How Do We Know?

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We have here an interesting and well written perspective on what some believe are the inherent flaws in the scientific method. While the writer’s perspective is well received and understood, personally , I do not feel the text represents a true understanding of how and why the scientific method is applied and why it’s so important. The author mentions that a blind commitment to the scientific method (called “scientism”) suggests a “closed mind”. I do disagree.

The scientific method is a process of testing hypothetical concepts. The application of this process in research in no way a suggests that ONLY the results derived through this method are valid. Instead it focuses on one very specific question at a time. Answering MANY of these specific questions will allow a scientist to now form a theory (basically an educated guess) and additional information that is gathered through peer review and third party testing either supports or rejects the original theory.

The application of a scientific method and a proper approach to scientific analysis leaves the doors wide open to corrections should new information be presented. To me, this is the epitome of “open mindedness” not a closed mind. The scientific method does not  answer the big questions in our world. It instead examines many smaller questions to separate false perspectives from facts. It does this through replication and experimentation. Those pieces are then put together and a theory formed. The new theory then spawns further tests using different approaches and as a result we end up with a very likely (but not always proven) answer.

To be considered viable, the scientific community has one main requirement. A phenomena MUST be demonstrable (i.e. repeatable) – not much to ask. Again this does not suggest that non-demonstrable things do NOT exist in our world (that would require supposition), but simply that in a world of research we can only test the things that WILL or can be replicated.

Since proving a negative is not possible. the burden of proof lies with the person making a claim. No matter how real the experience may seem to the claimant, no matter how compelling subjective evidence may be, if it can not be observed or repeated by a third party, it is not capable of being researched. That concept may be frustrating to some, but in a world with flawed human perceptions, confirmation biases and outright lies it’s the only way to work with things we “know” rather than the things we “believe”.

If we were to open the door and accept the possible existence of all “untestable” things, where then would we draw the line? By that standard, every single claim, no matter how bizarre or unlikely would need to be accepted and clearly that is not a logical approach.

Again, I appreciate the authors article and I want to present it because it represents a well written alternate view. What are YOUR thoughts?

hughcurtler

For the most part inquiring minds embrace the scientific method. They may not know exactly what that method is, but they would swear that this is the only way we really know anything for sure; it is the heart and soul of what we loosely call “common sense.”  That science has advanced civilization in numerous ways is incontrovertible — especially  scientific medicine which has prolonged life and made suffering comparatively rare.

The scientific method relies on empirical testing: seeing is believing. An investigator asks questions, suggests a possible explanation and then devises a test to determine whether the hypothesis they have come up with seems to bear out. If it does, it is regarded as true — at least until at some future date another test disproves the theory. The most reliable theories are those that can not be disproved: if no matter how hard we try we cannot dislodge…

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