What is a belief derived from science?

The desire to know and the need not to understand

Alexandre Vialatte quote: “Man’s mind never stops dreaming. But it also meditates, supposes and calculates. He wants to know and needs to not understand. In short, to know and to marvel. Contradictory necessities: one demands to know, the other to ignore. Hence science and poetry.”

Vialatte’s observation is remarkably acute, but I would correct it as follows: The mind wants to cognize and needs to not understand. ‘Knowing’ without ‘understanding’ is only ‘cognizing’; and often even reduces to ‘believing’. Which brings us back to the current treatment of science in the media, which all too often drifts into pseudo-science, a collection of beliefs.

Wonder and satisfaction

In fact, popularization is contingent on Vialatte’s principle: the contemporary popularizer must satisfy two contradictory needs: to make knowledge both vulgar and marvellous. The dazzling is in the failure to understand the details. It’s amazement at the new star suspended in the sky of the mind, with no idea of how it got there.

Wonder is a product of mimetic knowledge, quite different from personal invention. Invention is a process intrinsic to the mind, based on the existing conceptual tree, proposed to and refined by consciousness. It provides a strong and pleasant sensation too, which is the satisfaction of the “Eureka!” Satisfaction is the mind’s reward from an intrinsic source, while wonder is activated by an extrinsic source.

A little universal philosophical language

In UniPhiM language, satisfaction is the contentment of the T (the self/individuation/soliTary) and wonder is the pleasure of the D (the non-self/belonging/soliDary). To marvel is to experience oneself as part of a prodigious world, to which the mind has just connected through knowledge. Knowing in this way is a liberated, expanded connection, that of a part to the whole. Knowledge, on the other hand, is a tightened, proprietary connection; knowledge is a representation integrated into identity.

Have you ever experienced the pleasure of discovering knowledge entirely on your own, of having enlightenment? It’s very different from the pleasure of listening to the one who leads you to it, of sharing enlightenment. There are many examples of this: creating one’s own work of art or appreciating those of others; inventing an object or marketing it after judging its value. Generally speaking, those who invent something and those who have it admired are not the same people. It’s hard to be both a good researcher and a good teacher. The mind’s adjustment tends towards the T or the D. The pull towards one leads away from the other. Attracted by the soliTary, our mind is less soliDary and vice versa.

Wonder is solidarity

To arouse wonder, on social networks, is to flatter the D, the soliDary part. It’s about sharing knowledge. The T benefits when the mind can easily reconstruct its understanding. Our means differ greatly in this respect. Without prior training, true understanding doesn’t come spontaneously, unlike the specialist who easily transforms new knowledge into know-how. In any case, within the mind, the T is the “client” of the knowledge offered by the D, who is the main beneficiary of the wonder.

To go so far as to say that the mind “needs” not to understand, as Vialatte does, is to overstate the case. Let’s rather say that understanding hinders wonder, by awakening the T, by diverting wonder towards self-satisfaction. In fact, the current social trend is towards a general strengthening of egos, i.e. exacerbated T(s) in everyone, regardless of intellectual means or training. The result is less wonder and more appropriation: “I already knew that”, “I figured out all by myself that…”, “There’s nothing really new in that”, etc.

The scholar, the connoisseur and the believer

Is this a general increase in knowledge? No, rather knowledge disconnected from understanding, and often pure belief. What’s the difference? The scientist can answer an almost limitless string of “Why?”; the connoisseur stops short, or affabulates to fill in the blanks; the believer says “That’s just the way it is”.

Thus, the growing interest in scientific knowledge can paradoxically cause knowledge to recede, and the vaporous space of belief to expand. Today, there is a religion of science surrounding scientific discoveries, in which priest-researchers willingly participate. This religion without knowledge is an ignorance. We are well within the criteria of marvel.

And we also understand that the best dazzlers of science are those with the greatest poetic talents.


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