Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Falling "back into old and preconceived notions," Michael Faraday, 1845

These days, as I consider the various road blocks to really new thinking in dyslexia research, I often think of Michael Faraday. Long ago he was so much on his own -- with his experiments and his hands-on visual thinking and lack of conventional education -- yet so far ahead of everyone around him that his ideas are as good today as they were more than a 150 years ago. Rare indeed. It was Einstein -- another powerful visual thinker -- who suggested to me that I should take a long look at Faraday. And it is Faraday (like Einstein) who realized that sometimes you have to transform the fundamentals of your thinking before you can clearly see what is actually going on around you. You may know a great deal, but still entirely miss what nature is telling you. -- TGW

Near Misses Instead of New Discoveries -- An Excerpt from In the Mind’s Eye

            It is, of course, a double-bind in another sense; one has to be close enough to the conventional in order to obtain the needed information from the conventional sources, to check one's findings and to be able to explain one's new ideas in a way that is understandable and acceptable to conventional modes of thought.

            But this is not a new problem. Long ago, an instance of coming close to a discovery but not being able to make the conceptual changes needed to achieve the desired result was observed in a colleague by Michael Faraday. In a letter to a friend who had described to Faraday this colleague's researches on the magnetic condition of matter, Faraday wrote:

Royal Institution: Friday night, December 5, 1845

            Many thanks, my dear Wheatstone, for your note. I have in consequence seen Bequerel's paper, and added a note at the first opening of my paper. It is astonishing to think how he could have been so near the discovery of the great principle and fact, and yet so entirely miss them both, and fall back into old and preconceived notions.

Ever truly yours,

M. Faraday

            Here we see that the power of "old and preconceived notions" may serve as a barrier to imminent discovery in any time or age. Then, as now, for some, one of the greatest deterents to original discovery may be nothing more than long-established habits of thought.

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