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January 1969

Coping With Novelty

Author Affiliations

New York
From the Departments of Psychiatry, The Roosevelt Hospital and College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York.

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1969;20(1):64-70. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1969.01740130066005

FOR THOSE so inclined, theorizing offers itself as an endlessly fascinating game. Like mountain-climbing, theorizing hardly ever presents the danger of a final resolution, even though the attainment of a partial insight from time to time enhances the interest of the game. The rule of the game is simple; it is to cover the largest possible number of observations with the smallest possible number of assumptions, according to a principle of parsimony. Wigner1 defines the objective of physics as the "explanation of nature," going on to say that explanation involves "the establishment of a few simple principles which describe the properties of what is to be explained." The ultimate goal is to reduce description to the simplest terms; Szent-Gyorgy comments, "Science tends to generalize, and generalization means simplification."

If theorizing is analogous to a game, then, to continue the mountain-climbing metaphor, the "Mount Everest"

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