“Suspension like the suspension of disbelief is essential

“Suspension of disbelief” is an essential
feature of theatre. Is it essential in other areas of knowledge?

Suspension
of disbelief is one’s willingness to suspend his critical faculties and believe
the unbelievable1.
It has been known to be vital for theatre and arts, where people suspend their
disbelief for the sake of enjoyment. It would be hard for someone to enjoy Star
Wars while constantly thinking that the force does not exist, or that Harrison
Ford is just pretending to be this Han Solo. Just like the suspension of
disbelief is essential in art, it can be essential in other areas of knowledge
like Mathematics and Natural Science.

Before I go
on with describing the essence of suspension of disbelief in Mathematics and
Natural Sciences. When I say that something is essential to mathematics that
can hold different meanings. In this essay the essence of disbelief will be
discussed in the context of acquiring knowledge, meaning that suspension of
disbelief can help in advancing math and natural sciences by gaining new
knowledge. This also makes me ask the following question, to what extent does a
certain feature becomes “essential” in a specific area of knowledge, and when
does it stop being essential? I will go with the assumption that if suspension
of disbelief helped in gaining knowledge, then it is essential in that part of
that specific area of knowledge. This, though, raises another question: How can
knowledge be quantified?

Until I
learned about complex numbers in Math Higher Level, I thought that putting a
negative number under a square root is impossible. It wasn’t until I studied
the complex numbers topic that I found out that this is not true, and that
these numbers are called “Imaginary Numbers”. Despite what the name might
suggest, imaginary numbers exist. The name “imaginary numbers” refers to when they were first introduced,
before their existence was really understood. At that point in time, people
were imagining what it would be like to have a number system that contained
square roots of negative numbers, hence the name “imaginary”2.
Now the mathematicians, who first came up with complex numbers, had to suspend
their disbelief that such system doesn’t exist. If they were to believe that a
negative number cannot fall under a square root, they wouldn’t have come with
imaginary numbers. It was their suspension of disbelief that led mathematicians
to come up with such system. It also suggests that, in order to understand the
idea behind imaginary numbers, you have to imagine it, because the previous knowledge
of numbers systems does not go along with imaginary numbers. In such case,
imagination was used in math to understand a specific concept. This raises the
question: To what extend can imagination be used in acquiring knowledge in the
area of mathematics?

The
suspension of disbelief can also be useful in other topics in math, like
trigonometry and geometry. Suspension of disbelief is helpful to understand these
topics. It would be hard to draw the triangles and the shapes with the actual
distances to solve questions related to these topics. Rather, just drawing a
triangle or a square or a sphere without the actual measurements, can be
enough. Of course, the triangles that are drawn in the exam do not actually
have  area,
but you will have to “go along” with it, suspend your disbelief that this is
just a triangle that does not represent the actual measurements, to solve the
question. This example though, did not show how suspension of disbelief was
used to acquire knowledge and advance in math, it was simply to show that
suspension of disbelief helped in understanding the topic. Going back to my
assumption that I will consider suspension of disbelief to be “essential” only
if it helped in acquiring new knowledge, the suspension of disbelief, although
helpful, was not essential in geometry and trigonometry. This leads me to the conclusion
that suspension of disbelief can be essential in acquiring knowledge in some
topics in math, and only important to understand others.

Moreover,
although seem counter-intuitive, suspension of disbelief is be essential in
Natural Sciences. This confusion happens when we think of Karl Popper and his
idea of falsification, that in order for something to be scientific it has to
be falsifiable, meaning that we always have to be skeptic when we deal with
science. This suggests that employing our disbelief/doubt/ skepticism/ is
essential in Natural Science. But at the same time it is also essential to employ
our suspension of disbelief. To understand this, we have to look at the
scientific method. We observe and then we hypothesis, then we go on to
experiment and then derive a law and theory. Now before we hypothesis, we don’t
really have a concrete evidence of what we are hypothesizing. We have to
suspend our disbelief that our hypothesis is not true, until we experiment and
use reason to whether accept this hypothesis or not. To move on, from
hypothesizing to experimenting, suspension of disbelief is essential.

An example
where suspension of disbelief played an essential part in acquiring knowledge
is the gravitational waves that are predicted by Einstein. The gravitational
waves were not detected until recently3.
As a matter of fact, there was no direct proof of its existence. Efforts to
directly prove the existence of such waves had been ongoing for more than 50
years4,
yet at the time, Einstein suspended his disbelief; that this direct evidence is
not here and it might not be true, to work on a prediction that proved to be
correct later on. This links back to the idea of suspension of disbelief’s
essence in the scientific method. Einstein pushed aside his skepticism because
he did not have a direct evidence, and yet he hypothesized and came up with the
prediction. This leads me to believe that suspension of disbelief is essential
in the area of natural sciences. It essence is present in Natural Science’s
approach and method of acquiring knowledge. Its nature calls for suspension of
disbelief to be used, even for a short while. Also similar to Mathematics, suspension
of disbelief is also important to understand the concepts presented in the
natural sciences. We know that the atom does not look exactly as it does when
the teacher draws it, but we suspend this disbelief in order to understand
these specific concepts. We also know that there exists no perfect system in
which there is no lost energy, but when we solve those physics problems, the
questions ask us to “assume” that there’s no lost energy. We know that this is
not true, but we suspend our disbelief to understand the situation and the
concepts presented.

By looking
at both natural science and mathematics, it can be seen that suspension of
disbelief is essential. It does play a different purpose than it does in
theatre, where it is employed for the sake of enjoying the play presented.
Suspension of disbelief in natural sciences and mathematics is employed for
different purposes one of them is that it helps lots of scientists and
mathematicians to acquire and produce new knowledge that advanced the fields
they work in. The other purpose suspension of disbelief plays is that it helps
those who are studying those areas of knowledge to understand the concepts
presented. Suspension of disbelief can be essential in producing new knowledge
in mathematics, and is essential in producing new knowledge in natural
sciences.

 

“Suspension of
disbelief.” Dictionary.com. Accessed January 26, 2018. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/suspension-of-disbelief.

“Do “Imaginary
Numbers” Really Exist?” Answers and Explanations — Do
“Imaginary Numbers” Really Exist? Accessed January 26, 2018. https://www.math.toronto.edu/mathnet/answers/imaginary.html.

“Gravitational Waves
Detected 100 Years After Einsteins Prediction.” LIGO Lab | Caltech.
Accessed January 26, 2018. https://www.ligo.caltech.edu/news/ligo20160211.

News, Peninsula Daily.
“Gravity makes waves at Port Angeles Library.” Peninsula Daily News.
May 21, 2017. Accessed January 26, 2018. http://www.peninsuladailynews.com/news/gravity-makes-waves-at-port-angeles-library/.

 

 

1 “Suspension
of disbelief,” Dictionary.com, , accessed January 26, 2018,
http://www.dictionary.com/browse/suspension-of-disbelief.

2 “Do
“Imaginary Numbers” Really Exist?” Answers and Explanations —
Do “Imaginary Numbers” Really Exist? , accessed January 26, 2018,
https://www.math.toronto.edu/mathnet/answers/imaginary.html.

3 “Gravitational
Waves Detected 100 Years After Einsteins Prediction,” LIGO Lab | Caltech,
, accessed January 26, 2018, https://www.ligo.caltech.edu/news/ligo20160211.

4 Peninsula
Daily News, “Gravity makes waves at Port Angeles Library,” Peninsula
Daily News, May 21, 2017, , accessed January 26, 2018,
http://www.peninsuladailynews.com/news/gravity-makes-waves-at-port-angeles-library/.

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