Humble Attempt at an Intellectual History in 5 Steps: Progress in How We Understand our World

First, understanding comes from place and environment:
Each Sumerian city had a god…  the Greeks, more or less the same.

Then, Understanding came from “the word”.    Hebrews had their Torah that had the advantage of being portable and could be copied.  The New Testament made it explicit: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”    With understanding coming from “the word”, it was important that it came from someone authoritative, such as a god.   “It is true because I said so.”

With Socrates, we had something new:     Understanding came from Questions.   In this way new understandings could be made and argued.     Anyone could now participate and build new Understandings and tear down others.   A major step forward.

With the Scientific Method, the first scientists created some restricted forms of Questions and Answers that proved fruitful.    Propositions that proved repeatable and based on logic and cause and effect were deemed True and entered into the Scientific Literature.   Then those truths could be built on by others.    A great flowering of understanding resulted from this method.

Recently Understanding is expanded by simulation.   A theory that can be embedded in a computer simulation that corresponds to observable phenomenon, with extra credit for those that correctly predict events, are then thought of as True and add to our Understanding.    These simulations allow us to create synthetic worlds and test to see if we have the factors that make up complex natural situations.   These simulations are wonderfully useful experimental platforms.

Therefore, we went from Understand from Place,
to Understanding from “It is because I say it is”,
to Understanding through questioning,
to Understanding from hypothesis and test,
to Understanding by building a working model.
Fantastic to be alive.


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One Response to Humble Attempt at an Intellectual History in 5 Steps: Progress in How We Understand our World

  1. Gary says:

    Calling the Socratic method “a major step forward” is a subjective opinion. There are many, not me of course, who wish that humans had never evolved to dominate the planet. The Obama experience does tend to support their view. Does it not?

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