home | first thoughts

Knowledge and Progress

The Israeli historian Dr. Yuval Noah Hirari, writes that modern science assumes that we don't know everything and that things we do know could be proven wrong as we gain more knowledge. "No concept, idea or theory is sacred and beyond challenge," he writes. He adds that Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity and Islam during the Middle Ages and before asserted that everything worth knowing was already known, that if someone had a question all he needed to do was ask somebody wiser than he – the local priest perhaps. There was no need to discover something that nobody yet knew.

Harari contrasts this with science, which he describes as "a unique tradition of knowledge, inasmuch as it openly admits collective ignorance regarding what might be important questions." Harari points to Charles Darwin "never having argued that he had solved the riddle of life once and for all" and that biologists today still admit that they can't explain how brains produce consciousness." (Sapiens, pp 251-2)

Harari mentions the psychology department at his university (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) requiring an 'Introduction to Statistics and Methodology in Psychological Research' and second-year psychology students required to take 'Statistical Methods in Psychological Research'. He adds that ancient wise men – Confucius, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad – would have been bewildered if told that to understand the human mind and cure its illnesses you first had to study statistics.

Harari describes scientific research as flourishing only in alliance with political realities and ideology. "The ideology justifies the costs of the research ... ideology influences the scientific agenda and determines what to do with the discoveries."


NEXT: Your Choice

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.