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Friday, August 29, 2003

Hypotheses Non Fingo

Hypotheses Non Fingo said Newton, meaning thereby 'I do not feign' hypotheses. Of course ever since he said it endless debate has revolved around the meaning of 'fingo'. I - following Alexander Koyre - understand him to mean feign, and not as others would have it frame. Well this is what I have been doing a lot of recently - framing I mean, not feigning - and I imagine this is something scientists need to do all the time.

Some of my favourite hypotheses about networking and immigration clusters have come and gone a number of times already this week, but I do think it is important to keep formulating and reformulating them. Formulate or die! The other important thing is to be flexible enough to change them. I have noticed that in some kinds of research the computer game model is extraordinarily applicable: there is a puzzle and you don't know what to do or where to press so you try hit and miss. Suddenly you hit the right slot and you're through to the next screen. (I, of course, was brought up on a much earlier generation of computer games). Then even though you may collapse things and have to start again you can always get up to the frontier fairly quickly. Once there you again have to wait, until you press on another sensitive spot and off you go again. Many kids who have grown up without reading books, but playing computer games, may, in fact, make good scientists if this kind of analogy has any validity. What I notice in interviewing people is that it is like a sort of sophistocated guessing game. You have to give the right clue, and then out it drops: the answer you were (or weren't) looking for (depending on your initial hypothesis). Of course, if you didn't frame hypotheses you wouldn't have any questions to ask.

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