Thursday, August 23, 2007
Why Science Works / Is Unsettling
Science is the way we have evolved to find true relations in the material world. It can be said that it is virtually an unnatural act performed by elitists. We are naturally pattern seekers, whose perceptions have evolved or been learned in order to survive and pursue our wants and needs in the world we inhabit and have inhabited throughout the natural history of our species. There are scores of empirically verified illusions and cognitive biases to which we are vulnerable. We have evolved to function more or less adequately in a world of ambiguity, but in which decisions must be made and actions taken. In contrast, science depends on methods designed to reduce error, to discover error, and to encourage discovery. In turn, the interpretation of the results of applying methods of this kind depends on logic and the cumulative consistency of the findings of other applications of similar methods to related problems. The table shown is from a lovely book entitled Kindly Inquisitors by Jonathan Rauch (1993). On the left are the characteristics that assist in finding true relations in Nature, while on the right are aspects of the same characteristics that people who have not been enculturated in a scientific discipline find unsettling. Doing science is unnatural because practitioners take careful steps to control their biases, and the application of logic and the comparison of current findings to related findings require a long personal history of disciplined learning.