Successful research does not obey general standards; it relies now on one trick, now on another; the moves that advance it and the standards that define what counts as an advance are not always known to the movers.
All I say is that non-experts often know more than experts and should therefore be consulted and that prophets of truth (including those who use arguments) more often than not are carried along with a vision that clashes with the very events the vision is supposed to be exploring.
I bought Paul Feyerabend’s book “Against Method” several years ago (9th April 2005 Amazon tells me) at a time when I still planned to produce a PhD thesis but when my jumping between disciplines already had made me somewhat exhausted and disoriented. I didn’t read it at that time, and I forgot I had bought it.
Now when I have put my doctoral studies on hold I discovered it in a bookshelf and started to read it a few days ago. It is originally written in 1975 and I’m reading the third edition. After reading 20 pages I understood how dangerous the book must feel for the scientific elite and why it was never mentioned during any of the courses I have attended during my studies. It should, I think, be mentioned together with Popper and Kuhn. But because it is posing a threat against normal science, it isn’t.
Anyway, I plan cite some passages from the book in this blog and comment on some of them during the coming weeks. Let’s start here with a statement where the first sentence is quite provoking, but it is softened up by the following two:
Science must be protected from ideologies; and societies, especially democratic societies, must be protected from science. This does not mean that scientists cannot profit from a philosophical education and that humanity has not and never will profit from the sciences. However, the profits should not be imposed; they should be examined and freely accepted by the parties of the exchange.
Wisdom is in the interaction of person and situation.
The bottleneck is very close to the top.
It is sure important to write things down. But sometimes we think writing down things will make the things we write down come true. My favorite example is TQM-systems implemented in a mechanical way in knowledge organizations. Sure some people get a kick (and quite a few some money) out of doing that exercise, but I think the most clever of them do realize that it is just a theater as long as they are dealing with a complex system.
Here is a nice note on the matter, by Chris Collinson:
We know more than we can ever tell,
we tell more than we can ever write down,
and we write down more than we ever act upon.
And all of us who don’t only live in a fantasy world know that it’s action that counts.
The first two rows are borrowed, from Polanyi and Snowden, the third is Collinson’s own.