The Glass Bead Game

I read The Glass Bead Game more than half my life ago. It’s about a monastery where the monks are devotees of the aforementioned game, which brings all artistic and scientific endeavour together in a single unified form.

I didn’t like it at the time, and I don’t like it now. I am, at least, clearer on why I don’t like it now, for which I am sure Joseph Knecht would give thanks.

The idea that it is somehow virtuous, somehow positive, to unify diverse fields of endeavour – I don’t buy it.

I have spent much of my working life trying to get people to work more effectively together when tackling problems with a significant analytical content, but a key part of this has always been the acceptance of multiple, irreconcilable viewpoints.

And I love mathematics that makes deep connections between superficially unrelated fields, but maths also has numerous contenders for how one should think about its very foundations (category theory, set theory etc).

“The Glass Bead Game” has the underlying assumption that some kind of global unification of human endeavour is intrinsically a Good Thing. Why would anyone think that?