2020 Vol. 84(1) 114-129
Etzel Cardeña, Ph.D.
Tolerance of the Unknown: Negative Capability, the Problem of Demarcation, and the Truzzi-Gardner Dialogue
Renaud Evrard Bevis Beauvais
University of Lorraine Independent Researcher
The poet John Keats coined the term negative capability to describe the kind of open mindedness that is capable of tolerating the unknown or only half-known. He also described a similar idea regarding our ability to disregard our own knowledge and allow the mind to become a thoroughfare for all thoughts. This capability may be considered from the perspective of the psychology of science as an epistemic virtue, which plays an important role within the scientific study of anomalous phenomena or what might be more succinctly termed anomalistics. Have scientists developed sufficient negative capability to deal adequately with the claims of the paranormal? As an illustration, we analyze the role of negative capability within the recently published correspondence between sociologist Marcello Truzzi and mathematician and science journalist Martin Gardner. Gardner defended a kind of hardline skepticism favoring prejudice and pejorative labels whereas Truzzi promoted a softer skepticism with more symmetry and a courteous effort toward those who strive diligently to follow the rules of science. Both forms of skepticism have different epistemological grounds and this inner-demarcation is analyzed through the perspective of the psychology of science and its assessment of individual’s epistemic vices and virtues. This inner-demarcation has an impact on the wider issue of demarcation between science and pseudoscience. We conclude that negative capability should be a salient factor in future research and may be encouraged and developed by the educational opportunities provided by anomalistics and its characteristic skeptic-proponent dialogues.
Negative capability, skepticism, psychology of science, Marcello Truzzi, Martin Gardner