On Hyping up our Hypothesis

Sydney Harris

    There are those who look for truth and those who look for vindication. Those who only seek evidence to bolster or justify their position, and those who scrupulously search for all the evidence, for and against.

     The disinterested search for truth is what gives science its truly "religious" quality--often more so than the religious quest which, too often, is concerned with digging out only evidence that buttresses its own dogmas and doctrines. In this sense, the scientist can be closer to the genuinely religious spirit than the zealous theologian.

    How many theologians , for instance, would follow the noble and pathetic example of Frege, the mathematician who devised a new symbolic logic at the turn of this century?

    Frege began writing a massive two volume work applying symbolic logic to mathematics. When the first volume appeared and the second was on the point of publication, Bertrand Russell pointed out a basic flaw in the very structure, since then known as "Russell's paradox," that concerns the set of all sets being both a member and not a member of itself.

    This "colossal and unique intellectual catastrophe" as Asimov termed it, forced Frege to add a final paragraph to the second volume of his life's work admitting that the very foundation of his reasoning was shattered and the books therefore were worthless.

    Has anyone ever heard of a political, social, or religious leader admitting the same, rather than trying bitterly to refute his opponents?

    The human capacity to process new facts so that they agree with our prior conclusions is almost limitless--and nearly ineradicable.

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