It is commonly known that science is a very respected term the last two and a half centuries for the most part of the world. It is very difficult to find a person who claims that he doesn’t like the scientific field. That’s why we go to universities. Most of them teach sciences and the parents are proud when their children get a degree and become educated. We esteem the thorough understanding that comes from extensive research. However, this respect doesn’t seem to be applied in practice. In every day discussions you can see people easily rejecting a scientific finding because it contradicts their personal observations. I don’t mean we shouldn’t be critical with everything but this seems a quite easy way to discard an expert. Some other times they judge a scientific finding because they don’t like it and they may even attack the messenger. Or worst, they delete it because if they accept it then they have to change something in their lives. And that’s very unsettling for modern humans.
At the same time, modern technologies and the internet have provided to people a great deal of information that previously would be practically impossible to find. At the beginning of the internet era some people thought that this would make people more knowledgable. While this is a fact for some, for many others it had the opposite effect because the amount of crap we come across every day has become even more plentiful.
First of all when we talk about science we shouldn’t confuse it with any other existing ideology: religions, political ideologies, pseudoscience, self-help healing groups and any other set of specific rules. All of the above just have an agenda. A person or some people wrote some ideas (with either a positive predisposition or not) that describe all there is. However science is much more than that. Science is the utilization of the existing knowledge and our continuous and organized strive to understand more. If you want all the answers, I’m sorry, it’s not science you should look for. Because we have recognized that in the vast openness of a tremendously huge universe there is so much more yet to be explored. But we have also seen through results that it’s our most efficient method in this exploration.
Aristotle and the Foundation of Logic
One of the greatest ancient Greek philosophers was Aristotle in the 4th century B.C. At his times he managed to gather an enormous amount of data about nature, valuable to humanity for centuries later. It is written that his ex-student, Alexander the Great funded him with a massive amount of money to be used for this purpose. It was at Aristotle’s suggestion, some think, that Alexander sent a costly expedition to explore the sources of the Nile and discover the causes of its periodical overflow. In short it was the first example in European history of the large-scale financing of science by public wealth.
At the times of Aristotle all the facts on which the physical theories of modern science are based were wholly, or almost wholly, undiscovered so a lot of his observations about nature were later debunked by science. Also, the mechanisms of the scientific experiment hadn’t yet been conceived so the only he could do was to continuously gather evidence which, as I mentioned, was extremely significant in the later development of science. But one very crucial offering that came entirely from Aristotle was a science called Logic.
Logic is in a few words the art and method of correct thinking. It is the method of every art, every discipline and every science. It is a science because it has rules such as geometry and physics and can be taught to any normal mind. It is an art because when practiced it gives to thought that unconscious accuracy that guide the fingers of a pianist in an effortless sonata, as Will Durant mentions. When you want to be logical in a serious discourse, any important term shall be subjected to scrutiny and definition. Aristotle’s ruthless methods set boundaries to the up to that time chaotic and undisciplined Greek intellect, started constructing the terminology of science and laid the basis for the acceptance of reasoning in order for a mind to be mature.
Logic is the study of ideal method in thought and research: observation and introspection, deduction and induction, hypothesis and experiment, analysis and synthesis such are the forms of human activity which logic tries to understand and guide; it is a dull study for most of us, and yet the great events in the history of thought are the improvements men have made in their ‘methods of thinking and research. ~Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy
The Scientific Method
So based on the framework of Aristotle in later years Arab scientists, Descartes, Galileo, Bacon and Newton among others formed the scientific method as we know it today. These brilliant minds taught us the most objective way to find the truth. And this objective way demands to let reality speak for itself independently of what we want or like. Its main pillar was the experiment.
I have multiple times mentioned in this blog that is difficult for the human mind to come to fully rational observations and decisions. We are focused on what we need more and this catches our eye. We observe what mostly matters to us. We make choices according to our emotions. We idealize facts. There exist many logical fallacies that we every day make that we don’t even recognize. Just take a look at the list of cognitive biases and form an idea about how many mistakes we make in our thinking when we process information.
That’s why the wisdom of great men strived to create processses that promote infinite critical thinking and absence of direct interaction between us and what is measured. So in contrast to all other ideologies no one “believes” in science. There hasn’t ever been a single scientist that respects themselves who has claimed that they know everything. Neither has offered their opinion before the conclusion. You see the difference? They just follow the scientific method when searching for the truth. There are 7 basic steps that are briefly the following:
- Make an observation
- Conduct research
- Form hypothesis
- Test hypothesis
- Record data
- Draw conclusion
I will try to explain with a simple example.
Let’s say a friend of yours tells you that if you pray you will have more money. The first step is to not accept it only because you love your friend. Instead, if you want to find out if this is true first you need to research the existing knowledge from the experts which is the part of your research. If you still believe that possibly your friend’s observation is true you have to experiment. You have to leave all the other circumstances of your life unchanged and start praying for a certain period. For the same period you should be tracking your wealth. At the end of that period you should analyze the development of your wealth and see if it was affected by the prayer. Then, in case the beginning hypothesis is confirmed, you have to run the experiment again in order to validate it.
The Scientific Method in Everyday Life
As you can see even though it is a scientific method, it doesn’t apply only to scientific experiments that are handled by scientists. Instead, as in the example, it is also a way of thinking that should be applied to every single part of our lives. The sad thing is that the majority of people after the first step they skip all the-in-between and reach the conclusion. There isn’t any experiment, any analysis, any review and so on. Neither they measure anything nor they listen to what the others that have measured have to say. In other words they don’t let reality speak but form a certain opinion about the issue.
