Bas Reus' quest on self-organization and online collaborative spaces

The importance of philosophy

Posted in philosophy, self-organization by Bas Reus on November 13, 2011

Inspiration to write about something can sometimes be hard to find. That’s what’s happened to me this year. For whatever reason, writing on this blog didn’t happen at all. Fortunately inspiration is best found when you’re not looking for it, thanks to Chris Jones while mentioning his latest blogpost. Chris wrote about science and philosophy. He argues for a common ground called complexity. Interesting post, I would recommend anyone to read it fully. It was this post that made me think about the importance of philosophy in many fields. My reply on Chris’ post was the following:

Science is timely, philosophy is timeless. What’s true now in science can be false tomorrow. That’s a fact. In philosophy there is no true or false. What’s true in situation A, can be false in situation B. Differences in culture, beliefs, age, etc. defines what’s true or not in philosophy, and in general this diversity in thinking is considered a richness for many of us. It enables us to change perspective and rethink theories or ‘facts’ that can lead to other conclusions. In many cases it can even change the current state of science (think radical, for example the concepts of time or gravity). So science benefits from philosophy, like many fields of interest benefits from philosophy. Without philosophy, science would not progress. So therefore I would argue that science, like many other fields is a dependent of philosophy.

Because Chris put science and philosophy next to each other in a picture, like they represent two separate modes of thinking, that made me think. When you place philosophy on the right (like in the picture), then the left part is not only science. I rather would place philosophy in the center as it represents our ability to think (both left and right in the brain), and science as one of the many satellites around philosophy. Science is a product of our thinking, philosophy is the process of thinking. But what about art?

I use the term process because in philosophy, there is no common ground, no result. Only the topics are shared amongst them. Many philosophers disagree on the big questions in life. Religion, existence, free will, reason, ethics; these are the big topics that make philosophers think. The ambiguity in philosophy between many philosophers’ thinking is key to make progress here. The seeming inefficiency by disagreement is actually very effective. It’s the only way we can think from different perspectives, making it possible to advance in science, technology, political issues, human rights and so on. In that sense, philosophy is at the center of everything we can imagine. There would be no science without philosophy, neither would there be religion or ethics.

Philosophy is the process of thinking. Wisdom and knowledge (to name a few) the result. In that sense, you cannot argue that philosophy is in our right brain, or science on the right. I would compare it with the duality introduced by Wenger: “The negotiation of meaning involves the interaction of two processes, participation and reification, which form a duality“, where reification is the result of the process of participation, making the abstract more concrete.

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6 Responses

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  1. sourcepov said, on November 14, 2011 at 03:20

    Great perspectives, Bas. I share your passion for the depth and range of philosophy, which, sadly, I’m only now discovering later in life. My training was in science and engineering, and in many ways, it’s the only approach to “critical thinking” I’d ever known, at least on a formal level. I have long had interest in music, art and photography, so clearly both sides of my brain have been in gear. But when it’s time to ask “how do I solve this problem?” my training takes me faithfully back the scientific method. Until now.

    We’re in agreement on duality in mental processes –

    I think (correct me if I’m wrong!) that the field of cognitive psychology makes the strongest case for holistic view of brain function, and that we employ all aspects of left-brain and right-brain thinking when we imagine, seek, or attempt to solve.

    The “Divergence” picture on my blog, referenced above, is more about (a.) historical trends and (b.) epistemology than about how the brain works. But there are some interesting correlations to LB/RB neuroscience. I guess I’ve always been one to expose patterns, and this one jumped out at me. Literally on a napkin.

    In terms of an overarching framework? It could be Philosophy. Or Math?

    Anyway, the complexity aspect comes in the context of the real world. I believe it is our complex reality that both science and philosophy seek to describe. My thesis continues to be that both science and philosophy, in their current state of evolution, have yet to create epistemologies – cognitive frameworks – Senge mental models, perhaps? – for how we approach complexity in the real world.

    Still researching and learning. Just posting progress along the way ..

    Thanks again for your energy on this. Glad to get you posting again! As you know, I always value your insights!


  2. Bram Koster (@bramkoster) said, on November 15, 2011 at 17:00

    Hi Bas, interesting post. Just thought I’d point out one thing that struck me. You write both “I use the term process because in philosophy, there is no common ground, no result.” and -one paragraph onwards- “Philosophy is the process of thinking. Wisdom and knowledge (to name a few) the result.” Seems contradictory. Or do you mean to say that philosophy in itself has no result, but wisdom and knowledge are side products?

  3. Bram Koster (@bramkoster) said, on November 15, 2011 at 17:02

    #offtopic: your server’s time seems to be off an hour, assuming you’re in the Netherlands. Posted the comment at 4pm, but the timestamp of my comment says 5pm.

  4. Bas Reus said, on November 15, 2011 at 17:20

    Hi Bram, thanks for stopping by here. What I mean by ‘philosophy is a process’ is what you say as well, it’s the process of thinking about important subjects, there is no real goal or outcome, only that’s it opens new perspectives. In that sense there is no result. It’s an ongoing process that gives insights for other fields such a s knowledge or wisdom, to name a few. To help keep the process going, can you please elaborate on what you think is contradictory here?

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