We benefit a lot from the discoveries made by science. But we can also benefit from the way that science thinks. David Brookes hinted at this in an article last week in the Herald Tribune about tools for thinking.
For instance, when an issue has many facets we try to take a “holistic view”. We try to look at it in the round. Science would be more specific and more thoughtful call it an emergent issue. A system where all the different interacting elements produce a new element more important than all the individual elements and exercises an influence on the whole.
I tried this out in an economics debate last week. Government grants look at individual aspects of a business – jobs, skills, research, exports, location, tax – and many of these grants have a low take up. This is generally believed to be because of bureaucracy. But is it also because modern business is an emergent system and this is why business angels and other investors who look at the people and the project as a whole are more successful? The project is more important than the individual elements.
Sadly the idea wasn’t picked up.
We know that giving something a scientific name lends it more authority. It gives the impression that it has been thought through and understood. We also know that when individual elements establish a pattern because of their interaction an emergent system results. We see this in many of our problems today – crime, employment, even bad marriages are all emergent issues. By scientifically identifying them as such, perhaps we can be more effective in dealing with them. It’s worth a try.