Science Fiction Project - Free Culture
Analog - All editorials - John Wood Campbell
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RESEARCH IS ANTISOCIAL
X-rays weren't discovered by logical deduction, followed by a logically constructed, crucial experiment; they were called "X-rays" because, when Roentgen first observed the effect, it was a complete, and unexplainable surprise. Unexplainable - and therefore, of course, unpremeditatable, unpredictable, and unplanned.
It was not the result of sound, scientifically organized research. It just happened.
What do we mean by the term "research" today?
I believe it can be shown that there are two broad classes of search-into-the-unknown, two classes that can be sharply differentiated in the sense "north" and "south" can be clearly and sharply differentiated. They are opposite directions - though it's perfectly obvious that New York City is north of Washington although it's south of Montreal. If you want to confuse an issue, obfuscate a point, if you want simply to defeat an argument, that makes things easy. Just confuse direction with position, and you can argue both ends against the middle, pick either side you want and "prove" it. "You can't say that New York is north! Why, it's certainly not even in the arctic zone!".
The two directions of search-of-the-unknown we might call ex-search and in-search; together, they constitute research.
By "insearch" I mean that class of search-of-the-not-yet-known which involves deducing the meaning implicit in the set of postulates we are working with - "making the self-evident obvious". Ideally, a sufficiently well designed, and sufficiently large logical machine, such as the direct lineal descendants of the modern electronic computers might be, could carry insearch to completion, and deduce all the consequences of a given set of postulates.
Theoretically, at least, a logic machine could deduce from Euclid's postulates, all the theorems of Euclidean geometry. Since this involves exhausting an infinity, the thing can't be done by any existable machine; see Isaac Asimov's "Hemoglobin and the Universe" for a detailed development of why it can't.
Insearch, then, is an infinite field; unlimited work can be done in deducing the consequences of a given set of postulates.
But... notice very carefully that "infinity" is not "all"! Although a logic machine could theoretically deduce all the consequences of Euclidean geometry, this term "all" is not the same as the term "all" in the phrase "all possible geometrical theorems".
There's the old pseudo-syllogism about the cat-o'-nine-tails:
1. Any cat has one more tail than no cat.
2. No cat has eight tails.
3. Therefore, any cat has nine tails.
The trick, of course, is that "no cat" means two totally different things in the first two statements.
"All consequences of Euclid's postulates" is a limited infinity - it's infinite, but bounded. It's like an asymptotic curve; it goes on forever, yet it never gets beyond certain limits.
And the theorems of curved spaces lie outside the limits of Euclidean geometry. Therefore the logical machine, even if it exhausted the infinity of Euclidean geometry, would none the less never reach curved-space theorems.
The logic machine type of search is insearch - an. infinite, but bounded field.
By exsearch, I mean search for the unknowns outside the limits of known postulates.
Einstein's work, of course, was exsearch; he went outside the limits of Euclidean geometry, which, up to that time, had been considered the laws of real-world space. Einstein didn't originate the curved-space geometry; the postulate Einstein transcended was the one which held "Euclidean geometry describes real-world space". Only by going outside the bounds of that postulate - doing exsearch outward from the known limits - was it possible to achieve Relativity.
No possible deductions staying within the then-known limits - no logic machine, however immense or rapid - could have gone from Newtonian physics and Euclidean geometry to Relativity. It couldn't have, because the postulate "Euclidean geometry applies to real-world space" would have forced it to cancel out as inconsistent any deductions that led in that direction.
Exsearch is, necessarily, contralogical; it transcends the logical bounds. However, the moment it has done so, and established a new outpost in the hitherto Unknown Outside... that immediately becomes a new postulate, so the area is instantly inside the new postulate system!
Research necessarily includes both processes - and if either one is omitted, the result is not true research.
Under current social dogma, research is antisocial! Only insearch is socially acceptable; if you cut a process in two, and throw away one half, you do not have the process any more.
To show that a particular culture holds a particular postulate concept is always difficult. To show that our own culture holds a postulate concept which it denies holding is extremely difficult... when you're trying to show that to members of that culture!
Certainly America vigorously insists on its high regard and belief in the value of Research.
Yes... but... "I know what you say, but what do you do?".
What America does in fact value most highly is insearch. But exsearch is culturally rejected, and exsearchers are punished!
Let me validate that statement.
The most highly organized group of professional scientists, with the longest period of recognition as a group, and the group most fully expressed in legislation, is that of the Medical Doctors. The forces that are still vague and poorly focused in other fields have had time to crystallize and clarify their consequences in Medicine. It takes time to work out the logically deducible consequences of any given set of postulates, in the older field of Medicine, those postulates have been worked out. Therefore the results are more clearly visible.
The same essential forces are at work elsewhere; I start with Medicine solely because it has had more time to clarify the consequences of those forces.
A culture expresses its philosophy in its laws; if the philosophy holds human life cheap, so do the laws. If the philosophy accepts slavery, there are laws about slavery. If the cultural philosophy accepts research, there are laws about research. Patent laws, for example. The laws regulating Medicine represent the interaction of the philosophy of Medicine itself, and the culture; each finds expression in the resultant legislation. If either Medicine or the culture were violently, fundamentally opposed to an idea, the laws would be changed. The present situation is decades old.
