Theory and Experience

The torch of theory must illuminate the lessons of experience.

André Roubo, 1790

Flashlight illumination

What does the torch of theory tell us?

It’s not enough to only be pragmatic and say, “that worked, let’s do it again” or “we succeeded, let’s move on”. The practical considerations are important, but not overwhelmingly.

Shouldn’t we also ask ourselves why it worked? Maybe we got the results we expected. Why (or why not)? What if we had done something just a little bit differently? What if the conditions had not been the same?

Or maybe it didn’t work. Maybe we failed at what we were attempting and instead discovered something unexpected and wonderful. (Perhaps we just failed.) Why? What conditions led up to that result, that experience? Why was it unexpected?

What have others said about what we’re doing? Did we research the goal, the technique, the tools? Did we understand the process we set in motion?

Isn’t it enough that we achieved the results we were after?

No. We must also understand the “why” behind the results. Only then will “the torch of theory . . . illuminate the lessons of experience.”

Readers, is this something that you do? If so, do you ask yourself these questions before you set out or after?

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