Debate and Intuition
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it, once wrote the theoretical physicist Max Planck.
An idea comes to some minds as an intuition, faith or imitation, or as a corroboration of a bias. An idea always arrives as a realization, spreads as a belief. But its legitimacy is proved in public and private through the fabrication of rational substantiation. “Fabrication” to indicate that at the time of the ideation, there might not be enough proof to validate the idea. Then, an argument is reverse engineering of a religious moment.
Consider this example -
In 1600, the royal British physician William Gilbert explained why the magnetic needle in a compass always faced “north”. It is possible that an ancient Indian said it first, but according to the recorded history of white people, Gilbert was the first to explain the compass. At the time, the popular scientific belief was that the needle was attracted to the North Star or that there was a massive magnetic mountain in the Arctic region. But then an idea occurred to Gilbert—that Earth was probably a giant magnet, and that the opposite poles of the needle and Earth attracted each other. After the idea came his pursuit of proof. He created a model of Earth from lodestone, the magnetic iron ore, and moved a compass over its surface. The needle behaved exactly the way it did over the planet’s surface. This might seem neat but his proof was wrong.
Now we know that Earth’s magnetic field is caused chiefly by the motion of molten iron in the planet’s outer core.
Gilbert’s intuition was right; his substantiation of the idea was wrong. In fact, the correct substantiation of his intuition would have been impossible in his time. There was too much resistance to his idea due to the intolerable ignorance. Gilbert would have lost the debate despite having the right scientific idea.
Authenticity of debate
Consider the people who have ideas, or at least convictions. Even when they practise it, is debate as intellectually robust and pure as we are trained to assume? Isn’t it true that all debates emerge from the personal faith? Is the pre-eminence of debate then overrated?
In the hierarchy of intellectual activities, why is this method of transmission of an idea more respected than the very force that creates ideas—intuition? An intuition is not a supernatural force—it emerges from dormant or subterranean knowledge.
Even so, science celebrates intuition only after it has been proven to be right. Can it be that across the ages, superior thinkers have been subdued by lesser minds who were and are merely good debaters? Is the transmission of truth now entirely in the hands of the articulate, who are better at transmission than truth?
Debate is necessary pain. But, remove the masquerade
But then the pre-eminence of debate is unavoidable in some spheres. The soul of science might be intuition, but, without the process of substantiation and falsification, it would become a comedy.
In television studios and around dinner tables, people are forced to dress up their intuition or beliefs through the masquerade of logic and evidence. That is a wasteful decorum of modern intellectual life.
It will be fascinating if someone organizes a talk series where public figures are invited to talk about their intuitions and theories, which they cannot or do not wish to substantiate.
Debate doesn’t answer one question:
When we debate, argue, or even write a column, we build a case, we substantiate our argument and consider opposing views. There is one thing we do not say at all—how we actually got the idea. Usually, an idea does not come to us after an argument with ourselves, or after a deep investigation into the facts. This is not how ideas usually arrive, or form. The argument does not create the idea; the idea creates the argument.
Easy like a Saturday afternoon:
If you, the reader, have not understood the crux of the topic, then it is essential that it is read again. If you have a contrarian view on the issue, then please share those in the comment section below. Try to answer a few fundamental questions like:
Is the genesis of the idea the soul and the mind of the thinker?
Is debate killing the idea for the lack of logic in the intuition?
Should an intuition be based on logic? Is intuition beyond logic?
What is the difference between an intuition, a chimera and a vision?