The Many Paths to Creating Knowledge

The structure and logic of science are vital, but perhaps we make a mistake in systemically ignoring the raw, the wild and the illogical.

Amritha Janardanan

Is there a place for poetry in understanding the natural world? How about sprinting? It seems ridiculous to ask. These activities fulfill other needs, we say. They bring great joy or get manual tasks done. A definite understanding of the workings of the world takes rigorous thought from a large force of people performing systematic and controlled experiments. Academic research is that force. Like an industry, it has perfected a process of creating knowledge in a capitalistic environment with tight funds and high expectations. If you go by today’s rhetoric, it is the only credible path to expand knowledge.

Yet every new invention or discovery took birth in fiction, poetry and in the everyday labor of life. Humor has often put forth the bravest questions. Poetry and philosophy have provided the most exquisite ideas. Politics and war have created amazing technology. But they are all credited to science. Fire, antibiotics, mathematics, human psychology, dye-making, so many nutritious food recipes were not initially structured efforts. They were unique brains, let free to respond to life’s unique circumstances.

Perhaps today, the enormity of acquired knowledge and the chaos of so many human minds have us searching for more order and structure. The structure and logic of science are vital, but perhaps we make a mistake in systemically ignoring the raw, the wild and the illogical.

Science tries to construct new understanding from established facts and assumptions. These established facts and assumptions are in turn subjective, in the sense that they are based on the scientifically accepted facts and not the full range of what could be. If we have more variables in the problem than facts, we are trying to solve an impossible problem. With our assumptions, we are in the domain of trial and error. So essentially we are relying on self-correction, over many decades, many experiments and counter experiments.

Science is thus limited. But it is all we’ve got, they say. The truth is we have much more. We have a billion differently biased, differently imaginative minds. If it’s self-correction we are rooting for, why not use all the paths available to get there? It is insulting to think that science has authority over observation and thought. Natural philosophy is free ground. Once our basic needs are met, each human desires to understand the world better. Perhaps it is a desire every individual must capitalize on more.

Can one expand the horizons of knowledge by sprinting a 100 meters or carrying a sack of onions home from the market? Because that’s what non-scientists do. Maybe. The human mind is a mess, and structured thinking can only make obvious moves. To make those giant leaps in our understanding, we need a sportsman’s mind too. We need a farmer’s mind too. With the academic research establishment busy in structured thinking, we need the minds outside it to be alert and confident of its ability to contribute.

Dr. Amritha Janardanan

Dr. Amritha Janardanan has graduated in electronics engineering, specialized in microelectronics, contributed a doctoral thesis on the ‘Physical Interactions of Molecules with Graphene’, and since been trying to invent an appropriate career.


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