Monday, February 18, 2008

Wrong Makes Right

Lately, I have been reading The Golden Ratio by Mario Luvio. About halfway through, the author addresses the studies of Johannes Kepler, who made an attempt to explain the relative orbits of the planets using polygonal geometric primitives (see image).

What intrigued me was that Kepler's model had a resoundingly positive impact on science at the time, even though it would eventually be debunked as utter nonsense. The author argues that this is probably the most significant example of completely incorrect information unlocking new paths of genuine scientific understanding. As a scientific society, we strive to build up networks of facts to satisfy our hypotheses, and a hypothesis unable to stand on fact is not proven and therefore has no perceived value to us. By that rationale, how could something based on loose calculations and unproven theories lead to anything relevant? I think that the dilemma stemming from the example of Kepler's model reveals how truly human the pursuit of knowledge is. This led me to reflect on how often in my field we encounter situations where the scientific approach may not validate a particular idea, and the idea proves false, but the simple act of pursuing the idea has uncovered value.

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