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Q. Lewis, I was given an article by a conspiracy theorist friend of mine. He found the article in Discovery Magazine. It is titled “The Scientific Method is a Myth.” Here is the article https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/the-scientific-method-is-a-myth. I know you have an interest in the merging of mysticism and physics which many scientists would be skeptical of. What are your thoughts of the idea that science is a myth?
A. I read the article on the “Scientific Method is a Myth” carefully – 3 times. This is a sneaky and very sloppy article.
To say this article is chock full of cognitive biases and cherry picking-low hanging fruit ideas, from sentence to sentence, is an understatement. I love Discovery Magazine, but maybe the author can claim he was just exploring ideas, and not taking any specific position? Maybe the editors were asleep at the wheel?
Let’s begin. Please note in the following paragraph that the quotes offered are from an economist and a sociologist. Neither of these fields are considered formal sciences, so the author, could just as well have quoted from a massage therapist in Canada or a skier in Colorado for what it is worth.
Here is a quote from the article “As early as 1874, British economist Stanley Jevons (1835–1882) commented in his widely noted Principles of Science, “Physicists speak familiarly of scientific method, but they could not readily describe what they mean by that expression.” Half a century later, sociologist Stuart Rice (1889–1969) attempted an “inductive examination” of the definitions of the scientific method offered in social scientific literature. Ultimately, he complained about its “futility.” “The number of items in such an enumeration,” he wrote, “would be infinitely large.”
My comment is that the definition of the scientific method is quite specific, though the author seems to have neglected to research it beyond the superficial and critical. This author is a sneaky bastard. The term “social scientific literature” is a red herring, being that no one thinks social science is a formal science.
The formal sciences are not a myth. Are they limited? Yes. Are they a myth? No. It’s interesting in the article that the author left out Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler, Francis Bacon, Descartes and Isaac Newton; people who used an imperfect (but almost perfect mathematic language) for describing that which we experience –Formal Science.
Let me clarify what the primary categories of science are; this is embedded in a narrative on how I developed Harrison’s Applied Game Theory exploring causation and correlation (look it up) in “A Master Class” I taught.
“With a fascination that bordered on obsession, I began to view my life and the world around me systematically, as if life was millions of different games played by billions of people all intersecting at some point, through the human need to connect and create communities of common interest. The list was endless. I began with what was familiar to me exploring specific areas of thought, such as the major religions, genres in rock n’ roll, the natural sciences, and political systems. I researched hundreds of different ideas and concepts. I wrote them down and studied them, always looking for how they came into being and how they were named, defined and codified. I began to look at virtually everything systematically. I was not concerned with whether it was true, factual, or logical. I was only concerned with the idea that there was a game based system of some type with names, rules, players and referees to make the players accountable. Some of these games existed as a natural expression of logical scientific thought such as dentistry, neurobiology, chemical engineering, auto mechanics, brain surgery, or rocket science. Others were academic specialties that were not scientific in the rigid sense of the word, but were explored and studied rigorously with experts, professional organizations, journals, prizes and committees.
I researched all of these categories, disciplines and systems, and saw that I needed to organize them in some way that would enable me to see how they all intersected. I began to research how the great thinkers had organized it all, and then I began to explore the great thinkers.
I learned that to see life as a game, and not have people think I was “nuts,” would require a common language that almost anyone could understand. Of course, what would be the benefit of creating this system if no one could use it, or even understand what I was talking about? With this in mind, I began to organize the various games (game-based systems) that I came across. I was elated to learn it had been done already – by Francis Bacon hundreds of years ago. It is called science.
Francis Bacon was an English philosopher, author, lawyer, statesman, and most importantly, a scientist. Bacon, as a seeker of knowledge, came upon the idea that in order to define the quality of information or knowledge at hand, it would be extremely valuable to have a planned procedure of investigating things. As obvious as this may seem now, it was not as obvious in the late-sixteenth century. Bacon’s idea created an entirely new way for understanding the world. By asking a question and then using logic, mathematics, and systematized investigations with rigorous definitions and methodologies, he was able to create greater clarity on many things that were not clear before. Today’s inductive methodologies for scientific inquiry, often called the Baconian Method, or more simply the scientific method, have become invaluable for solving many of the mysteries of life.
