Scientific Method?

Some worthy scientists subscribe to the religious idea of gazing at the universe with a sense of wonder and awe, but one suspects this to be an occasional experience for the average researcher. Lately they seem to spend the bulk of their time fulminating about religion, its deceptions and ill consequences. They call this atheism. Science should question itself more and worship itself less. The smug first principle – ‘We may not know everything but we have the sole means to know anything’ – remains unproved. It does not, unfortunately, remain unassumed. And it is a dangerous, ugly, even bigoted assumption.

(Buddha is an Atheist, my book, covers this ground more thoroughly, but from a different perspective, in the Fraud and Peer Review sections.)

If such a man of knowledge engaged in wide-eyed wonder, would he call such a moment ‘working’? And if not, why not? It seems the best use of his time. If he cannot do it as a legitimate job task, then it is not part of his work. The meaning of this obvious statement is that these people are failing to utilize their mind fully. They are discarding an invaluable tool of research and inquiry: naked mind. Or you may call it by its activity: direct perception.

It is the silent brother of logic. It carries equal force. Perhaps greater. It cannot be seen, proven or understood in logical terms. Yet it cannot be denied, for to deny it is to affirm it. Only a consciousness can make a denial. The essence of consciousness is awareness, which is the decoding of the phrase naked mind. It is that which perceives. Judgment is unnecessary. So are assumptions, if indeed they differ from judgments. Mind has only one necessary criteria.[1] It must perceive. The percept can be itself. This is a difficult, but worthwhile game. To all scientists – Study your own mind. All doors of knowledge can be opened with this single key. If you would know anything, you must know yourself. Failing that, you will suffer confusion. It will be there, in a subtle way, in all of your endeavors.

This claim on relative reality has the following evidence – You are the sum of your experience, a stream of conscious moments aggregated and edited which names itself a person. (Perhaps we should throw in the physical body here to avoid an argument.) If this sum of internal experience is misguided in any fundamental way (and what does that even mean), then that bias will creep in through the interconnectedness of all things, or the magnificent linkages of the brain, if you need the succor of that world-view. Strike confusion at the root. Study your own mind. Understanding this one, all things are possible.

Dreadnought materialists point to valid and manifold accomplishments of science as if they had created life itself from a seed. If science, whatever that is, is unable to create life, then it does not understand it. Does it lack the raw materials? No, they are everywhere. Does it lack the tools? No, what activities of nature in the current conception of life’s creation are not attainable? Science claims to comprehend life, but there is no pudding for this proof. No single-celled life form has issued from the hand of man, much less an erect bipedal with a five-pound brain capable of sight, language, and a perplexing belief in God. The failure is one of understanding.

Which brings us to the Scientific Method proper. It is, firstly, overly restrictive. Second, it is not how science is done. One of the missing factors in all accounts of scientific method (that I found) is study. The researcher needs to base their experiment and hypothesis upon past ideas. This seems obvious, but science does not happen in a vacuum. It relies on previous knowledge. However, if the previous knowledge is flawed then the hypothesis and the conclusions drawn will suffer from the extension of the same flaw. Study is of course a necessary component of the scientific method. As such, it should be acknowledged as part of the method. This is one of the critiques: the scientific method is not consistent.

Here is the brief form of the scientific method from wikipedia:

1. Define the question

2. Gather information and resources (observe)

3. Form hypothesis

4. Perform experiment and collect data

5. Analyze data

6. Interpret data and draw conclusions that serve as a starting point for new hypothesis

7. Publish results

8. Retest (frequently done by other scientists).

Steps 6 goes back to 3 until satisfaction is found.

One of the problems with this method is that random, non-experimental observations are excluded. In other words, we cannot simply look at something with an open mind, learning from it without a prior question (step 1). We have to have a question. If information comes to us randomly, it is not valid because it is not produced under the schema – hypothesis/theory leading to experiments to test the theory. Another way of looking at this problem is that the practice of observation only has meaning in the context of testing the theory.

Number 2 above makes no sense. How is it that ‘gather information and resources’ is equivalent to observe? Why is ‘observe’ relegated to a parenthetical activity and randomly connected to a seemingly unrelated activity? Why is ‘observe’ in a non-repeating part? Why is there no step for designing experiment – the most conceptually difficult and creative part?

The fundamental problem is that this method claims it is the only way for science to proceed and if it does not proceed by this method, science it is not. If one takes it literally, then the work is to formulate a question, then observe, then hypothesize, experiment, analyze, interpret, adjust hypothesis, and circle around hypothesis to interpretation until satisfied.

