Model conflict and creativity…

Posted on December 22, 2010

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Professor Wiggly: “Can you think of a situation where conflicting models or theories of reality leads to creativity?”

Jenny: ” Sure,  we were taught that that’s what  science is all about. A scientist has a theory of reality and then she starts collecting evidence to test the theory, and if the evidence  – which provides another model of reality – conflicts with the theory she changes it – she create  a new reality. Or if I get a crush on a guy – a positive model of his reality – and after a few dates evidence accumulates that he’s a creep then I create a revised model of his reality and save myself a lot of grief.”

Professor Wiggly: “Jenny. those are both important examples. –  In the case of the crush on a guy  –  it’s a new, weak model of reality and so can be readily changed in the light of experience, when it starts conflicting with some of your established ideas – models – of what a guy should be like. The same applies to a scientist with a crush on a new theory – or model of reality – it’s still flexible. When it start conflicting with stronger models the scientist can be creative and change it. But when scientists are strongly attached to their theory or model it’s different – it’s war. In this view science is more like a battle with an old-established group of true believers defending their turf – their models of reality – against brash young upstarts. In this view old scientists don’t change their models, instead  they  die off. Or as Max Planck said: ‘Science progresses one funeral at a time.’ The leading physicists of time thought Einstein’s theory of relativity was nonsense. it’s younger scientists coming along who create new models, whereas the established older scientists  who head university departments and chair grant committees protect their old models, hire professors who toe the party line, give grants to those who dance to the old party tunes.”

Peter: ” Boy or boy Professor – you make it sound like politics not science.”

Professor Wiggly: ” Science is a lot  more like politics than we’d like to believe. Or perhaps thinking of it as a courtroom is a more generous model of science. Here you have the prosecution and defense proposing different models of reality and cherry picking evidence that supports their case. Then the judges (the journal editors, and chairs of research grant committees) and the juries ( others scientists) deciding who makes the best case, until the retrial. Science should be a verb – sciencing – a work in progress, one funereal after another. Take lots of vitamin C, oops sorry, take vitamin E, oops sorry take Vitamin D, oops sorry take …. Or in physics we’re seeing one of its foundations being challenged – namely that physical laws hold true everywhere in the universe …. oops it starting to look like it depends on which dimension and we’re not sure how many there are… but certainly more than three, maybe ten… or maybe eleven … or maybe….?”

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Posted in: Sciencing