It is more imperative to discover new ways of thinking about what society already know than to discover new data or facts because new ways of thinking about pre-existing knowledge are precursors to discovery of new data; they facilitate the latter process. Furthermore, new ways of thinking cause breakthroughs in various areas of knowledge such as the sciences or arts. An examination of the Keynesian theory in the human sciences and invention of the radio in the natural sciences will elaborate this.
Prior to examination of the evidence that supports the above claim, one must define the key terms. Facts are truths that people can agree on objectively because their basis is on what they can observe. They can be verified, repeated and understood. Data denotes a set of statistics, information or items that people have observed and measured. Lastly, a new way of thinking refers to a different perspective from all others.
In the sciences, new ways of thinking often spearhead the detection of new data or facts. This can be understood through the paradigm shift theory of knowledge. Thomas Kuhn (architect of the theory) explains that in the scientific community, revolutions occurred because the community underwent a paradigm shift. In other words, a radically new way of thinking about a certain thing alters the world view in that discipline.
The scientists who spearhead paradigm shifts will have a revelation about something that people already knew. They will look at similar information in a new light and thus perpetuate the discovery of new data that will support that new perspective. As such, new ways of thinking are precursors to the discovery of new data or facts. They act as theoretical frameworks that can contribute towards discovery of new facts or even innovations (Wipond 20).
A case in point was wireless signalling, which eventually led to the development of the radio. There are several scientists who contributed to the development of this device. However, the greatest breakthrough occurred when one man found a new way of thinking about pre-existing knowledge. Maxwell created the theory of electromagnetic wave propagation, and this led to a paradigm shift in the discipline.
Previous researchers have already found that currents could emit magnetic energy and thus transmit wireless signals, but they explained it differently; they often used existing theories such as the movement of charged particles across the electrical conductor. It was only when Maxwell and later Hertz realized that wireless transmission existed as a result of electromagnetic wave propagation that real progress occurred.
This was a fundamentally different approach from what many physicists knew, and thus marked a paradigm shift in the discipline (Treloar par 8). All other laws in electromagnetism stem from Maxwell’s laws. He never transmitted or received radio waves (discovered new data), but he spearheaded the work of other scientists who looked for this data.
In fact, radio designs to date rely upon Maxwell’s equations. From this illustration, it can be seen that new ways of thinking is essential in fostering the development and acquisition of knowledge. New ways of thinking act as precursors towards the discovery of new data because they cause paradigm shifts. Maxwell caused a breakthrough in physics because of his new way of thinking.
A counterclaim made by some individuals to this argument is that the discovery of new facts led to the development of the theory of electromagnetism. Therefore, they may believe that new data pushes scientists to discern new ways of thinking. However, this argument may not represent the concept of a paradigm shift accurately.
In most cases, a paradigm shift occurs when more and more evidence or facts oppose an existing school of thought. Therefore, when one scientist (or more), uses the same facts or observations to come up with a more satisfactory explanation for the phenomenon, then this can alter the worldviews of that scientific community. In the case of the electromagnetic theory, Maxwell used what scientists had already observed about waves to come up with a dependable explanation of the phenomenon.
He used unrelated experiments that had already been done by others concerning magnets, light, electricity etc to create a new way of thinking or theory. In fact, Maxwell’s work is the second most notable unification in the field of physics. This physicist used what people already knew to create his theory, and not the other way around.
In another area of knowledge, one can also find evidence of the importance of discovering new ways of thinking about what people already know. The Neoclassical theory of economics demonstrates how new ways of thinking can cause breakthroughs within a certain discipline.
Prior to the neoclassical school of thought, many economists believed in the Keynesian theory. Keynesians held that markets did not have their own ways of correcting inefficiencies; therefore, governments or other external parties should intervene in its structures through cyclical adjustments (Akerlof 15).
Their prescriptions came from the fact that the availability of money alters aggregate-demand, business expectations and the government budget. By predicting how redundancy affected price or how money supply brought about less redundancy, policy makers could alter their economies using these principles as backing. After several years of failures of the Keynesian school, neoclassical thinkers proposed a shift to market oriented thinking albeit with a focus on utility maximisation.
This new way of thinking used the similar types of data to create a different school of thought. Neoclassical economics corrected the inefficiencies of Keynesian economics even though both schools relied upon similar types of data. The theory of Popperial falsification can assist in better understanding the importance of news ways of thinking about old things in this example.
Philosopher Karl Popper argued that, in the sciences, (economics is a human science and depends on the use of scientific methods for inquiry) it is not possible for one to record all observations. Consequently, one must apply selection during the observational process (Popper 59). As such, the investigator must create a hypothesis first to facilitate the investigation.
This is the only way that one can tell whether certain data are relevant or not. The Keynesians used statistical evidence to support their assertions, and they used profound scientific foundations to come to their conclusions. However, they depended upon certain logical tenets or theories before supporting their assertions; that the market was inefficient.
These theories were vital to the Keynesians because they would act as a guide to the statistics that they required. Therefore, researchers need a certain way of thinking a priori to the actual experimentation or gathering of evidence. Similarly, the neoclassical thinkers also realized that there were fundamental flaws in the theoretical assumptions of the Keynesians even though they had discovered new data to support their assertions.
One can, therefore, see that having new ways of thinking is crucial in the development of any discipline because it guides one’s empirical processes. The data that one will discover or use in subsequent times will mostly depend on the thinking that one will adopt. Discovery of new data thus becomes secondary to discovering a new way of thinking.
A counterclaim to this argument would be that the neoclassical thinkers realized that there was something wrong with Keynesian economics after observing certain facts. To some extent, this is true because if Keynesian laws accurately predicted everything that they had asserted, then there would be no need for a new school of thought.
However, one must realize that these neoclassical theories did not use different types of data to refute the Keynesian theory; instead, they employed the same data type to come to a different conclusion. It was their theoretical assumptions or way of thinking about what people already knew that changed.
The two examples discussed in the essay illustrate that new ways of thinking about something old are prerequisites to the discovery of new data or facts. Since one needs the former before the latter, then the former is more important.
In economics, researchers used the same data type to come up with different theoretical explanations. Therefore, it was not the discovery of new facts that was crucial, but the renewal of their ways of thinking. Additionally, new ways of thinking also facilitate breakthroughs as seen through Maxwell’s contributions in wireless signalling.
He created a paradigm shift by using previous observations and facts to get to a radically new conclusion. As such, he fostered further research in the field and led to greater discoveries such as the radio. Without his new way of thinking, it would not have been possible to make the device because scientists would not have properly understood the inner workings of observable phenomena.
Akerlof, George. “The missing motivation in macroeconomics.” American Economic review 97.5 (1): 5-36. Print.
Popper, Karl. Conjectures and refutations: the growth of scientific knowledge. NY: Basic Books, 1965. Print.
Treloar, Andrew. Paradigm shifts in science. 2009. Web. 23 Feb. 2012 ‹andrew.treloar.net/research/theses/phd/thesis›
Wipond, Rob. “The World is round and other mythologies of modern science.” The Humanist 58.3 (1998): 15-22. Print.