Monday, September 13, 2010

Too Much Caution in Science

From Wolfgang Köhler, one of the founders of gestalt psychology, speaking
in 1959:

I doubt whether it is advisable to regard caution and a critical spirit
as the virtues of a scientist, as though little else counted. They are
necessary in research, just as the brakes in our cars must be kept in order and
their windshields clean. But it is not because of the brakes or of the
windshields that we drive. Similarly, caution and a critical spirit are like
tools. They ought to be kept ready during a scientific enterprise; however, the
main business of a science is gaining more and more new knowledge. I wonder why
great men in physics do not call caution and a critical spirit the most
important characteristics of their behavior. They seem to regard the testing of
brakes and the cleaning of windshields as mere precautions, but to look forward
to the next trip as the business for which they have cars. Why is it only in
psychology that we hear the slightly discouraging story of mere caution over
and over again? Why are just psychologists so inclined to greet the
announcement of a new fact (or a new working hypothesis) almost with scorn?
This is caution that has gone sour and has almost become negativism -- which,
of course, is no less an emotional attitude than is enthusiasm. The enthusiasm
of the early Gestalt psychologists was a virtue, because it led to new

He goes on to say,
"Too many young psychologists, it seems to me, either work only against
something done by others or merely vary slightly what others have done
before; in other words, preoccupation with method may tend to limit the
range of our research."

Thanks to my man Daniel Saunders for pointing this passage out to me. 

1 comment:

julie buck said...

just started here but your blog caught my eye...