you can talk about how you did something without providing details that identify individuals or companies. But you’re still short of evidence to corroborate your story. Could you use your data without breaking your obligations in some way?

But how do you walk this ethical tightrope? The place to start is by reading about action research and the way we all start with that is a search on a research search engine which turns up all kinds of stuff. Very quickly you’re staring into an endless forest of research papers.

There is so much that has been written that it’s impossible for you to read it all. Instead, you are going to have to focus and cut out vast quantities of material using simple rules. Rather than doing a simple search pick the publication that is most prestigious in your field and search that one. That will reduce the number of papers dramatically.

Start with those and identify the main points these papers make. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle – fit in the pieces you find and look for the picture that emerges and the gaps that remain.

The thing that’s most impressive about good academics is the grasp they have of the points that matter – the key ideas that have been figured out and shared in the literature. A good paper can be far more valuable than a book. Too many books take one idea that is unsupported by any evidence and stretch it over two hundred pages. A well-written paper can compress a number of ideas that are backed by rigorous research into a tenth of the space, and it’s ten times as valuable.

Of course, you still have to find those papers among the millions out there. But no one said finding useful knowledge was easy.


Karthik Suresh

How Writing Changed The Way We Viewed Knowledge


Wednesday, 7.22pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Over the last dozen or so posts I looked at doodles and drawings that people did in the course of their work. What I’m really interested in, however, is the use of drawing as a way to structure information. We tend to see the end result of thinking in books and documents – but what about the in-between? How did people work out what to write in the first place?

From what I remember from Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance the story goes something like this. Once upon a time in Greece you had philosophers and some of them thought that the way to understand the world was to talk about it. These were the rhetoricians. Then along came Plato and Aristotle and said there is a world out there which you can learn about by looking at it. If you observe and use logic you can explain how the world works.

Aristotle’s work dominated Western thinking for a very long time. If you were a scholar you read widely and collected excerpts of what people said and the logic they used to build your own knowledge and take a position. It was hard, demanding work and required extensive research.

By the 16th century this kind of way of working was just too hard to be useful. It had little “utililty”. People wanted to know what they needed to know – not be pointed at a range of books or at a library and be left to themselves to figure out what was useful and what wasn’t.

And this is where Peter Ramus comes in with an early example of visual thinking. Ramus was a French writer (1515-72). Triche (2004) describes how he created a method to arrange information to make it easier to understand based on a branching structure.

The image above shows how this works. Knowledge can be thought of as spoken or written. Before people were widely literate they talked – the debated with each other, used rhetoric to create dramatic statements, made arguments, remembered large quantities of information in verse and recalled specific quotes.

Once writing became commonplace it was possible to put down in letters what was important – literally making them “literal”. You could arrange statements and show the logical connections. Writing was a form of external memory allowing you to store more than you could in your brain. Things written down in books could help pass information across generations, you could learn from the words of others. And of course you could gather more details than you could ever hope to just remember.

This simple branching structure allowed Ramus to order information in a way that helped him to communicate it more easily. You could get away from detailed logic that took a long time to understand and set things down simply in a structured form designed to be teachable. Triche (2004) writes that “Ramus provided the students, schoolmasters and preachers of the late sixteenth century with a theory of logical arrangement that changed not only pedagogical practice but also the way in which Western intellectuals understood the world, an event as significant as Galileo’s use of the telescope.”

Although Ramus’s contribution is not given the credit it’s probably due his method transformed education and created the framework that is still employed today. Ramus used the term “curriculi” which eventually turned into the idea of a curriculum, a set course of study that you have to follow to learn what is agreed to be knowledge of a particular field or activity. Ramus’s approach to organizing knowledge made it possible to bucket and bracket information and as the intellectual revolution of the time continued his ideas fed into the work of Descartes and later Bacon, and the first glimmerings of what we would now recognise as the scientific method.

I think I can recognize the ghost of Ramus when I think about my education. We were taught that working from first principles was a valuable thing – to work from the most basic observation or idea and build up from there. This is what he called the “Law of Wisdom”. And it’s wise, is it not, to see things as they are and then make up your own mind?


Karthik Suresh


Triche, S. (2004), “The quest for method: The legacy of Peter Ramus”, History of Education, Vol 33, No. 1, pp 39-54

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