“Doubt is the key to knowledge” (Persian Proverb). To what extent is this true in two areas of knowledge?
As a Persian proverb once said to have progress in knowledge it is necessary to doubt. In other words, when we begin to doubt what we believed was true, we move forward to better knowledge making a further step to Absolute Truth. To what extent is doubt involved into the process of gaining knowledge? What is the function of doubt? To what extent is doubt either an engine or a brake to the progress in different areas of knowledge? To reveal the different facets of this issue I explored it by examining Natural Science and History.
We found that the theory did not fit the facts,
and we were delighted because this is
how science advances.
Doubt is an essential part of Natural Science, its basis. If we pay attention to the algorithm of gaining knowledge, scientific method, doubt starts working from the very beginning – in observation. A scientist might notice those phenomena that don’t fit any known explanations, so s/he starts to doubt: why is it so? Then doubt accompanies all other steps in the scientific method because almost in every theory in Natural Science it’s possible to find limitations and exceptions, i.e. all theories are potentially falsifiable. In the past, theories were changed, sometimes these changes were dramatic, i.e. it might be that contemporary scientific knowledge will be changed in time, even fundamentally.
No scientists argue that Newton’s Mechanical laws work but their scope is limited by the mass of the object. In space, Newton’s laws are useless and Einstein’s theory of relativity begins working, which combines at the same time Newton’s and Maxwell’s Mechanical laws. An attentive reader might ask: if Newton’s laws combined with Maxwell’s ones work well in space why don’t they work separately? Does it mean that either Newton’s or Maxwell’s Mechanical laws are wrong? No, they simply explain almost the same natural laws but from different aspects. It happens because instruments which scientists use, ways of knowing, are not perfect. Both Newton and Maxwell described the same natural phenomena from different angles, because their reasoning didn’t allow them to notice the limits of their paradigms, probably in their times the number of counterexamples was not enough to start doubting the existing explanations, whereas Einstein combined them, was able to predict the whole nature of these events, because he was “standing on the shoulders of the giants”. Because of limited WoKs, scientific theories can be considered currently true, for here and for now, yielding correct predictions most of the time, however, counterexamples may accumulate. If they are true for here and for now an attentive observer might start to think critically, doubt: does it always work? How might this lead to further development in scientific knowledge?
On the other hand, according to the Persian statement there’s no final knowledge as we should always be in doubt. The scientific truth is very relative and its main feature is to lead us to a new scientific idea, i.e. Natural Science is a chain of hypotheses and theories. However, we might guess that every chain has its beginning and end so it seems that we’re able to achieve final knowledge, to define the Absolute Truth step by step, from one link to another. Doubt is the instrument which helps to go further along the chain; it’s inside the whole process. However, the question about the limit of knowledge still remains open. When D.I.Mendeleyev created his periodic table in the XIX century he left empty many cells and even groups because he guessed that there would be many other elements which still hadn’t been discovered. From that time the system has been filling but even now some elements remain unknown. In the future, scientists will finish this process but will we be able to talk about approaching the Absolute Truth?...
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