The Socratic Method in Society

Image via      NBMDA

Image via NBMDA

Happy New Year, my friends. Here’s to a year of healthy growth for ourselves, our countries, and our world.

Lately, I’ve been considering accessibility - beyond science, which I wrote about in the middle of last year. This time, I want to question the accessibility of knowledge from our peers. There is a lot that I have experienced as an engineer, researcher and, overall, student of the world, but I feel as though the accumulation of said experiences has been unnecessarily hard.

We (And Our Lives) Are Different

Do we understand that, in this society - the human society - that every single person has diverged from each other the moment we are born? Not one baby is the same as another, whether it be as large in scale as a genetic difference or as small as the twitch of a muscle. These small divergences are further expanded by the environments we live in; how we perceive our society and how society perceives us have the biggest impact on what we experience. And then there’s one of the most important human conditions - the innate desire to learn.

Yet, despite all of these differences, we are a societal species. By that, I mean, at the most basic level, we understand that units beyond the “self” - family, community, country - offer the greatest potential for survival and sustainability. So, then, given that we are all different, how do we agree on anything?

From observation, we see that people view those that have “succeeded”, in a societal sense, differently than those who have “failed”. Many cultures also teach children to listen to their elders - some to the point of complete obedience. It’s not uncommon for everyone to follow “experts”, with the exception a group of individuals that I will define in a moment and in a later piece.

But none of this plays out in reality, does it? Children are expected to supersede their parents. This is the reason that all organisms live - to pass information, at every level, to the next generation. Yet it would be impossible if they became them, which is the only possible result of mindlessly following anyone to the letter. Furthermore, because of societal influence, which, mind you, can change with culture, which itself can change in a heartbeat, it’s impossible for a child or even an adult to be exactly like anyone else, as we defined in the beginning. So, the question stands - how do we resolve all of these differences?

An Ancient Teacher’s Modern Influence


Art by Bartolomeo Pinelli - “Socrates Prepares for His Death” - Socrates teaching Athenians before his execution.

Well, I’ve been doing it. In fact, the entirety of Flux is built on it - you might just not know its name. It is called the Socratic Method, which calls for rigorous questioning between people to draw both answers and new ideas. In fact, Socrates famously taught by assuming the role of a person completely ignorant of the topic being discussed, asking questions of his students and allowing them to learn through critical thinking until they reached a topic that forced them to do the same thing - asking a question. Age never mattered to him, societal standards never mattered to him, differences never mattered to him. On top of that, he realized that “[he] could not teach anybody anything, he could only make [people] think” and believed that “to find yourself is to think for yourself”. There are no conflicts with differences when it comes to the pursuit of truth.

So, what’s going on within society at the beginning 2019? We’re nervous being within a space of different opinions, the opinions and questions of individuals are being shot down in every space, and, on the flip side, clear solutions to existing problems are being ignored due to bias or rote closed-mindedness. What happened? When did we stop acknowledging the experiences and wisdom of every person? When did our experiences give us permission to ignore those of others? How does questioning anger and how is it also used to anger?

Maybe this is why people don’t have an understanding of what scientists do. Scientists are intimately involved with Socratic Method. In fact, a part of the peer review process includes an innumerable amount of presentations on research among peers within the same department or other departments. In those presentations, the researcher will typically open the floor up to questions. In my experience, those presenting the research do not have the answers to every single question asked. In those cases, it is the peers who will provide a possible answer and a discussion would ensue. This, in my opinion, is the ideal - an expert/authority themselves may not know everything, but their peers can fill in the blanks with a discussion that often gives that authority a way forward. Simply put - experiences and knowledge differs, but those differences can foster the growth of the entire community.

Moving forward, as with last year, Flux will be engaging in topics that will force you to think. But I also wish to create a community that is willing to question. It is important that those that question come from a place of ignorance and a willingness to engage with the material that they do not know. However, this behavior should not be restricted to our community. As in ancient Greece, please consider this mindset when you engage with anything disagreeable to you. There are no conflicts with differences when it comes to the pursuit of truth.

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