Are some facts superior to others?

What I have attempted to explain…is how the scientist is to set about making a selection of the innumerable facts that are offered to his curiosity, since he is compelled to make a selection, if only by the natural infirmity of his mind, though a selection is always a sacrifice…

There is a hierarchy of facts. Some are without any positive bearing, and teach us nothing but themselves. The scientist who ascertains them learns nothing but facts, and becomes no better able to foresee new facts. Such facts, it seems, occur but once, and are not destined to be repeated.

There are, on the other hand, facts that give a large return, each of which teaches us a new law. And since he is obliged to make a selection, it is to these latter facts that the scientist must devote himself.

No doubt this classification is relative, and arises from the frailty of our mind…No doubt a vaster and a keener mind than ours would judge otherwise. But that matters little; it is not this superior mind that we have to use, but our own.

Henri Poincaré, Science and Method

My wife, a zoologist by training with an undergraduate degree in biology always lament the point that in our mainstream school system, biology is increasingly about genetics, DNA and proteins rather than about ecology, wildlife and biodiversity. That is true and I have myself experienced the change over the period of 15 years in formal education system in Singapore. Ecology played a smaller and smaller role then eventually disappears from the syllabus that national exams would be testing students on.

What Poincaré talked about is that there are so much facts in the world for us to collect and learn, why do science pick on certain rather than others? The more basic a fact is, the simpler the truth, the more we observe across the world we reside in, the ‘better’ it is. Hence in biology, we prefer to study cells, or proteins rather than to look into the behaviour of an entire specie of birds – because in some sense, the generalisations we can make on the biological impact of a protein can have greater impact.

To that extent, we observe that the spread of market-based capitalism and globalisation including the integration of financial systems across the world gradually makes such knowledge more common and broadly applicable, increasing the value of economics and business knowledge. To the extent we often assume there are global business practices when there isn’t. Businesses and the way they are carried out is different across the world.

It is hence paramount perhaps to establish the hierarchy of knowledge or facts that one ought to acquire about businesses and investments in order to function well and thrive in the world today.