Mental PageRank

This morning I read an interesting article written by David Frum. I almost feel sorry for the guy. He’s one of a dying breed of Republicans–the kind that can think and are sane. That is, the kind that are getting purged from his party more and more as RINOs. I didn’t know much about him, so I poked around a little. I discovered this idea of his:

When I was in law school, I devised my own idiosyncratic solution to the problem of studying a topic I knew nothing about. I’d wander into the library stacks, head to the relevant section, and pluck a book at random. I’d flip to the footnotes, and write down the books that seemed to occur most often. Then I’d pull them off the shelves, read their footnotes, and look at those books. It usually took only 2 or 3 rounds of this exercise before I had a pretty fair idea of who were the leading authorities in the field. After reading 3 or 4 of those books, I usually had at least enough orientation in the subject to understand what the main questions at issue were — and to seek my own answers, always provisional, always subject to new understanding, always requiring new reading and new thinking.

Essentially, this is the Google PageRank algorithm as it might exist inside one’s head. That is, an informal method for identifying people and works of high centrality. Not only is this a brilliant idea (predating Google by decades, if he did it when he was in law school!), but it illustrates that it’s possible for someone to be conservative and have a functional mind. Something liberal people might want to keep in mind before getting too smug. Whether or not it will be possible for a Republican to have a functional mind much longer… that’s a different story.

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