But what if the initial question is wrong? The scientific method is said to be rigorous, meaning it can’t be violated. This paint by numbers approach locks our theoretical researcher, trying to live by the good code, into a futile answer to the wrong question. It sounds like a non-problem, as in, who would do that, but it is a valid consequence of an overly rigid code. This is more of a theoretical example of a deep-seated issue: science does not operate by fixed laws, but by unrestrained investigation. This leads to a scientists quandary – without a theory, they have no place to go. Once a theory is proven wrong, they’re stuck. It’s a more common problem in new fields without a broad theoretical base to explore. Additionally, the need to have a theory in order to experiment causes theories to be hastily cobbled together so that money can fund the research. The scientists are then stuck testing a bad theory. It happens more than one might guess.

Experimenting without a theory is better than with a bad theory. One can revise a fundamentally flawed theory all one wants; it will remain flawed if the most basic concept is misguided.

Science is not what many claim it is. A genuine researcher should be curious, constantly investigating their world. No initial question or problem, no hypothesis is necessary to do this. And the problem with the need for a hypothesis is that it frames the observation, channeling it into a predetermined direction. This could be subtle or gross, but once it is framed, an exclusion occurs outside the frame. Many great discoveries have happened by accident.  Unrelated results may arise speaking to a totally different theory in a different field. Our intrepid junior scientist, trained in the classic ‘method’ will ignore, discount, or not even notice these results. If one goes in with a predetermined hypothesis, that is the literal instruction. The problem with the literal method is tunnel vision.

In other words, if a researcher examines these things, they aren’t utilizing the scientific method. They are not working to strictly gather data around their hypothesis. It’s easy to think of this as merely a side effect, but it’s not. It’s a principal effect.[2] It is the unspoken philosophy pushing science, the fundamental method that ‘drives’ progress. Except it does not. Science happens outside the method.

Another problem from the stone tablets of science is that many, if not most, hypotheses are revised not by experiment and observation, but by mathematical and logical means.

A fourth problem is that it eliminates all possibility of intuitive leaps. Where is imagination (which Einstein famously claimed was more important than knowledge) in the great formulation? It also de-emphasizes surprising evidence that would suggest a radical new direction. Being open to the unexpected greatly speeds up the process of understanding. If these are excluded, as the rigorous method says they must be, then science limps with a peg leg. It is a grinding procedure. Certainly much of scientific validation occurs this way. Great discoveries do not.

Archimedes moment of Eureka is non-scientific. There was no hypothesis, no formal experiment, only an accidental solution to a problem. The method has no mention of the life-blood of science: creativity.

Another difficulty of the hypothesis-experiment-data-analyis-repeat (hedar) model is that an experiment can produce no new information. It can only confirm or deny the initial hypothesis. Implicit in the modern view of method is that the scientist is trying to disprove the hypothesis. Therefore, confirming or other evidence cannot add to the hypothesis. Only negative information is meaningful. If the results are not in disagreement with theory, they simply are recorded as confirmation.

To learn from one’s experience, theory is unnecessary. It actually interferes. Animals learn from their experience. It’s how we survive and thrive as a species. The point is not that science is not really finding things out – it certainly is. The point is that the best scientists do not really use the scientific method in any but the loosest sense. Those who adhere rigorously to the method can waste years.[i]

The goal of scientific testing is one of three – confirm, disprove, or test theory openly. If disproving is the goal, then what does one do with confirmatory results? They have no place, but they are valid and cannot be discarded. If one tests to confirm the problem simply reverses. Openly testing still misses the mark of actual science. What of astronomers looking for planets? Are they testing the theory that planets exist elsewhere? Of course not. Are they collecting data to revise a hypothesis about the existence of planets? No. They’re just looking for planets. They aren’t trying to change the theory of celestial mechanics. They’re creating a map of the universe. Most people instantly recognize it as science, but it has no place in the method.

A serious problem is the response to a failure of the experiment to support the hypothesis. According to strict method, we take the data and revise the hypothesis. No scientist does this. An incorrect theory is only one possible explanation. They examine for other faults first. An incorrect experiment is just as likely. It could be that the particular hypothesis (part of the theory) being tested is incorrectly formulated. In other words, it does not reflect the actual hypothesis intended. To say a hypothesis is poorly stated is different from saying it is incorrect.

The experiment itself could have been flawed, a quartz watch reflecting light in a photon receptor unintentionally. The parameters could have been set up wrong, the emitter beam set to 11 instead of 10. The observational situation could have been flawed, either the collection apparatus, or the data recorded improperly, partially, or the wrong set. Our interpretation could be incorrect. The hypothesis being wrong is only one possibility.

In short, the beloved ‘scientific method’ is really a method, and perhaps not even the best, for substantiating theory given numerous conditions. The method is certainly not about creativity or imagination – those things are embarrassing to science. Unfortunately, they are necessary.

[1] This looks like an assumption to me.

[2] Side effect is a null phrase. There are only effects. Unintended or undesired effect is a better phrase.

[i] scientific method

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