Karl Popper – The Myth of the Framework
Many participants in a rational, that is, a critical, discussion find it particularly difficult that they have to unlearn what their instincts seem to teach them (and what they are taught, incidentally, by every debating society): that is, to win. For what they have to learn is that victory in a debate is nothing, while even the slightest clarification of one’s problem – even the smallest contribution made towards a clearer understanding of one’s own position or that of one’s opponent – is a great success. A discussion which you win but which fails to help you to change or to clarify your mind at least a little should be regarded as a sheer loss.
What makes these ideas attractive is that people confuse relativism with the true and important insight that all men are fallible, and prone to be biased.
Dogmatic, uncritical teaching in bad Westernized schools and universities, and especially training in Western verbosity and in some Western ideology were, in my experience, much graver obstacles to rational discussion than any cultural or linguistic gap.
Whorf himself, and some of his followers, have suggested that we live in a kind of intellectual prison, a prison formed by the structural rules of our language–I am prepared to accept this metaphor, though I have to add to it that it is an odd prison as we are normally unaware of being imprisoned. We may become aware of it through culture clash.
The prisons are the frameworks. And those who do not like prisons will be opposed to the myth of the framework. They will welcome a discussion with a partner who comes from another world, from another framework, for it gives them an opportunity to discover their so far unfelt chains, to break these chains, and thus to transcend themselves. But this breaking out of one’s prison is clearly not a matter of routine: it can only be the result of a critical effort and of a creative effort.
Theories are important and indispensable because without them we could not orientate ourselves in the world – we could not live. Even our observations are interpreted with their help. The Marxist literally sees class struggle everywhere. Thus he believes that only those who deliberately shut their eyes can fail to see it. The Freudian sees everywhere repression and sublimation. The Adlerian sees how feelings of inferiority express themselves in every action and every utterance, whether it is an utterance of inferiority or superiority. This shows that our need for theories is immense, and so is the power of theories. Thus it is all the more important to guard against becoming addicted to any particular theory: we must not let ourselves be caught in a mental prison.
But to those brought up in the implicit admiration of brilliance and ‘impressive’ opaqueness, all this (and all I have said here) would be at best, ‘impressive’ talk: they do not know any other values.
For it is partly the wish to ape the mathematicians and the mathematical physicists in technicality and in difficulty that inspires the use of verbiage in other sciences.
The genuine and general feeling of dissatisfaction, manifest in their hostility to the society in which they live, is a reflection of their unconscious dissatisfaction with the sterility of their own activities.
The great physicist and mathematician Henri Poincaré believed not only that it [Newton’ theory of gravity] was true– this of course was everybody’s belief – but that it was true by definition, and that it would therefore remain the invariable basis of physics to the end of man’s search for truth.
But this means that science begins with problems, practical problems or theoretical problems.
The unpleasant discovery that we were mistaken makes us realize that we had certain unconscious expectations.
Now this fact – that observation cannot precede all problems may be illustrated by a simple experiment which I wish to carry out, by your leave, with yourselves as experimental subjects. My experiment is to ask you to observe, here and now. I hope you are all cooperating and observing! Yet I fear that some of you, instead of observing, will feel a strong urge to ask: ‘What do you want me to observe?’
‘How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view…’
For science may be regarded as a growing system of problems, rather than as a system of beliefs.
Most of them would agree that the dangers inherent in these technologies are comparable to those of totalitarianism. Yet although we built the atom bomb in order to combat totalitarianism, few of us regard it as our business to think of means to combat the dangers of mass-manipulation.
My conjecture is that epistemological optimism with its peculiar idea of self-reliance –that God helps those who help themselves secularized Christianity, and turned its futurity neurosis into the idea of self-liberation through the acquisition of new knowledge and through participation in the new knowledge to come – the new growth of knowledge – and at the same time into the related but subtly different idea of self-liberation through the acquisition of new power, and of new wealth.