Settled is Unsettled

“Science is the organized skepticism in the reliability of expert opinion.”

"If we will only allow that, as we progress, we remain unsure, we will leave opportunities for alternatives. We will not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth of the day, but remain always uncertain... In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar.”

Richard P. Feynman

I am one of those who lived through the late ‘60s and early 70’s, though I don’t remember all of it.  I do remember a bumper sticker of the era:  “Question Authority.” Many people of my age, who came of age in those times, naturally tended to question things, because we were not at all certain we were being presented with the truth by those reputed to have it.

In architecture school "question authority" was replaced with “question assumptions.”  Since the goal of design is to understand problems and devise the best possible solution, that goal will be frustrated if we include false knowledge as settled understandings.

In this regard there are similarities between the design process and science.  An unwillingness to cast a skeptical eye toward what is considered settled leaves, as Feynman suggests, the door to the unknown shut.  Yet new knowledge always emerges from the unknown.  

A dissimilarity between the two might be that design has a “use by date.”  Designers are forced by practical considerations to say, “this is as close to the truth as we can go given the time and resources available to us.”  Science on the other hand, if it is real science, never says “nothing more to see here, move along."

An open mind is a terrible thing to shut.

© More Than Construction, Inc., 2014