Last night I dived back into an old favourite: R.M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance, and found an anecdote that summarises a point I've been longing to make: why naive observation is a good thing. Here it is: a teacher asks his students to write an original essay about their home town. One student finds that she cannot write anything original about this abstract concept, so the teacher tells her to focus on an actual house in the town. She notices an interesting brick and is immediately able to say original things about this brick and work outwards from there.
I like this vignette because it illustrates a problem I have with the tendency in modern physics, art and other subjects, to model things that cannot be directly observed or tested. For example, abstract art, or, in physics: the big bang. For me, studies of the big bang represent humans hubristically trying to impose whatever is going on inside their heads (standard physics) on the universe, rather than humbly allowing the universe to change what is going on in their heads (ie: by learning). The solution is to allow reality to inspire new ideas, most efficiently by looking for observational anomalies closer to home (interesting bricks) without presupposing any theory.