Popper on creativity and scientific discovery

As I reach the end of my booklet Misreading Popper the thought occurs that some kind of constructive and forward-looking conclusion is required, in addition to challenging the philosophers to read Popper more carefully.

So I want to say that  the misreading of Popper has two aspects. The most obvious is the hint that all is not well in the  house of  Philosophy. That is a serious matter and the second is equally important: people have been denied access to the creative, liberating and inspirational aspect of Popperism, the critical approach and critical  rationalism.

Criticism is not just a therapeutic or housecleaning activity to identify errors and inconsistencies. It has a creative function to  generate new problems, issues and spaces for new ideas which function as the growing points of science and other creative activities, including technology, the arts and public policy.

In the literature there are frequent references to the demarcation between the context of discovery and the context of justification (or testing) and it is generally agreed that Popper had nothing much to say about discovery. In fact he had very important views on the topic but the references are sparse. One is in the Preface to Realism and the Aim of Science  “On the Non-Existence of  Scientific Method”.

“To conclude, I think there is only one way to do science: to meet a problem, to see its beauty and fall in love with it; to get married to it, and to live with it happily, till death do ye part – unless you should meet another and even more fascinating problem…(and) even if you obtain a solution, you may then discover, to your delight, the existence of a whole family of enchanting though perhaps difficult problem children”.

Another is the third lecture in his course,  on Problems.

My advice is to devote your mind to your problem—to think about it, to read about it, and to see what other people have thought about it. Read the history of your subject and see how other people have tried to solve your problem. And then study the solutions they have offered! I think that all of this is better than black coffee or whisky.

But I wouldn’t say that it is a method that will lead to greater success. None of these methods, in my opinion, can be regarded as more promising than any of the others. The real answer, which is hardly a method at all, is to have as many ideas as you possibly can, and to be as critical about your ideas as you possibly can.

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One Response to Popper on creativity and scientific discovery

  1. Frank Lovell says:

    Simply: OutSTANDing!!

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