Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

Perfection of means and confusion of aims

On 28 September 1941, Albert Einstein spoke these famous words at a Science Conference in London: “Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem, in my opinion, to characterize our age.” (eg, Entersection, video > 8 minutes, Wiki).

Although the immediate context of Einstein’s message relates to WW2, there seems to be a universal truth in his words. The bigger companies or societies become, the more need there is for specialised functions (eg, business units, departments, specialists). The more we specialise, the more difficult it becomes to communicate with each other (e.g., jargon). Hence, Einstein‘s appeal for having a “common language”. Our perfection of means results in a confusion of aims.

The relentless media focus on (extreme) minority interests and/or opinions is creating a similar phenomenon. The exception no longer confirms the rule but becomes the rule in media coverage. While covering the exceptions may perfect the number of readers or viewers, it also confuses the message to society. 

Back in the 1980s, I noticed a huge discrepancy between American reality in daily life and on TV. TV mainly showed criminal incidents and relentless advertisements for opioids (eg, pain killers). One might argue that reality in daily American life has now caught up with TV reality. In 2016, the CDC announced that the United States is in the midst of an unprecedented prescription opioid overdose epidemic (PDF).

The Technological Revolution of 1800-2100 also fits well in Albert Einstein‘s message. We have perfected technology (means) to such an extent that its aim is confused. The recent Charlie Gard debate shows the increasing discrepancy between medical technology (means) and the Hippocratic Oath (aim). Baby Charlie became the perfect means for the confused aims of others.

Connecting the world” was/is the aim of Facebook, “an online social media and social networking service“. Wiki: “Social media are computer-mediated technologies (LO: means) that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks.” It’s still a matter of intense debate whether Facebook’s perfection of means has created a confusion of aims.

Religion is another example: who really believes that Allah, God and Yahweh are different deities? Religion has perfected the means (eg, book and place of worship) and confused the aims (ie, Faith in a deity or Supreme Being). Politics also perfected the means (ie, Power) and confused its aims (eg, leadership, public service). 

In my opinion, the words of Albert Einstein need to be rephrased: “Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem to characterize humanity.”

Living in Confusion (1991) by Phyllis Hyman – artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2

Seems like I’m always going through changes

Living in confusion

Confusion, confusion


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