“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/.