Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Somewhere Between Hayek and Kuhn

That's the best way I can describe this article from Monday's New York Times. It's about how "nonsense sharpens the intellect" and cites psychological research describing human pattern-recognition capabilities.

F.A. Hayek would not be surprised at any of the results. In The Sensory Order, he describes the mind as a mass of connections between different impulses. Neurons that have fired together in the past are likely to fire together again in the future; hence, we are likely to recognize (perceive?) situations that are similar to those we have already experienced.

Thomas Kuhn would be equally unsurprised. In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, he describes the progress of science (really, knowledge) as a series of revolutions, during which we break out of a "paradigm" which restricts our thoughts to view phenomena in an entirely new way.

Both of these ideas come together, in my mind, to form the foundations of this article. We see the world in a certain way, which is colored by everything we have already seen, we have learned - basically by everything we know. When something we know is challenged, we look at that something differently; the truth, however, is that we look at everything differently. Humans are able to escape the boundaries set by their own knowledge when they are reminded that these boundaries exist; this is why reading Kafka allowed above-average recognition of patterns.

Thinking about thought is one of the toughest exercises I have ever undertaken.

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Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that which the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant. ~Fredrich Hayek in The Constitution of Liberty