The Frank Manifesto, Part One


Frank the Wrabbit

The film "Frank the Wrabbit" is a film about different ways of thinking about the universe. It poses questions about how we form our theories and opinions, and how we justify those theories. The theme of the film therefore falls into the philosophical field known as epistemology.

As the film-maker, I'll lay my ideological cards on the table. I'm an advocate of scientific thinking. I don't believe that everyone has to think scientifically all the time, but I do feel that everyone should understand what scientific thinking is, and be able to indulge in it occasionally.

Now "Frank" is not an instructional film; the subject is too large to be treated in a ten minute cartoon. Worse, there are no scientific thinkers in the film! There are no good examples! Noble, wise, balanced, admirable people just don't make it in animated cartoons. They are no fun.

However, various characters in the film possess components of scientific thought. They are merely incomplete.
Before examining the characters, let's take a moment to examine what scientific thinking is.


Scientific Thinking

There are two major components to scientific thinking; theory formation, and theory testing.

The process by which a theory is formed is not well understood. It may involve imagination, intuition, dreaming, or thinking about other things than the problem at hand. Whatever the process, the result should be a theory that is elegant, simple, meaningful, and consistent with what is already known. The theory should also make predictions about that which is not already known.

An Aside: Elegance and Simplicity

An Aside: Meaningful Theories.

The testing phase is equally important. A theory may look great, but is it true? The only way to find out is to subject it to rigorous testing. Create experiments which will highlight flaws in the theory. To do this requires a healthy skepticism of the theory.
Not surprisingly, the creators and testors of theories are often not the same people. There are specialists; theoreticians and experimenters. On the other hand, there are individuals who manage to combine both aspects. In any case, the theoretician and experimenter must have intellectual respect for each other's domain.

An Aside: A slightly more detailed explanation of Scientific Testing.

These few preceding paragraphs are a huge simplification; many weighty tomes have been written on the subject. Those wishing to probe a little deeper might enjoy the works of Richard Feynman, who has written several accesible books on this subject.


Real Life

Okay, so scientists use these formal methods, but in real life?
We do have to solve problems in life and a little scientific thought can be loads of help. For example, one day you turn on your radio, but you don't hear anything! Quick, formulate a theory. Here's six that popped into my mind:

1) The radio's broken.
2) The radio's not plugged in.
3) The radio station is off the air.
4) You've gone deaf.
5) Terrorists have replaced your radio with a nuclear device that just looks like a radio.
6) The Radiophonic transfundibulum is terminally fnorked.
7) All of the above.

Perhaps there are people who would fail to come up with any theory. Their radios are still silent.

Service depots are filled with folks who only thought of theory (1) but didn't test it.
Doctor's waiting rooms and lunatic asylums await those who leap to theories 4, 5, 6 & 7.

Typical Radio (Dysfunctional)

Time for some testing. Forget about 5 & 7 for now; they fail the simplicity criterion. We can always return to complicated theories if we eliminate the simpler ones.
Theory 6 is meaningless, and therefore untestable. (Or, to be more precise, it is untestable and therefore meaningless) It thus resembles many theories that are seriously proposed by Major Thinkers. Freud and Jung leap to mind. Nonetheless, it is garbage and must be ignored.
Theory 4 can be tested easily...snap your fingers. Did they make a sound? Note the elegance of the test...theory 4 gets eliminated, but the other theories remain.
I'll leave it to you to test the other theories, or even think of yet more simple theories.

An Aside: Other Theories

This may all seem obvious. If it does, you may, in fact, be a scientific thinker. My experience is that most people aren't. To test this theory, one could pull out the mouse plugs on all the computers of all your friends. My theory predicts that more people will call the manufacturer rather than plug them back in. They would prefer to appeal to authority, rather than to do a little theorizing and testing. (I do this kind of thing sometimes too.) Pulling out people's mouse plugs is also a good test of the limits of friendship!

The trouble is, most of the areas where people fail to think scientifically are larger and more important than recalcitant radios. People have philosophical, political, ethical, and social decisions to make, to name but a few genres. I don't know how they make the choices they do. Worse, neither do they.

One problem is that most people don't have the time to do all the research themselves. I, for one, don't have time to test which household cleaner leaves my bathroom floor the whitest. On faith alone, I choose Captain Scrubby. Anyway, I like that "eggshell" hue.
Often, we are hoping that someone else has had time to do a little scientific thinking on our behalf. That's our "faith". Someone, maybe the Government, has tested Viagra, Laetrile, Acupunture, Free Trade, and Airbags and found them to be good, or bad, as the case may be.

Fair enough, a little faith is sometimes necessary. But anyone who once believed that the tooth fairy (what a sicko) collects teeth for a quarter should now realize the limitations of faith.

Aside on Scientific Car Repair.

Enough philosophizing, let's get back to the characters. On to Part Two.