So, with Francis Bacon’s basic theories as a guide, I began to explore how the various systems of scientific thought had been traditionally organized. I am sure I had been taught this in high school and college. The problem is that I slept through high school and meditated through college. So in a sense, I was re-learning what I should have learned in high school, but didn’t.
I learned that most academics place the sciences into three categories. These are not written in stone and there are many important thinkers that do not agree with this approach to defining the sciences. Nonetheless, I began with this approach because I had to begin somewhere and this approach seemed as reasonable as any other. Most of the people who even care about this, divide the sciences into one of three divisions with some cross disciplines that include elements of all three.
- Natural Sciences. These are organized categories of information that involve the study of phenomena or laws of the physical world. Among the most well-known of the natural sciences are physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, and so on.
- Formal Sciences. A “formal science” uses words and terms with very specific definitions (formal language) and combines them with deductive reasoning as a means for creating a system by which some well-formed specific formulas, rules and codes can be derived from others that are more general. Within the category of formal science is mathematics, logic, statistics, information theory and theoretical computer science. All of these use deductive reasoning, and tell us that if something is true in one game (a class of things in general), this truth applies to all legitimate players in that game (class). The key, then, is to be able to properly identify players in the game (members of the class). Mis-categorizing them will result in invalid conclusions, for example, “He is a vegan.” This is based on the logic that in the vegan game (class) a person does not consume foods that contain meat, fish, eggs, poultry, dairy or any other “animal ingredients.” Thus, if a person says, “I am a vegan,” we can have a certainty of what he or she means by this, since the meaning of the word “vegan” is very specific. The power and importance of this approach in science and certainly in game theory is that, it frees us from the need to examine the eating habits of each and every vegan we ever come across. Because of the validity of specialized and specific language combined with the deductive approach, both key elements of formal science, we are able to make an assumption that is useful, efficient and effective. Without deep exploration we can reasonably assume at what “I am a Vegan” means.
- Social Sciences. The term “social science,” like “game theory,” is an umbrella term for many different games of organized knowledge and information. Social science games, as I now call them, require that one explores aspects of human society in ways that cannot be easily explained mathematically, or by the definition of a formal science. Among the most familiar social sciences are: anthropology, communication, criminology, cultural studies, developmental studies, economics, history, linguistics, law, philosophy, political science, psychology, social network analysis, social psychology, sociology, and social work.
So there it is. The three types of sciences all organized and bundled up in a not-so-neat package. I say “not-so-neat” because many important thinkers question where something like computer science even fits the definition of what a science is. Bacon would have required real-world experiments to come to some conclusion about truth or fact. Many of the sciences that are based on the definition of a “formal science” lack any real-world experimentation to support their conclusions.”
So, is science limited? Yes, and No. Still, as far as I can see, and for the most part not how the author describes those limitations.
Here are some processes the author ignores concerning the very basics of critical thinking in the domain of formal science. If he used this approach he would understand what the scientific method is and the actual limitations of scientific thinking and science.
How anyone can think like a scientist.
- Ask a question.
- Gather evidence and statistically verifiable information (facts) and observe (research)
- Make a hypothesis (guess the answer)
- Experiment and test your hypothesis using deductive, inductive, or abductive reasoning, and Bayes Analysis
- Analyze your test results.
- Present a conclusion.
- As new information is presented that meets the standard presented in #2 rework what is organized in #3 – #7
The limitations of the scientific method would be any environment that cannot be completely controlled or at least controlled to the level that all or most of the essential variables can be measured in order to test a hypothesis. For example, ideas about God, supernatural beings, art, culture, philosophy, absolute truth, or altered states of consciousness can never be confirmed or denied, as no experiment exists that could test their presence.
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