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To What Extent Is Doubt The Key To Knowledge?

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As a Persian Proverb once said, “Doubt is the key to knowledge.” Doubt is one of the factors that influence the expansion of knowledge. Any fact that is considered true beyond any suspicion had to be subject to at least one person’s questioning, since “any belief worth having must survive doubt” (Anonymous). It is possible to follow a pattern in the growth of knowledge in many subjects such as the natural sciences, history, and human sciences; a significant boost in the accumulation of information occurred during the Classical and Post-Medieval times. Why is it that such a gap in the increase of knowledge occurred?

During the Middle-Ages, the continent of Europe, which had flourished with discoveries earlier, fell under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. Men with an everlasting thirst for power took control over thousands of people in different kingdoms under the Christian flag. In order to avoid riots and treason, the Church wouldn’t allow people to have their own thoughts. Anything or anyone that either questioned the bible or the Pope’s authority would be in grave danger. By eliminating the right for people to have their doubts, the Church eliminated the chance for expansion and improvement of knowledge, as well.

During the Ancient times in Greece and later on in the rest of Europe after the Renaissance, there were several advances in the area of natural sciences. For example, Eratosthenes, an ancient Greek scientist, was the first to make an accurate prediction of the diameter of the Earth (Science). If Eratosthenes had no interesting in finding out what the Earth’s diameter was or either proving or disproving a previous statement made on it, then he would’ve never contributed to this area of knowledge.

Since this scientist lived in Ancient Greece, his curiosity and questions about the world surrounding him weren’t oppressed, therefore he managed to make a contribution to science. Another example of doubt increasing knowledge in the area of natural science is Charles Robert Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle. Many don’t know that Darwin was actually on a quest to prove – or eliminate any questions on – the theory of Creationism. However, by pursuing his doubt in the 1830’s, Darwin came up with another theory on the origin of species: evolution. Nowadays, his theory has been greatly accepted. In fact, most of the population believes it to be correct (Miller). Although we cannot prove either one for a fact, Darwin’s theory certainly was an addition to the area of natural science.

Several accomplishments in history were also made in Ancient Greece and Post-Renaissance Europe. One of the major historical achievements made in Greece was the creation of The Histories, by Herodotus. This was a compile of several historical events that occurred during the time of the Ancient Greeks. Herodotus is claimed to be “the first person of his time to actively travel around the world to report his accounts. It is because of this that he has become known as the Father of History.” (Herodotus). Again, we see a pioneer in one of the areas of knowledge from the Greek times. Just as Eratosthenes wasn’t forced to stop the pursuit of his doubts, Herodotus traveled from Sicily to Babylon to Egypt to write his accounts of history.

Another major event that changed the way in which history recorded was Gutenberg’s printing press. As the Middle Ages comes to an end and the Renaissance is born, a German goldsmith developed a new way of printing: the movable printing press. Gutenberg certainly questioned the old form of recording information into manuscripts; therefore, he created the movable printing press. It was certainly an increase in all the fields of knowledge, for all of a sudden, thousands of copies of a book can be made in a small amount of time. We can see how Gutenberg’s doubt greatly impacted the expansion of knowledge.

Finally, several immensely important discoveries took place in the field of human sciences. During the Ancient Greek times, Aristotle wrote the first book on psychology, the Para Psyche, Greek for “about the mind or soul.” (Boeree). He “foreshadowed” many discoveries – or concept – that would only be uncovered in the 20th century. An example is the following:”In all animals… it is the most natural function to [produce] another being similar to itself… in order that they attain as far as possible, the immortal and divine…. This is the final cause of every creatures natural life.” (Aristotle)This quote is proof of how contemporary Aristotle’s findings were. Today, one of the many topics discussed in psychology is drive creatures have to pass on their genes. In fact, Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and also one of the world’s leading evolutionary biologists, makes the same claim. Another very interesting finding shows that Aristotle wrote that:”There are two powers in the soul which appear to be moving forces — desire and reason.

But desire prompts actions in violation of reason… desire… may be wrong.” (Aristotle)This extremely interesting except shows how Aristotle even had a primitive version of Freud’s id and ego, which were only published in 1923. This case of development, just like that of the other Ancient Greeks, was a great contribution to knowledge. Since curiosity and questioning weren’t considered harmful in their time, the Greeks developed great ideas. Another milestone in the development of human sciences was René Descartes. Credited with the concept of the mind-body problem, Descartes lived during the time of the Enlightenment. He was the first to claim that mental activity is non-physical, increasing knowledge in human science and psychology. Therefore, we can see that a lot of knowledge originated because of doubt. Since the European population of the Middle Ages wasn’t allowed to question what was going on around them, little knowledge was acquired during those years. The opposite phenomenon occurred during the Classical and Post-Renaissance periods, when the pursuit of doubt wasn’t stifled by those in power, for much knowledge was acquired in many different areas.

Some claim that “wonder rather than doubt is the root of knowledge” (Abraham Joshua Heschel). It is possible that during the Middle Ages, many of the followers were filled with wonder rather than doubt. However, this fact strengthens the fact that it is doubt that leads to knowledge. During the oppression of the Roman Catholic Church, the areas of knowledge didn’t grow as fast as they had been before or as they did later. Therefore, one can deem that doubt is a very important aspect to the expansion of knowledge.

By eliminating the right for people to have their doubts, the Church eliminated the chance for expansion and improvement of knowledge, as well. This is the reason why such a gap in the increase of knowledge occurred. By following a pattern in the growth of knowledge in many subjects such as the natural sciences, history, and human sciences, one may see a significant boost in the accumulation of information occurred during the Classical and Post-Medieval times, when the Church held less power over the people. Since the people of these time periods were “free”, they could question their own beliefs and situation. Doubt is one of the factors that influence the expansion of knowledge. And as Goethe once said, “Doubt grows with knowledge.”Words: 1,227By: Julia Wuestefeld

Works Cited

Boeree, C. George. The Ancient Greeks. 2009. 7 March 2010 .

Herodotus. 2008. 7 March 2010 .

Miller, Jon D. “EVOLUTION: Interesting graphs illustrating the acceptance of evolution.” 22 February 2010. The Conservation Report. 7 March 2010 .

Science. n.d. .

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