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Norbert Wiener – The universe is infractuous, but not inscrutable.

March 15, 2015

“Nature plays fair and if, after climbing one range of mountains, the physicist sees another on the horizon before him, it has not been deliberately put there to frustrate the effort he has already made.

It may seem superficially that even in the absence of a conscious or purposeful interference by nature, the policy of the research scientist should be to play it safe, and always act so that even a malicious and deceitful nature would not prevent his optimum acquisition and transfer of information. This point of view is unjustified. Communication in general, and scientific research in particular, involve a great deal of effort even if it is useful effort, and the fighting of bogies which are not there wastes effort which ought to be economized. We can not go through our communicative or scientific lives shadowboxing with ghosts. Experience has pretty well convinced the working physicist that any idea of a nature which is not only difficult to interpret but which actively resists interpretation has not been justified as far as his past work is concerned, and therefore, to be an effective scientist, he must be naive, and even deliberately naive, in making the assumption that he is dealing with an honest God, and must ask his questions of the world as an honest man.

Thus the naivete of a scientist, while it is a professional adaptation, is not a professional defect. A man who approaches science with the point of view of an officer of detective police would spend most of his time frustrating tricks that are never going to be played on him, trailing suspects who would be perfectly willing to give an answer to a direct question, and in general playing the fashionable cops-and-robbers game as it is now played within the realm of official and military science. I have not the slightest doubt that the present detective-mindedness of the lords of scientific administration is one of the chief reasons for the barrenness of so much present scientific work.”

(from The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society [1954])


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