The greatest obstacle to discovery

“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it’s the illusion of knowledge”

When I’m working on things, I have podcasts going, sometimes I make notes, often I don’t reference the note well enough to find where I heard it. So, this abstract is what I have to work with. As I remember, the interviewer quoted it and the interviewee didn’t say much about it.

I think it’s relevant to several of the discussions we have here, and how trolls show up. They often start complaining by the second post that we are “closed-minded”, in some form or another. Boorstin seems to want to explore the phenomenon with a scientific approach that crosses over to engineering. When we need a solution, we look to the tried and true methods, but do we miss a creative new idea in the process? How do we know we are suppressing invention and discovery in the name of doing it like we have always done it?

Make it a habit to examine the phenomenon from several different perspectives.
Roger Antonsen has a nice little easily digestible lecture showing what looking at things from different perspectives reveals sometimes amazing hidden relationships.

This an excerpt of one his lectures.

I am not sure I follow or would agree with Daniel. (The link is just an abstract of some paper?)

If this is regarding the distinction between, “implication” versus “conditionals”, I understand the concern. I interpret “hypothetical” as a “conditional”, am not sure how ‘categorical’ applies given it relates to classes. But given there are so many distinct authors of logic with various ways of defining things, he could be relating this at least to the general concern about how one might mistaken statements of causation using conditionals in misleading interpretations. “Implication” was originally chosen to represent logic more formally but when speaking colloquially, “conditionals” are used to express examples of implication. That is, conditionals are just a subset of ways we speak of implication but can trip us up.

Did you read this and have some examples to describe his distinctions?

According to David Bohm the Implicate is the inherent potential of a set of values.
i.e. in the abstract 1 + 1 implies a result of 2 before that becomes explicated in reality.

See Bohm’s book of “Wholeness and the Implicate Order”. (it’s free)

Wholeness and the Implicate Order
‘One of the most important books of our times.’

‘I find his concept of wholeness extraordinarily appealing, as an explanation of the riddles of modern physics, and as a prescription for human living.’
John P. Wiley Jr, Smithsonian

‘Wholeness and the Implicate Order conveys a sense of work in progress, which aims at a distantly glimpsed ideal of the unification of all aspects of the world. . . .
The feeling of struggle in Bohm’s book is its most
appealing feature.’
Abner Shimony, Nature WholenessAndTheImplicateOrder.pdf

Yes, I was looking for the quote that I heard and I used this as the citation. I didn’t read the paper. Boorstin didn’t claim to come up with the idea, he acknowledged previous people he based his ideas on. I’m not really interested in the details of formal logic.

Thank you. But I was meaning to respond to the OP, lausten and whatever Daniel Boorstin might have been referring to . It doesn’t seem related to the act of ‘discovery’ as the title but to the logic of implication.

From my background, I interpret the issue that may be related to this is of those confusing a conditional statement made in colloquial use of expressing implications that get interpreted in inappropriate ways. For instance,

If (you find your place a mess when you get home), then (your roommate had not cleaned up)

This kind of statement seems to imply that

If (your roommate had cleaned up), then (you will not find your place in a mess when you get home)

But though temporally possible of the original statement, it is still possible that your roomate had cleaned up but that something else caused the mess. The appearance of the order in time gives the illusion that the first statement is assured but is false in general as an implication.

I’m guessing that the ‘obstacle to discovery’ may be referring to how people can make errors in causal relationships but I wanted confirmation by lausten that this was the author’s intent as the title seems to speak of some error in ‘discovery’ which itself implies one cannot ‘discover’ things if they make logical errors of this sort. “Discovery” is generally more broad since it may represent an observation requiring no logic.

I agree, but that is related to human observation of a previously unknown phenomenon.

AFAIK, Bohm’s “Implicate” addresses a “potential future value” before it is expressed as “Explicate” reality from the very subtle to gross physical expression.

Implicate, noun

  1. convey (a meaning or intention) indirectly

Similar: imply, suggest, hint


a thing implied.


  1. a relationship or expression involving one or more variables.
    “the function (bx + c)”

Similar: capacity

Po·ten·tial, noun

  1. latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness.
    “a mountain lake with potential for generating gravity-fed electricity”

Similar: latent excellence, capability, capacity

I think you have the logic correct, as in; there could be something else at cause, but implications, using background knowledge, can blind us from considering those other causes. I’m not sure of the value of digging into the author’s intent, considering, as I said, he doesn’t “own” the statement. I read somewhere else that he called an “adage”.

I’m not sure the distinction between a “discovery” of something by simply happening upon it versus discovery something that you hypothesize and then attempt to find is important either. In either case, the illusion that you already know could be a barrier. If you think you know that there isn’t anything but ocean beyond the horizon, then you wouldn’t risk a sailing trip to see if you are wrong, for example.

I agree , but that is again applying the term in relation to subjective human observation.

Bohm used the term Implied Order as an a priori state or condition before it has become explicated in reality, regardless of the presence of an observer.

i.e. implications are formed within chaos and expressed as “patterns”