Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for October 12th, 2014

The alert experimenter

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Frederic C. Bartlett

As experimental science has gained wider and wider fields, and won increasing recognition, it has often happened that critical stages for advance are reached when what has been called one body of knowledge can be brought into close and effective relationship with what has been treated as a different, and a largely or wholly independent, scientific discipline…

The alert experimenter is always on the lookout for points and areas of overlap, between things and processes which natural and unaided observation has tended to treat merely, or chiefly, as different…

The winding progress of any branch of experimental science is made up essentially by a relatively small number of original inquiries, which may be widely separated, followed, as a rule, by a very large number of routine inquiries. The most important feature of original experimental thinking is the discovery of overlap and agreement where formerly only isolation and difference were recognized. This usually means that when any experimental science is ripe for marked advance, a mass of routine thinking belonging to an immediately preceding phase has come near to wearing itself out by exploiting a limited range of techniques to establish more and more minute and specialized detail. A stage has been reached in which finding out further details adds little or nothing to what is known already…

However, at the same time, perhaps in some other branch of science, and perhaps in some hitherto disconnected part of what is treated as the same branch, there are other techniques generating their own problems, opening up their own gaps. An original mind, never wholly contained in any one conventionally enclosed field of interest, now seizes upon the possibility that there may be some unsuspected overlap, takes the risk whether there is or not, and gives the old subject matter a new look.

Frederic C. Bartlett, Thinking: An Experimental and Social Study

Written by nevalalee

October 12, 2014 at 8:11 am

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