The great discovery that launched the scientific revolution was the insight that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions. It was the discovery of ignorance.
These musings take me back to Edge (www.edge.org), a website founded by John Brockman, a literary agent specializing in serious nonfiction (mostly scientific). Among other endeavors, Edge every year asks a single question of 150-200 leading scientists and researchers. The 2014 question, which particularly titillated me, is best summarized by the title of its published collection of answers (Harper Perennial, 2015):
I find it exhilarating to have so much of our scientific elite capable of questioning the generally accepted wisdom that they have helped create or sustain. To me, this is a typically American phenomenon.
Some years ago, two different Chinese journalists interviewed me and asked the same question, which was very popular at the time: “Do you think China can innovate?” I responded, “If you ask whether Chinese people are capable of innovating, the answer is that we have hundreds or maybe thousands of them innovating every day in Silicon Valley. But to innovate you need a degree of chaos, so the real question is, How much chaos is China willing to accept?”
READ: "This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories that Are Blocking Progress," ed. John Brockman
"This Idea Must Die" is a fascinating collection of mini-essays from 175 scientific luminaries describing which scientific idea they deem most eligible for falling by the wayside, cushy grants and prevailing vogues be damned. The strength of the essays lies both in their disciplined brevity as well as the remarkable ability of these very brilliant thought-leaders to convey their areas of inquiry in a manner general readers can understand. For those who tend to stereotype the planet's empiricists as plodding, observation-driven technicians, the elasticity of thought and imaginative excursions on display here easily dispel that notion. Surely recognizing and articulating the sacred cows in our midst, as happens here, is one step towards constructing newer, better models.
...Our innovative journey toward change involves inquiry, curiosity and doubt. Much of this we do the same way the Wright’s did – by letting the world know of our thoughts and views. Any proponent of change has to proclaim his/her thoughts. Galileo, one of the greatest astronomers and scientists of all time, defended his views on heliocentrism in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. Philosophers such as Plato, Kant and Nietzsche, and many others, published their thoughts that changed the world in outlook and philosophy. A new innovative book This Idea Must Die edited by John Brockman takes us through scientific theories and practices that are blocking our progress. At a recent interview, Brockman said: "Daniel Kahneman has studied human rationality and found out that characteristics we thought we had as humans aren’t necessarily the case. We are not HOMO ECONOMICUS, we’re not the rational human beings we thought we were. A lot of what we do is pre-conscious and without acknowledgement."...