Saturday, September 4, 2010

Creative conceptualization and the expansion of knowledge.

Let’s begin with a few terms. Reality: All that exists in the phenomenal universe. This includes what we are aware of as existing as well as all of what exists that we have no concept, or perception, or experience of. Knowledge: the sum total of what humans know about what reality is. Imagine an all inclusive circle representing all that is. Then within that large circle another smaller circle is drawn representing all that we actually know about what reality is. The smaller circle is, hopefully, always getting bigger. This is because we are always learning new things about what reality actually is. Creative conceptualization is the process by which our knowledge circle expands. (or a part of the process) The idea is that we, being naturally inclined to know more than we do, (some of us anyway) engage a process of speculative creative conceptualizing about what the next level of knowing is. My favorite example of this is the different creative concepts humans had about what stars were and what earth was in the age before the telescope and the mathematics that moved us closer to our current understanding. Before there was a way to see and test and validate what the solar system was, we could simply come up with creative notions of what was going on up there. And we did. Any idea was as good as another. They were all equally undemonstratabe. They were all just speculation. Though some purveyors of their cherished notions no doubt thought themselves in possession of the truth. But that is a digression into lots of other human behavior. Some of the ideas about what was going on up there were more accurate than others. For example, those who envisioned spheres moving in patterned orbits around the earth were more accurate than those who thought stars were openings in the sky showing the lights of heaven. Or those who believed in strings and pulleys being constructed by giant gods. The ideas that were closer to the truth were more likely to be guided toward an actual perception of the reality of what they conceived than the ideas that were far afield. No technology could have been produced to demonstrate the existence of strings and pulleys. But a technology that could demonstrate the reality of spheres in orbits could, and was, created. That technology was created in conjunction with an ever refining speculative reasoning interacting with the evidence of real phenomena. Eventually, the telescope and the necessary mathematics were developed to demonstrate unequivocally that the planets were spheres in orbit around a sun. Of course evidence does not always convince people with a vested interest in a contrary cherished speculation. Eventually it becomes part of our knowledge base that we and the planets are spheres orbiting the sun. That bit of knowledge increased the size of our knowledge circle a lot, and it led to other increases. I imagine this as a growth spurt in a knowledge circle. Technology has a way of increasing knowledge in ways that were not always intended. We are always faced with an edge where our knowledge ends. I assume reality is such that the circle of our knowledge will never expand completely into it. Not even close. So there is always an edge band that we can press our noses against and imagine what is beyond. And we are always going to be creative in our speculations, and some of our speculations will be more accurate than others, even if just by pure luck. And some of those speculations will interact with reality in ways that produce the next technology to move us further into an expanded knowledge. The point of all this is that creative speculation is essential to the expansion of knowledge. And there is a difference between speculations. Some are closer to reality than others. Some will shape themselves into concepts that very nearly reflect what will be discovered to be real, and some will fall away as complete fantasy. Some people will have a gift for creative speculation that is later proven remarkably accurate, and some will have gifts for coming up with real crap. In the end, reality is reality, no matter the speculations of what it might be, and that fact is unaltered human speculations. We do not create what is real, we just discover it. We imagine what it is, try and test our imaginings, and sometimes get to be present when a technology creates the necessary ability to test a speculative notion and verify that it was, in fact, pretty accurate. So, dreamers, keep on dreaming. Philosophers, keep on philosophizing. Speculators of reality keep on speculation just don’t hold to tight to your cherished notions when the technologist shows you were off a bit.

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