Limits of Empirical Method LO5885

Dave Birren, MB-5, 608-267-2442 (
Wed, 28 Feb 1996 09:10 CST

Replying to Ron Davison's post, Limits of Empirical Method LO5875:

Ron said:

>There will never be empirical support for a transformation.
>The Wright brothers couldn't point to any data on heavier-than-air flight
>-- they simply had to work towards certain principles....
>Consider the possibility that when we work from ideals, possiblities,
>principles, or desire, we step into the possibility of transformation;
>when we search for empirical support for a direction, we merely reinforce
>the past.

Leonardo da Vinci was the first modern aerodynamic engineer (we all know
what happened to Icarus). He had basic flight principles down fairly
well, though in his time there hadn't been enough experimentation done to
reveal the concept of lift (a la the Bernoulli principle that drives
airplanes and sailboats).

By the time of the Wright brothers, many successful gliders had been
built, including bi- and tri-level gliders and the basic design of today's
single-post hang glider (this information is courtesy of my older brother,
a glider pilot with over 500 flights). So it seems to me that the
transformation that the Wright brothers get credit for is really only the
application of lightweight technology to a proven concept. Sounds like
empiricism to me. Remember, those guys weren't theoreticians; they were
bicycle mechanics and tinkerers, the kind of people who live in the world
of experiment and adaptation. They didn't have a single original idea,
except for their faith that powered flight was possible. I'd bet that
without solid evidence that gliders worked, as well as a variety of
designs to choose from, the name Wright would be known only for silver

I don't want to seem cynical here, but to advance the proposal that in
recorded history there have been very, very few truly original ideas.
Humans are far more adaptable than they are original. That's how we
generally show our creativity, by assembling old ideas in new ways, which
is empiricism at its best.


David E. Birren Phone: (608)267-2442
Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources Fax: (608)267-3579
Bureau of Management & Budget E-mail:

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be
to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
(from T. S. Eliot's "Little Gidding")

-- (Dave Birren, MB-5, 608-267-2442)

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <> -or- <>