It is, then, legitimate to argue that whatever the laws hold represents something not unacceptable to the philosophy both of Medical Science and American culture.
Suppose a patient comes to a doctor, and careful examination reveals that he has leukemia. His own doctor sends him to specialists, to a clinic, and it is definitely determined that this individual has leukemia.
As of now, leukemia is an invariably fatal disease; the treatment methods accepted as standard by Medical Science, in other words, invariably fail to produce cure. The mortality rate is one hundred per cent.
Now consider two possibilities:
1. The doctor treats his patient according to standard Medical procedures.
2. The doctor treats his patient according to an unorthodox technique of his own.
If he uses Standard Operating Procedure, he knows with very high certainty that his patient will die. He does so; the patient dies.
If he uses an unorthodox treatment of his own on a group of patients, let us say he gets a thirty per cent rate of cure, while seventy per cent of his patients die.
Under the second situation, the doctor can be harassed by malpractice suits by the family of any of his patients who die. If he used the orthodox procedure, in the full knowledge that it would fail, he cannot be prosecuted.
The culture, and Medical Science are in full agreement; if it is orthodox, it's "good" even if it never works - but if it is unorthodox, it is "bad" even if it succeeds!
Suppose a doctor treats a leukemia patient by a new and unorthodox method, and the patient survives, recovers completely, but his unorthodox curative drug causes a side-effect that produces complete loss of hair. The doctor can be sued by the patient.
When Ehrlich introduced 6o6 as a treatment for syphilis, some individuals died of arsenic poisoning as a result of its use. Ehrlich was violently attacked; it took a trial to clear him.
If a doctor used an unorthodox method, and used it successfully - he would still be liable to expulsion from the Medical Society.
Now if the doctor could show that his unorthodox treatment both worked, and was logically deducible from accepted postulates - he would be let off with a very severe warning, and most definitely told not to do that again.
Reason: he violated the postulate: "All new treatments must be accepted by the Authorities before they can be tried".
Both Medical Science and the culture must approve in actual fact of this attitude expressed in our laws: if it's orthodox, it's good, even if it never works, while the unorthodox must never be tried, even if the orthodox method is known to fail every time.
Now consider passing a law to this effect: that a doctor who uses a known method of treatment, under circumstances wherein it is known to fail invariably, is guilty of malpractice and may be sued by his patients.
An immediate consequence of this would be that every doctor who used standard, orthodox treatment on leukemia patients would automatically be open to a malpractice suit. Those methods are known to be inadequate; why, then, should the society tolerate their continued use?
Under such a situation, doctors would be forced to do exsearch work on the problem. Inevitably, some progress would be made. The time, effort, and money now being thrown away on known-to-be-useless treatment of leukemia victims would, at least, yield some genuine research benefits to the society.
Treatment by rubbing with redistilled essence of rattlesnake oil could not be less valuable than treatment by a method known to be futile.
But - to establish such a situation is to establish the proposition that exsearch is a tolerable, even a valuable thing. Obviously, no matter what the culture, and Science may say about that, the simple fact that the laws are what they are show that they do something entirely different. They do suppress exsearch vigorously.
As I said, I cite Medical Science only because it is longest established, and most thoroughly embodied in laws. The fact that the culture accepts those laws shows clearly that the philosophy behind them must be not-unacceptable to the culture. Then we should be able to find the same philosophy expressed elsewhere in the culture, though perhaps not codified in so clear a form as in the medico-legal instance.
Consider a business executive's problem when an inventor comes to him and claims he has a wonderful new idea.
The executive's first move is to call in his professional experts in the field involved.
Assume that there is no professional jealousy whatever involved; that the professional experts are honest, sincere, and well-trained, and that the inventor's idea involves an exsearch step that flatly violates what they know to be true.
The professional experts turn down the idea. "It's manifestly impossible; it would involve a violation of Frahmstahl's Law if it did work! If he presents a 'demonstration' of his idea, it must necessarily be a hoax... or at best it's a mistake".
If the executive plays a hunch, and backs the inventor, despite the honest advice of the professional experts... his board of directors will be decidedly hard to satisfy. His action is not logically defensible. Even if the inventor has presented a demonstration that convinces the executive, his action is still indefensible in view of the testimony of the experts.
Furthermore, even if the inventor proves to be right, and his device does actually work, the executive will still have a rough time with his Board! Even under these conditions, their attitude will be, "Well... you got away with it this time, but only by luck! Don't ever do any such illogical thing again, though; understand?!".
In a logic-based culture, only logically defensible research is acceptable - and that means insearch only.
We hear a lot of discussion of the vital necessity of more "fundamental research" today.
Take a look at the laws - at what our culture does - and judge what "research" means to them.
Somebody formulated the motto: "Don't undertake vast projects with half-vast people".
A research plan that tolerates only insearch, and punishes exsearch, however big a project it may be, is only a half-vast program.