Health – Curiosity is key

Philosophers like Aristotle and Isaac Newton (among many others) all had one thing in common: the near obsessive desire to form a scientific method of enquiry that could be used to understand our place in the world. It started with experimentation and further investigations to prove, or disprove a theory.

This method of thinking almost always led to failure. However, on rare occasions it led to a breakthrough in understanding. Think gravity. Think Pythagoras. Think penicillin. Think germ theory.

Many centuries later, this continues to be the most reliable method of understanding the complex nature of the world we live in. A hierarchy of wisdom started to form. The repeated attempts and failures of an experiment or idea represent data. This is full of errors, inaccuracies and assumptions that have to be filtered out in order to become information. This information could be positive or negative, and used to either disprove or validate an idea. It is also used to evaluate the ‘who, what, when and where’ of an idea.

For this information to have relevance, the ‘how’ must be answered – at which point it becomes knowledge. Knowledge is how we apply the information to different contexts in order to create goals or ideals. 

The final question we must ask is the ‘why’, to elevate this knowledge to the level of wisdom. The ‘why’ is the combination of knowledge applied at the right time, with the right people, in the right context. Experience is required here, which is why wisdom is so often passed down from old to young.

Pulitzer award winning author Edward E. Olsen is quoted saying “we are drowning in information while starving for wisdom,” and to my surprise he said this in 1991. He clearly knew what was coming before the dawn of the internet.

So why is all this important in healthcare? The scientific method and wisdom hierarchy work in tandem – essentially we always reserve the right to get smarter! The scientific method is, in fact, a truly humble endeavour, for there is no absolute truth. Should the evidence change through enquiry, so should our perspectives and actions.This should not be seen in a negative light. On the contrary, the alternative is dogma, opinion and rhetoric. 

On top of this, it is crucial that we do not confuse data or information with wisdom. Unfortunately the internet is poor at differentiating wisdom – this is an almost entirely human ability. Perhaps this will change as the world of artificial intelligence (AI) becomes increasingly sophisticated. For now, at least, there are certain domains where the human mind remains superior.

In physiotherapy and healthcare we must adopt the Japanese word Shoshin, or ‘the beginner’s mind’ – constantly seek to learn, understand and embrace curiosity. 

And remember – Dr Google can be wrong, as often as it is right.