Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Traditions vs New Ideas

From Karl Popper's _Conjectures and Refutations_, chapter 7, "Kant's Critique and Cosmology":

“Enlightenment is the emancipation of man from a state of self-imposed tutelage... of incapacity to use his own intelligence without external guidance. Such a state of tutelage I call 'self-imposed' if it is due, not to lack of intelligence, but to lack of courage or determination to use one's own intelligence without the help of a leader. Sapere aude! Dare to use your own intelligence! This is the battle-cry of the Enlightenment.”

Do you know what the external guidance is? Its traditions.

Traditions are good for two reasons: (1) Traditions are already criticized a lot -- lots of people refined them over many years, centuries, or millenia. ~~~ (2) You might not have much time to solve your problem before it causes you some harm. So looking for existing knowledge that is already criticized a lot is better than acting on new ideas that you won't have much time to criticize/examine. So by using traditions we can quickly come up with solutions to problems without having to resort to acting on wild guesses that have received little thought.

Traditions are good first guesses at solving your problems. Your new ideas are rivals to those traditions. If a new idea of yours refutes the tradition, then you will commit it to action. And if your new idea tests well in real life, then it replaces the old tradition -- and so your new idea is now a tradition.

Traditions are iteratively refined with criticism. People are the ones that create the new ideas that do the refining.

Traditions are also refuted. People are the ones that create the new ideas that do the refuting.

Actually, each iteration is a refutation.


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