Friday, October 14, 2022

What does Wilczek mean by the term “radical conservatism?”

The method of Kepler, Galileo, and Newton combines the humble discipline of respecting the facts and learning from Nature with the systematic chutzpah of using what you think you’ve learned aggressively, applying it everywhere you can, even in situations that go beyond your original evidence. If it works, then you’ve discovered something useful; if it doesn’t, then you’ve learned something important. I’ve called that attitude Radical Conservatism, and to me it’s the essential innovation of the Scientific Revolution. 

Radical Conservatism is conservative because it asks us to learn from Nature and to respect facts—key aspects of what is called the scientific method. But it is radical, too, because it pushes what you’ve learned for all it’s worth. This is no less essential to how science actually works. It provides science with its cutting edge.

Wilczek, Frank. Fundamentals (pp. 4-5). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 

As a psychotherapist I often ask my clients “How is that working for you?” Learning how to live life and be happy is often trial and error and often people have to learn the hard way. Few would call this approach to living “scientific.” 

Socrates taught that an “unexamined life is not worth living.” Living an examined life entails the willingness to learn from one’s experience. Some people would rather be right, that is hold tightly to their beliefs no matter what, while others are curious, humble, and willing to learn. This is the attitude that Frank Wilczek calls “radical conservatism” which means keep and continue what works and yet be open to new applications and possibilities.

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