Teaching ‘Epistemology’ to design students using Abbott & Costello

Ben Zweibelson, PhD
10 min readJul 29, 2022
Watch the comedic skit here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzxVyO6cpos

I have addressed in past posts and articles that in order to perform design as a process, one might be able to get away without thinking philosophically and focus on following the methods in order to accomplish some design outcome. However, this usually fails… or when the designer does hit a barrier (mental, sociological or institutional), they are stuck at “Why-centric” questions that simply are un-answerable using ‘what-how’ considerations. This, folks, is why we need to use design philosophy in order to address the deeper questions that design focuses on- innovation, change, disruption, critical reflection, experimentation and employing the artistry plus the science to fuse them into something beyond what either accomplishes independently.

“Wait a second,” many might say as we try to introduce design philosophy into the mix. “We need to keep it simple, stupid.” Or, a myriad of other tropes that in defense and security fields we tend to hear after ramping down from one conflict period or another. “Get back to the basics”, “purge us of those Ivory Tower thinkers and navel-gazers… so we can do what we are best at!” Or, one of my favorite groups of institutional defenders are those that defend military doctrine as “the most good-enough solution we have for this imperfect world… you just need to follow the doctrine more closely and you will finally get it right.” They tend to add, “but if you figure something out we don’t have in doctrine, please tell us so we can add it and then everyone benefits from the improved doctrine… which we all need to follow.” Sadly, modern military doctrine suffers from many things, including an entirely non-reflective mode of decision-making. See: https://benzweibelson.medium.com/single-loop-thinking-non-reflective-military-cycles-of-ends-and-means-c7643fe51290

This sounds a bit flippant, but I like to think of Max Planck’s statement (usually paraphrased) that lamented, “the field of theoretical physics advances one funeral at a time.” More precisely, he said: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Yet Planck was talking about scientific paradigms where the legacy (older, outdated) one is…

Ben Zweibelson, PhD

Philosopher of Conflict; Director for the U.S. Space Command’s (USSPACECOM) Strategic Innovation Group; Author of 'Understanding the Military Design Movement'.