Is there an alternative to science and philosophy?

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Offline pantodragon

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I have just been reading a children’s book called Witch in Training, by Maeve Friel, in which a young witch is being sent to the library to start some undefined project relating to the history of witches.  The young witch is puzzled and wonders how she can find out something is she doesn’t know what she is looking for.  Her teacher says, in effect, that people do it all the time.  “After all,” she says, “you found your broomstick before you knew you were a witch.”

The idea that if you wait things will come to you is very old and appears in all sorts of forms in almost every culture.  One instance I have quoted in previous posts is this: when the student is ready the teacher appears.  It is how I work.  I suspect that the idea is so prevalent because it has been found to work.  I mean, if people  made a habit of waiting till things came to them and nothing came to them then they would be, well, stuck, forever going nowhere with nothing.  It would be a complete disaster as a strategy for living if it did not work, and any culture that lived by it would very soon die out!

This is obviously not the strategy used in science where, on the contrary, one goes searching for answers to definite questions.  In fact, it is a race to see who can get there first and get the honours.

The problem with this is that, when one is trying to understand something it may be that some completely new concept is required, something no-one has ever thought of before, or even imagined; something one cannot imagine because it is so outside all one’s experience.  When that is the case then one CAN only wait.  One cannot have any idea what one is looking for so one cannot go hunting for it.  There will be some route by which one can reach the new concept, some route that takes one through a series of new experiences, and brings to one’s attention a number of old concepts and ideas.  All these experiences and concepts and ideas will then, at some point, gel in the mind to form the necessary new concept.  It is rather like collecting prieces of a jigsaw puzzle whose picture one does not know, but when one finds how all the pieces fit together the picture is revealed.

Thus science, because of the go-get-it methodology, condemns itself to having to use and re-use the old ideas for want of new ones.  And hence one can trace the origins of many modern ideas in science right back to the times of the Ancient Greeks, or further.

Philosophy is pretty much the same: philosophers pursue their prey relentlessly by application of logic.

So there is an alternative to current science and philosophy: the ‘wait and let the answer find you’ approach.

This need not mean that current science and philosophy would become a thing of the past, outdated and discarded – that is the practice of competition and it leads to impoverishment.  Rather the new and the old could live along side one another creating a richer, more interesting world.


Offline evan_au

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Re: Is there an alternative to science and philosophy?
« Reply #1 on: 12/02/2013 10:48:20 »
It is said that "In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind." - Pasteur.

If you don't learn to read and write until you get an inspiration for your Great American Novel, you probably won't be much of an author. Part of learning to be an author is seeing what other people have created, and perhaps seeing how it could be done better or differently. You also need to incrementally build on existing cultural themes - trying something too radically different is likely to result in something that is incomprehensible to most people.

It's a bit like that with science - by seeing what has gone before, you learn established methods, you see where the current challenges lie, and perhaps find a solution that noone has seen before. Newton undoubtedly was an inspired genius, but he said "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.". He, too, built on the discoveries of others.

If we elect to wait for inspiration in a cave, we won't know what others have already found. We won't learn useful methods, or discover the current challenges in a field - we are most likely to merely re-invent the wheel.
Or, even more tragic, one might be like the brilliant but incomprehensible Galois, who developed a whole field of mathematics with minimal formal training, documenting some of what he had discovered in one frantic night, only to have his discoveries lost to a generation (and now we use one of his inventions to drive our smartphones).


Offline JP

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Re: Is there an alternative to science and philosophy?
« Reply #2 on: 12/02/2013 12:56:05 »
Pantodragon, prolifically cross-posting material over multiple fora is against our site policy, and you've been warned about this previously.  Tread locked.