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"It is more important to discover new ways of thinking about what is already known than to

discover new data or facts." To what extent would you agree with this claim? (May 2012)

Perhaps one way to assess the gaining of new knowledge is to consider two dimensions:
discovering a new way of thinking, which one may describe as the evaluation of established
fact, leading to new knowledge; and discovering new data, which, while also possibly requiring
"new" thought processes to interpret or understand, is, for the purpose of argument, distinct
from the former's use of old or recognized information in gaining new knowledge. On the whole,
where the relevance of each is relative to the other and depending on which can generate more
knowledge, I personally agree with claims that the former is to an extent more important than
the latter.

Perhaps because of the clause restricting the "data" considered when thinking in new ways, I
am more inclined to believe that being "creative" in thinking, so to speak, is more important; but
it can be said for arguing for the opposite belief that new data is what ultimately propels
knowledge forward, and not a clever reinvention of existing fact. It is, of course, pointless to say
that without any established fact from previous (nonexistent) discoveries, it would be impossible
to discover new ways of thinking in the first place; but one can assert that the limited avenue for
knowledge permitted by the restricted source of primary facts leads to finite possibilities and
knowledge derived from that source of facts. Consider, perhaps, science: in such a field where
much depends on what is detected by the senses, one cannot simply derive truths from a
limited scope of observation, due to its nature of reliance on sense perception. I recall a time in
early life that I believed that the Moon appeared exclusively in the night sky, and that by
morning, the Sun "replaced" it. I know that I would not have been able to think otherwise without
discovered a trace outline of its half-full visage at approximately 7:05 a.m. when I looked up at
the sky; or perhaps I might have discovered the true nature of the appearance of the Moon from
the Earth earlier had I learned it from someone or read a book about the subject.

Nonetheless, the element of reception through the use of the sensesin this case, sight and
hearingis not missed, and is in fact vital to "correct" my previous misconceptions. The
discovery of this new fact, made possible only through sense perception, suggests that however
new ways of thinking" may be employed, it would be an implausible feat to discover many facts
about the celestial world. Based on this, it may be said that discovering new facts or data carries
more importance in the area of natural sciences.

On the other hand, one can say that with sufficient collected data in hand, it is not so important
to discover more as it is to generate new knowledge from rethinking and remodeling data
already amassed. Mendeleev's periodic table of elements, for example, is in essence an
arrangement of the known elements in such a fashion that science can then predict the general
properties of these elements; many scientists employed sensible reasoning and logically
explored the trends that certain elements appeared to follow, and eventually the patterns
already observed were consolidated and incorporated into the periodic table. Similarly, the
renaming of celestial bodies previously labeled as planets, such as Ceres, Juno and Pluto, was
accomplished by the reconsideration of the definition of a planet as a celestial object orbiting the
Sun; having enough mass to sustain a roughly round shape; and having become the object
most gravitationally potent in its orbital area (that is, there are no other objects nearby with
similar mass to and exerting a comparable gravitational field on it). Granted, this reassessment
of the generally acceptable definition of a planet was, to some extent, brought about by the
discovery of other celestial bodies that refuted and/or raised questions about the prevalent
definition during its inception; nonetheless, current knowledge about planets was indubitably
shaped by the reorganization of the contemporary data held at the time.

In the area of mathematics, this also seems to be the prevalent notion, and the entire concept of
mathematical proving supports it. Proofs may be said to be abstract constructs, instruments
used to resolve disputes about the validity or truth of mathematical statements. The entire
process of creating a proof to any new claim in mathematics is dependent on previous
knowledge, a postulate that is already known to be true, hence the concept of new truths being
derived from previously established truths, and the creation of a long chain of proofs linking
truths to new truths. For example, for my Mathematics Higher Level Internal Assessment, I
chose to carry out an investigation studying possible alterations of the game called Nim, and
new winning strategies for such alterations. In Nim, two players take turns removing a set of
objects from separate piles containing arbitrary amounts of objects. Upon further research and
reexamination of the principles of the game, I discovered that learning the winning strategy
what move to play, what objects from which pile to removeincorporates an algorithm that
involves the use of the binary number system. The extensive proof that the algorithm always
works to win one the game involves modular arithmetic, which is based on basic arithmetic and
the concepts of remainders. Even then, the seemingly elementary arithmetic is not as
fundamental as one would think, as mathematicians have even shown the proof to the
uncomplicated 1 + 1 = 2 as a convoluted mass of text. In the end, these added postulates and
theorems will build up and (hopefully) generate a new winning formula for the alterations to the
game that I intend to investigate; and in spite of that, I know that there would be more
alterations to the game I can design, and more strategies to uncover. By and large, the viability
of the idea that mathematics, as a created entity, depends not on discovered fact but on
previously established axioms that pile up and lead to potentially infinite knowledge.

Who is to say, though, that knowledge in mathematics is infinite? When can it be said that
knowledge in this area is discovered? Who is to determine that all knowledge cannot be derived
without further exploration? One may instead say that mathematics is an already-existing
structure embedded so perfectly into the model of the universe it could not be simply the
invention of the human mind; that it is discovered through the patterns and constructions in
nature. The patterns in fractals are often said to describe real patterns observable in nature, and
are too commonplace to have been the mere fabrication of human imagination. Likewise, one
might say that, were mathematics simply discovered, each axiom and each resulting theorem
from a set of axioms are dependent irrevocably on things in the natural world, and that there is
always a need to explore these things and gain new data about them, rather than being able to
derive indefinitely a set of theorems and proofs for those theorems from a finite set of
postulates.

That said, it is only right to acknowledge the difficulty of discerning what constitutes discovery in
mathematics as opposed to a new way of thinking. Considering, for example, the polar form and
Euler form of complex numbers: although both are equally viable representations


of a complex number, they offer new identities to be derived from the choice to consider either
form; while the Euler form of a complex number zgiven by |z|e
i
, where |z| is the modulus of z
and is the argument of z, and e
i
= ciscould actually be proven by differentiating the polar
form of z (that is, z = |z| cis) with respect to , both forms are used to prove separate but
relevant mathematical axioms, theories and identities, including Euler's identity and De Moivre's
theorem. Classifying these things as simple discoveries, therefore, is not an uncomplicated
consideration, but rather dependent on the idea that mathematics is discovered.

The question of the discovery versus creation of mathematics is a large issue to consider. One
can say that, considering how remarkably fitting all the abstract theorems and postulates that
mathematics provides are in real-life situations, one is left to think that the entire universe was
designed with mathematics. I personally believe, however, that a majority of what is found in
mathematics must be created, as there are many mathematical structures and constructs that
seem to exist only within the reaches of the mathematician's logical mind and imagination. For
instance, the concept of four-dimensional space was developed through the abstract coordinate
and vector geometry, but has no proven tangible form in the physical world. The very idea of a
fourth spatial dimension goes beyond regular thought, and as such gives weight to the
argument of the creation of mathematics.

Hence, I believe that discovering new ways of thinking is of higher priority. Additionally, as close
as models can be to depicting nature, they fall short and only resemble or approach reality; and
because in the end, mathematical constructs are still just constructs. While I acknowledge the
depth of necessity of gathering new data and facts to generate new knowledge, as seen in
areas of knowledge that rely heavily on sense perception and perhaps language, I believe that,
with a basis that creating new knowledge is the main function in areas like mathematics,
thinking about and interpreting facts in different perspectives bears greater weight in adding to
the existing pool of knowledge.

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My Opinion: