It’s good to doubt a dogma

Arthur Koestler, in his book The sleepwalkers (Hutchinson, 1959), relates how science is not immune from the stifling effect of dogmatic received wisdom.


Old Plato was dogmatic: “The world of you and me
Is but a shadow on a wall; it isn’t real, you see!
You cannot know the truth of things while you are stuck within
A body of decay and change: you must escape your skin.

“The real world must be perfect, for the gods would not make tat.
To know perfection, think it, there’s no other way than that.
It’s no good working out how stars and planets move,
For what you see is limited, and so is what you’ll prove.

“Well, I have thought,” said Plato, “and here is all you need:
All motion goes in circles and is uniform in speed.
The universe is spherical, the best and perfect form.
Your thinking from this moment must be governed by this norm.”


And so it was that Ptolemy, and Aristotle too,
And scientists for ages felt that’s what they had to do.
Their thinking had to get the answer Plato deemed was right
Or no-one would take notice. Oh, what a sorry plight!


When nineteen hundred years had passed from Plato’s time on Earth,
Copernicus worked loyally for all that he was worth
To build with epicycles Plato’s ‘perfect’ universe;
But then came Kepler, who could see this dogma was a curse.


In medicine, old Galen had the same effect. His creed
Meant progress in anatomy stood still: there was no need
For questions to be asked when everything was ‘known’.
For fifteen hundred years or so, old Galen ruled alone.


In 1628, bold William Harvey said, “He’s wrong!
The heart it is, and not the lungs, that moves the blood along”.
His colleagues scoffed, some patients left, but Harvey stood his ground,
“I’ve done dissections, done the sums, and that is what I found”.

When reputation blocks dissent, and evidence is ignored,
The human mind is hamstrung, and life’s mysteries aren’t explored.
It’s good to doubt a dogma: if there isn’t any proof,
And the facts don’t fit the dogma, use the facts to find the truth.

[All images from Wikimedia Commons]
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