Choosing foothold ideas

A lot of science relies of a small number of core ideas or principles -- ideas that we believe we can count on in a wide variety of circumstances (especially when our field of inquiry is appropriately circumscribed -- see CatTV). These are our "stakes in the ground" for building our safety net of linked knowledge.

We introduce the metaphor of a foothold  for ideas we choose to accept as true, at least for the time being, as a way to proceed. Our icon shows a child on a climbing wall, looking for footholds she can use to get to the top. Sometimes, something she chose for a foothold will turn out to be a dead end. She'll have to back up, choose a different foothold, and move forward again.

So our "foothold idea" means an idea or principle that we want to try out, see what the implications are, and decide if it works.

As we find other ideas and findings fit with a foothold idea, and as we are able to respond to counter-arguments and counter-evidence, we may develop a greater and greater commitment to the foothold. From successful experience with it we believe it more so we are willing to work harder to reconcile other reasoning to fit with it.

"Foothold ideas" will be the icon you'll see most often in this class. We will continually be trying to establish stronger and more productive footholds, and we'll be using them to organize what we have learned in each portion of the class.

Some of our "footholds" will turn out to be some of the strongest and best established principles in science, such as Newton's laws or the conservation of energy!

Joe Redish 7/3/11

Article 237
Last Modified: July 5, 2018