Thursday, 24 April 2008

Thinking: There is no such thing as a new idea

The Greeks got there first - most of the ideas of philosophy are actually just repetitions of old ideas with refinements. To be honest from a fundamental point of view there are not many possible world views we can have. For example we can either think that the world operates through the interaction of particles of physical matter - the atomism of Democritus. We can believe that everything has a soul inside it - this is animism, or we can take a path between the two that there is a physical real world that is describable and that there is a spiritual parallel world which we cannot directly observe which is dualism of Descartes.

No matter how you describe you world view you will be following one of these alternatives as they describe a complete set of possibilities.

The same is true of so many other ideas. What we have is a cycle that repeats and at each repeat we get a more developed version of each of the world views. As R Brown stated in "Social Psychology" (1965).
So good an idea is never invented. The antecedents of the authors we have discussed have also their antecedents, and in the end, we find, the idea seems always to have existed. What has changed is the precision of its statement and the implications which are developed p604.
I am trying to decide how to get students to think and to learn and I am looking to see what I can use to inspire them. For me my great inspirations have been James Burke and Douglas Adams. Videos from both of them are in my YouTube favourites. Another inspiration is Richard Feynman. So I have encouraged them to read some of his books and especially "The Meaning Of It All."

What was funny was what Feynman said about how newspapers report science
And the newspapers, as you know, have a standard line for every discovery made in physiology today: "The discoverer said that the discovery may have uses in the cure of cancer." But they cannot explain the value of the thing itself. p15
This is still so true today, every time you see a report about the genome or post-genomic technology. We still do not have this magic bullet and I suspect that we are still some way off.

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