Success, Superstition, Supposition, Sparkle
Philosophy has been studied, debated, argued, and discounted then believed for over two and a half thousand years. The twentieth century saw not only world wars but also great advances in science. For years, science had depended upon the discoveries and truths of Isaac Newton. The twentieth century had barely been born when a German Jewish physicist introduced scientific theories that were incompatible with the accepted knowledge based upon Newton’s ideas. Hume and Locke had introduced thinking that mankind had just accepted certain scientific principles as truth without being able to prove them. Einstein challenged scholars in mathematics and the sciences as well as the field of philosophy.
Einstein challenged both the knowledge and how it had been learned. “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.” Accepting Newton’s science as certainty had led the world into the Industrial Revolution. For Einstein to suggest and then prove much of it incorrect asked not only what knowledge had been gained but just exactly what knowledge itself was. Einstein, the genius who had never excelled at school seemed to discount all earlier ways of acquiring knowledge: “Only daring speculation can lead us further, and not accumulation of facts.”
Karl Popper was another Austrian and he spent a great deal of his life as a professor of logic and scientific method in England. Popper realized that, although some theories seemed to work, they were still simply products of the human mind and as such, were subject to being incorrect. “Science is perhaps the only human activity in which errors are systematically criticized and, in time, corrected.” Popper encouraged advancements; they might not could prove everything but some things could be disproven. “All we can do is search for the falsity content of our best theory.”
Benjamin Franklin once said: “I didn’t fail the test; I just found one hundred ways to do it wrong.” The history of philosophy has been a series of advances and failures but it should never be discounted because of those failures. Mahatma Gandhi often spoke of the wisdom found in failure: “My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet.”
Perhaps one of the greatest contributions Americans made to twentieth century philosophy was their attitude about failure. After immigrating to the USA, Einstein was quoted as saying “Failure is success in progress.” Other Americans have agreed. American automobile maker and magnate Henry Ford defined failure as “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
Ancient philosophers believed that in answering their questions, they would discover the secrets to success. What we have learned since then is that there is much more that we do not know than was ever imagined. We have also come to the realization that not everything will ever be fully known since much will never be scientifically proven.
The real quest now is not only the continuation of gaining knowledge but is acquiring patience and respect for all as well. We need to continue to strive for success without experiencing a fear of failure that binds our living. We need to realize that true success comes from living in kindness and effort, not in trying to make everything the same. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”
Philosophy has propelled man forward and, at times, been the basis for governments and nations. Its value, though, remains not in what we know but in what is left to learn. The French Voltaire one said: “Superstition sets the whole world in flames; philosophy quenches them.” The real value of philosophy, though, remains not in the supposition or superstition but it what it teaches us, the doors that open and lead us to greater understanding of ourselves, each other, our world. That is when the real sparkle of life becomes evident – when we recognize the value of each and every being within the creation that is our world.