Adventure of ideas

August 9, 2016 (Kampala):

I’ve started reading Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge by Karl Popper. I’m having a hard time blending it with Kuhn and integrating it into my own worldview…but it’s really good…

Here are some of my favorite excerpts:

“The simple truth is that truth is often hard to come by, and that once found it may easily be lost again. Erroneous beliefs may have an astonishing power to survive, for thousands of years, in defiance of experience, with or without the aid of any conspiracy.”

“If we respect truth, we must search for it by persistently searching for our errors: by indefatigable rational criticism, and self-criticism.”

“The more we learn about the world, and the deeper our learning, the more conscious, specific, and articulate will be our knowledge of what we do not know, our knowledge of our ignorance. For this, indeed, is the main source of our ignorance – the fact that our knowledge can be only finite, while our ignorance must necessarily must infinite.”

“I believe that it would be worth trying to learn something about the world even if in trying to do so we should merely learn that we do not know much. This state of learned ignorance might be a help in many of our troubles. It might be well for all of us to remember that, while differing widely in the various bits we know, in our infinite ignorance we are all equal.”

“Neither observation nor reason is an authority. Intellectual intuition and imagination are most important, but they are not reliable: they may show us things very clearly, and yet they may mislead us. They are indispensable, as the main sources of our theories; but most of our theories are false anyway. The most important function of observation and reasoning, and even intuition and imagination, is to help us in the critical examination of those bold conjectures which are the means by which we probe into the unknown.”

“Myths may be developed, and become testable; that historically speaking all – or very nearly all – scientific theories originate from myths, and that a myth may contain important anticipations of scientific theories.”

“Genuine philosophical problems are always rooted in urgent problems outside philosophy, and they die if these roots decay.”

“We can invent myths, stories, theories. Because we have a thirst for explanation, an insatiably curiosity, a wish to know. Because we not only invent stories and theories, but try them out and see whether they work and how they work. Because by great effort, by trying hard and making many mistakes, we may sometimes, if we are lucky, succeed in hitting upon a story, an explanation, which ‘saves the phenomena’…because knowledge is an adventure of ideas.”

“Greek science…was one of the products of [the rationalist tradition], and of the urge to understand the world…Within this tradition science is valued…for its practical achievements; but it is even more highly valued for its informative content, and for its ability to free our minds from old beliefs, old prejudices, and old certainties, and to offer us in their stead new conjectures and daring hypotheses. Science is valued for its liberalizing influence – as one of the greatest forces that make for human freedom.”

“[My ‘third view’] preserves the Galileoan doctrine that the scientist aims at a true description of the world, or of some of its aspects, and at a true explanation of observable facts; and it combines this doctrine with the non-Galileoan view that though this remains the aim of the scientist, he can never know for certain whether his findings are true, although he may sometimes establish with reasonable certainty that a theory is false.”

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