|>>|| No. 4050
I'm going to bump a three year old thread because, fuck it, this is an interesting topic. And my views have been challenged and changed a bit since I made my post and I want to reopen the discussion.
>The roots of most research lies in simple curiosity, an observation about something in the world that seems interesting.
This is a very beautiful and surprisingly accurate idea that I've heard reiterated in a couple of memorable ways by well known figures in science and philosophy. Jacob Bronowski, a mathematician who wrote and presented an ambitious BBC documentary about human discovery called The Ascent of Man, described it as 'asking an impertinent question and finding a pertinent answer'.
Noam Chomsky puts it a little more simply as 'allowing yourself to be puzzled'. Putting that in the context of the history of science, he gives the example of early-modern thinkers accepting that steam rises and objects fall because they are 'returning to their natural place' in a system of 'sympathies and antipathies'. Only later (he says), when people allowed themselves to ask questions about phenomena which seemed intuitively obvious, did we get to any meaningful understanding of the mechanics that cause them.
>This poses a particular problem when thinking at the frontiers of science; those areas of science which are still misty and unclear. For it is within those misty areas that ones gut feelings, flashes of inspiration, beliefs and hunches come in to play. It is in those misty areas that people become most passionate and most dogmatic, because of the emotion stirred by the uncertainty.
If you're still around, or anyone who is interested in the above topic, would probably enjoy the work of Karl Popper. He wrote about the idea of falsifiability as a measure of scientific integrity. My explanation here might be a bit clumsy, but it is essentially that only falsifiable (i.e. 'testable') statements are scientific. Eventually all scientific theories are improved, supplanted or changed. This leads to the idea that all scientific knowledge is permanently under construction, and while it may be the best we have at the time, keeping an awareness of that uncertainty is extremely important in maintaining the open-ended nature of inquiry (and limiting the amount of time we spend believing lesser theories).
For Popper this had some pretty interesting connections with society as a whole, and he stressed a better society would take this attitude of uncertainty and openness and apply it to other areas, like political institutions and human relationships more generally.
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