Making assumptions to make progress

I’ve recently been reading Anna Basso’s Aphasia and Its Therapy.  I found this passage interesting where she states that it is sometimes necessary to make assumptions, whether or not one believes them to be true or can prove them to be true, in order to progress:

The use of pathological data for the study of the normal cognitive system is not straightforward; it requires some assumptions.  The main assumptions of cognitive neuropsychology are the modularity assumption, the universality assumption, and the subtraction assumption.  Cognitive neuropsychologists do not assert that these assumptions are true; they do, however argue that they have to be true in order for cognitive neuropsychology to be possible.

I think this struck me because a modularity hypothesis is not something I’m sold on (I don’t ascribe to modularity; however, research on aphasia does keep me on the fence about it).  But, I buy what Basso says here.  I don’t doubt that settling on an assumption like modularity has allowed researchers to move on make practical progress for people with aphasia.

I think this is applicable regardless of the area of study a person engages in.  In the sciences, the assumption has to be made that human beings and rats are similar enough for things that work on rats to work on humans because it’s difficult, if not impossible, to run some experiments on humans.  In the study of Shakespeare or the Bible, someone may believe we have no idea who the real author of a text was, but we have to assume a context for an author in order to analyze the text even if we know that assumption could not be entirely true.

Of course, at some level we want to make as certain as possible that our assumptions are defensible.  However, sometimes we have to make assumptions to make progress.