Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Three Levels of Science

Level 1: Honest, common, and simple.
We all start out this way.  The thought that goes along with it is "I'm not a scientist, but I can figure stuff out."  We start figuring stuff out as soon as we are sentient.  We do pattern matching because we have wills and desires and quickly identify intentions that lead us to their fulfillment. We see people walk and we want to do that, so we work on being taller. We hold on to things so we can get on our feet.  We fall down.  We learn.  We put things in our mouths to find out what they are like and whether or not we want to eat them.  The truth is, we are little scientists until something comes along to suppress curiosity.

It's almost automatic that babies and children do seemingly random things (play) and observe the results in order to figure things out.  We don't realize that's what we're doing, but we most certainly do it, and we do figure things out.

Level 2: Research, Test, and discovery knowledge.
"Scientific fact" is composed of theories that haven't yet been disproved. To be honest, which I'll get to in a few paragraphs, we ought to admit that these so-called "facts" are working assumptions. This second level of science is filled with dishonesty.  When we research, we pretend that the inductive (statistics-based) reasoning upon which all scientific "fact" is based, is actually deductive reasoning.  We pretend that the axioms that form the foundation of a good scientific theory are the truth.  We interpret the research and believe the researchers when they claim that their experiments prove that a theory is true.  It's a mistake.

Experiments are successful when they demonstrate that a hypothesis is false.  Science is the process of elimination and creation.  Create a hypothesis and then work to prove it wrong.  If it's a good hypothesis, it will be difficult or impossible to prove wrong.  The difference between difficult and impossible is that a hypothesis that happens to be correct is impossible to prove wrong.  How slightly do you imagine such a hypothesis would need to be changed so that it's no longer correct?  That slight difference, which we can't see because we aren't God, is the difference between impossible and difficult.  Maybe we are God, but somehow, we decided not to have access to the kind of knowing that Level two scientists pretend to have.

Level 3: We Don't Know, but we have Working Assumptions.
The working assumption aspect of science is fully appreciated and therefore honesty returns here in level three. We use our working assumptions until someone shows us an experiment that makes us change them.  We stop claiming to know things and instead present our experience, memory, and interpretation.  We admit that we don't get to "know" in the way level two science claims.  We respect the logic that a hypothesis can be proven wrong, but not right. We understand that most questions that imply only two possible answers are hiding something.

I have been preaching about the value of doubt for a few months. It seems that I have assimilated the idea quite deeply.  I am often quite a bit more unsure of myself than I remember being earlier in my life. In one of my speeches, I described how doubt leads to testing, which can lead to confidence.  I'm lucky that, as my preaching about the value of doubt makes me more doubtful, even of myself, I have the confidence that I can figure things out when I need to, and my guesses will be good enough.

There is a kind of terror that goes along with experiencing evidence that shows something we "know" to be wrong.  If you've ever experienced cognitive dissonance, then you've been close to that terror. I feel largely immune to it. I invite you to follow that link and see if it offers you anything that will enhance your own immunity to it.

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