Type: Critical Essays
Sample donated: Alfonso Turner
Last updated: February 20, 2019
“Suspension of disbelief” is an essentialfeature of theatre. Is it essential in other areas of knowledge?Suspensionof disbelief is one’s willingness to suspend his critical faculties and believethe unbelievable1.It has been known to be vital for theatre and arts, where people suspend theirdisbelief for the sake of enjoyment.
It would be hard for someone to enjoy StarWars while constantly thinking that the force does not exist, or that HarrisonFord is just pretending to be this Han Solo. Just like the suspension ofdisbelief is essential in art, it can be essential in other areas of knowledgelike Mathematics and Natural Science.Before I goon with describing the essence of suspension of disbelief in Mathematics andNatural Sciences. When I say that something is essential to mathematics thatcan hold different meanings. In this essay the essence of disbelief will bediscussed in the context of acquiring knowledge, meaning that suspension ofdisbelief can help in advancing math and natural sciences by gaining newknowledge. This also makes me ask the following question, to what extent does acertain feature becomes “essential” in a specific area of knowledge, and whendoes it stop being essential? I will go with the assumption that if suspensionof disbelief helped in gaining knowledge, then it is essential in that part ofthat specific area of knowledge. This, though, raises another question: How canknowledge be quantified?Until Ilearned about complex numbers in Math Higher Level, I thought that putting anegative number under a square root is impossible. It wasn’t until I studiedthe complex numbers topic that I found out that this is not true, and thatthese numbers are called “Imaginary Numbers”.
Despite what the name mightsuggest, 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, peoplewere imagining what it would be like to have a number system that containedsquare roots of negative numbers, hence the name “imaginary”2.Now the mathematicians, who first came up with complex numbers, had to suspendtheir disbelief that such system doesn’t exist. If they were to believe that anegative number cannot fall under a square root, they wouldn’t have come withimaginary numbers. It was their suspension of disbelief that led mathematiciansto come up with such system. It also suggests that, in order to understand theidea behind imaginary numbers, you have to imagine it, because the previous knowledgeof numbers systems does not go along with imaginary numbers. In such case,imagination was used in math to understand a specific concept.
This raises thequestion: To what extend can imagination be used in acquiring knowledge in thearea of mathematics?Thesuspension of disbelief can also be useful in other topics in math, liketrigonometry and geometry. Suspension of disbelief is helpful to understand thesetopics. It would be hard to draw the triangles and the shapes with the actualdistances to solve questions related to these topics. Rather, just drawing atriangle or a square or a sphere without the actual measurements, can beenough. Of course, the triangles that are drawn in the exam do not actuallyhave area,but you will have to “go along” with it, suspend your disbelief that this isjust a triangle that does not represent the actual measurements, to solve thequestion. This example though, did not show how suspension of disbelief wasused to acquire knowledge and advance in math, it was simply to show thatsuspension of disbelief helped in understanding the topic.
Going back to myassumption that I will consider suspension of disbelief to be “essential” onlyif it helped in acquiring new knowledge, the suspension of disbelief, althoughhelpful, was not essential in geometry and trigonometry. This leads me to the conclusionthat suspension of disbelief can be essential in acquiring knowledge in sometopics in math, and only important to understand others. Moreover,although seem counter-intuitive, suspension of disbelief is be essential inNatural Sciences. This confusion happens when we think of Karl Popper and hisidea of falsification, that in order for something to be scientific it has tobe falsifiable, meaning that we always have to be skeptic when we deal withscience. This suggests that employing our disbelief/doubt/ skepticism/ isessential in Natural Science.
But at the same time it is also essential to employour suspension of disbelief. To understand this, we have to look at thescientific method. We observe and then we hypothesis, then we go on toexperiment and then derive a law and theory.
Now before we hypothesis, we don’treally have a concrete evidence of what we are hypothesizing. We have tosuspend our disbelief that our hypothesis is not true, until we experiment anduse reason to whether accept this hypothesis or not. To move on, fromhypothesizing to experimenting, suspension of disbelief is essential.
An examplewhere suspension of disbelief played an essential part in acquiring knowledgeis the gravitational waves that are predicted by Einstein. The gravitationalwaves were not detected until recently3.As a matter of fact, there was no direct proof of its existence. Efforts todirectly prove the existence of such waves had been ongoing for more than 50years4,yet at the time, Einstein suspended his disbelief; that this direct evidence isnot here and it might not be true, to work on a prediction that proved to becorrect later on. This links back to the idea of suspension of disbelief’sessence in the scientific method. Einstein pushed aside his skepticism becausehe did not have a direct evidence, and yet he hypothesized and came up with theprediction. This leads me to believe that suspension of disbelief is essentialin the area of natural sciences.
It essence is present in Natural Science’sapproach and method of acquiring knowledge. Its nature calls for suspension ofdisbelief to be used, even for a short while. Also similar to Mathematics, suspensionof disbelief is also important to understand the concepts presented in thenatural sciences. We know that the atom does not look exactly as it does whenthe teacher draws it, but we suspend this disbelief in order to understandthese specific concepts. We also know that there exists no perfect system inwhich there is no lost energy, but when we solve those physics problems, thequestions ask us to “assume” that there’s no lost energy.
We know that this isnot true, but we suspend our disbelief to understand the situation and theconcepts presented.By lookingat both natural science and mathematics, it can be seen that suspension ofdisbelief is essential. It does play a different purpose than it does intheatre, where it is employed for the sake of enjoying the play presented.Suspension of disbelief in natural sciences and mathematics is employed fordifferent purposes one of them is that it helps lots of scientists andmathematicians to acquire and produce new knowledge that advanced the fieldsthey work in. The other purpose suspension of disbelief plays is that it helpsthose who are studying those areas of knowledge to understand the conceptspresented. Suspension of disbelief can be essential in producing new knowledgein mathematics, and is essential in producing new knowledge in naturalsciences. “Suspension ofdisbelief.
” Dictionary.com. Accessed January 26, 2018. http://www.
dictionary.com/browse/suspension-of-disbelief.”Do “ImaginaryNumbers” Really Exist?” Answers and Explanations — Do”Imaginary Numbers” Really Exist? Accessed January 26, 2018. https://www.
math.toronto.edu/mathnet/answers/imaginary.html.”Gravitational WavesDetected 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 “Suspensionof 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 “GravitationalWaves Detected 100 Years After Einsteins Prediction,” LIGO Lab | Caltech,, accessed January 26, 2018, https://www.ligo.caltech.edu/news/ligo20160211.4 PeninsulaDaily News, “Gravity makes waves at Port Angeles Library,” PeninsulaDaily News, May 21, 2017, , accessed January 26, 2018,http://www.peninsuladailynews.com/news/gravity-makes-waves-at-port-angeles-library/.