Quote of the Day 8-3-12, "The Incompleteness of Ideas"

“[A]ll philosophical and scientific doctrines have to be regarded as partial visions of the truth, which we must expect to be replaced one day by more comprehensive ones. Most conceptions emphasize one aspect only of the truth; conflicting theories are often complementary; the successful doctrine may therefore eventually have to go back to its defeated rivals and learn from them…Let the study of human history help to keep the way clear for the continuing advance of the intellect, by making it unmistakably obvious that every intellectual instrument must sooner or later prove inadequate.” ~Lancelot Whyte, The Unconscious Before Freud, p. 7-8

 This principle of incompleteness is something I often struggle with nonconsciously. I too often jump onto an intellectual bandwagon or attach myself to a thinker wholeheartedly without exercising the appropriate caution. My biggest struggle in this regard is probably with respect to Julian Jaynes. As much as I want to accept everything Jaynes said as 100% true, the above principle cautions me to remain more skeptical. Of course, I still think that Jaynes was the most important psychologist of the 20th century and much of his theory will stand the test of time. But I must remain vigilant in accepting that Jaynes was likely wrong about some things. My professors at Wash U have also cautioned me to not be premature in my attachment to ideas, something I struggle with immensely since I have a tendency to be opinionated about almost everything, and perhaps arrogant with respect to the adequacy of competing ideas and theories. I must remain open-minded and empirically skeptical.

1 Comment

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One response to “Quote of the Day 8-3-12, "The Incompleteness of Ideas"

  1. Nice post!

    There’s a big debate about the implications of incompleteness and uncomputability theorems, but one thing seems clear: it is conceivable that any (finite) system capable of expressing truths about natural numbers is going to be incomplete.

    It strikes me that we need to demote theories to the status of tools, and realize that there is no true intellectual swiss army knife!

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