People love to come to conclusions, to provide answers about literally any possible idea. It is difficult to find people who accept their ignorance about something. Of course this has to do with how they want to present themselves. For example, most women wouldn’t have any problem being called ignorants about cars but what about good relationship skills? On the other hand most men wouldn’t have any problem to accept their ignorance on hair-dressing but is very difficult to accept that many times women work on them with subtle and intelligent ways. The problem is that they are engaged in fixed thinking. They are afraid that if they appear not to know enough on the issue this characterizes them forever. Whereas a growth mindset is never afraid of this. Because it accepts life as a long-term process where the achievement of understanding comes as a result of trial and error. So it doesn’t recognize anything as “failure”, just opportunities for corrections in the process.
At the same time when you read books (which I hope you do) and learn new things, when a discussion with your friends or parents goes to a subject that you know something more that contradicts their already set conclusions (remember the skip of the steps I mentioned) you may be through awkward situations. It’s not that simple to destroy their reality because you do it in two ways. First, you are coming armed with arguments so you are indirectly pushing them to change their beliefs; because most people respect the logical arguments. It’s only that the mind of the receiver often deletes them in order to avoid the exit of the comfort zone, a process that makes their reaction unavoidable, typically through anger. And secondly, you show to them that you go to “places” and that you have been further than what they wanted to believe was the end and there felt safe for them. The latter doesn’t imply any predisposed rivalry, it just seems to be the nature of the things that most of the times drives us and especially when we can’t recognize it.
Have you ever participated in a discussion where all the arguments you presented were easily rejected from the other side but without any substantial one? I am sure you have. And have you noticed the other side feeling confident that is doing ok and holds a firm opposition to you? If that was making you angry, I am telling you that it shouldn’t anymore. Because it is their own minds that hold them back from understanding their inefficiency in debating on the issue. Once again we will look at the mechanisms that mother nature has provided us.
In 1999 psychologist David Dunning and his graduate student Justin Kruger published the study Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments What was later named the Dunning Kruger effect is a cognitive bias where unskilled individuals in a subject not only are prone to poor decisions but are also prone to poor assessment of their real abilities. More specifically:
Dunning and Kruger proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:
- fail to recognize their own lack of skill
- fail to recognize genuine skill in others
- fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy
- recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill
Dr. Dunning and Kruger found that the more unskilled is a person the more they overestimate their actual abilities in that sector. Their lack of knowledge leads them to mistaken evaluations which they would of course take back after training for that skill. At the same time the opposite seems to be happening, too. The top performers in a skill tend to underestimate their abilities in that sector because they erroneously assume that tasks which are easy for them are also easy for others. Moreover, knowledge “opens” the mind to multiple “knowledge” making them recognize better how much more has to be explored.
As we said before, logic and reasoning are also trainable skills. You understand now why I was telling you that there isn’t any reason to be angry? Because this behavior is a by-product of the natural laws which we all abide. Two things seem to be happening; either, due to your skill level, you erroneously assume that the other person is in a similar level or the other person just can’t understand their incompetency or many times both. At the same time you may be accused as absolute even though they haven’t offered any idea to debunk you. This makes me wonder? “How can you not be absolute in that sense when you don’t have any specific idea to talk about other than yours?” Anyway. So every time you get in a discussion in which someone is self-contradictory but blames you for this, just change the subject. Be positive and whisper to yourselves: “Dunning-Kruger”.
Teachings of the Scientific Method for our Lives
The scientific method tells us exactly what steps we should follow in our lives in order to find out what works best for us and how much it helps.
–Research: Whatever you are interested about perform a research. Find the most succesful people and read their blogs and books. Ask as many questions as you can to the people who are better than you. Look at yourself in this sector. In what do you think you are good and what do you think you aren’t? Try to find what other people did and succeeded.
–Form hypothesis: Pick specific things that you now believe will get you to where you want. Write them down one by one. Remember, we aren’t sure yet if they have the effects we think.
–Self-experiment and measure: This is the most important step of all. Form a method that can be measurable. In the example with prayer and wealth they can both be tracked. If you have a blog change one thing and see what happens with the visits for a certain period. Do you see any change? Have they increased? Have they decreased? It’s very important in order for the experiment to be succesful to change only one factor at a time. Experiment as much as possible. Just be careful of the incurring risks. If they aren’t high, experiment as much as possible. Even if you lose in the short-term, the knowledge and experience is valuable for the long-term. There can’t be any other way in growth.
–Replicate: Try again the experiment. You have already experience through the previous performance to improve the circumstances and make it even more valid which means that it describes the truth better.
-Try to self-debunk: Even when you have reached the same conclusion many times often remember to try to debunk yourselves. Read books with the writings that contradict your beliefs. Talk to people who offer interesting counterarguments. Even try to ask questions to yourselves that pressurize your existing beliefs. I mentioned the cognitive biases before. Leave open the perspective to have judged mistakenly due to, who knows, maybe one of them.
And apart from the practical benefits there are also psychological ones. Your replicated experiments that have reached the same conclusion will make you confident when the unavoidable social pressure arises. When you go out and make claims that for many of your friends are invalid or when you behave in a way that others can’t find meaning, the scientific method can keep you going. When you have seen for multiple times the same conclusions arising then, not only it is difficult for the others to debunk you, but is also difficult to lose your courage in your beliefs about the things that are actually working. We have multiple influences that most of the times don’t move us forward and we, as social primates, is difficult to remain uninfluenced. However, your objective conclusions will be there like a lighthouse maintaining your focus in the usually stormy sea of your emotions during the process of your development.
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