in reply to What do you know, and how do you know that you know it?

I think William Gibson's idea that "the future is already here, it just isn't evenly distributed yet" applies. The current paradigms and the future ones co-exist. The orthodox and the cautious support the former and the free-thinkers and crackpots support the latter. Pejorative terms like orthodoxy and crackpot are part of the problem, ideas should not be accepted or rejected either on the basis that "everyone" believes them, or that "noone" believes them. But any field of science needs to be able to distinguish between ideas which go beyond current assumptions and ideas which go beyond current evidence. Sometimes those are the same thing and sometimes they aren't. In Europe, a few centuries ago, there were folk beliefs that witches could fly. There was also a guy named Da Vinci who drew pictures of flying machines. Would rejecting the idea that humans would ever be able to fly have been a good thing? Nope. Would giving more weight to Da Vinci's approach to it than to the believers in witchcraft have been a good thing, probably so. OTOH there are other aspects of medieval witchcraft which foreshadowed ideas (e.g. in psychology) that were just as much "ahead of their time" as Da Vinci's ideas.

Have you seen the movie "What the #$*! Do We Know!?". A thoroughly confused look at the relation of paradigms to evidence IM(NS)HO but one that highlights that a romantic notion that new ideas are automatically good ideas is not any better than the notion that new ideas are automatically wrong.

Your advice about self-introspection re things that are "obviously" wrong is a good one, I wish I could follow it more often.

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Re^2: What do you know, and how do you know that you know it?
by tilly (Archbishop) on Aug 02, 2004 at 18:29 UTC
    What you say has some justice, but is far from the full story. When all is said and done, most people labelled "crackpots" will not be vindicated by history. Furthermore the path to discovering better future paradigms tends to be laid down by people working under current paradigms. Currently accepted paradigms may be imperfect, but they got to being currently accepted through a testing process that is pretty good.

    I'm saying (among other things) that it is good for all of us to contribute to the testing process. That doesn't mean that we should entirely discard the results of other people's testing!

      I guess I wasn't very clear, since I was trying to say something similar to what you just said here, thanks for paraphrasing me more clearly. I guess the only part where I have a slightly different view is that crackpot ideas, even those that won't be vindicated by history, can contain some small spark of an idea that may ignite some other idea which will be vindicated. Science fiction is useful for sparking ideas even when it doesn't directly contribute to science. When someone tells me that Basque must be the oldest human language because the last known Neanderthals lived in the Iberian penninsula, I can imagine a nice science fiction story which would make the statement true even if on a different level I know that the statement is a series of weak or impossible links in a chain of improbable assumptions on a subject that is a magnet for quacks.