Journey 04 - SCIENTIFIC METHOD FOR DUMMIES
Journey part 4, a straightforward discussion on what the Scientific Method is....
Journey 04 - SCIENTIFIC METHOD FOR DUMMIES View more...
Scientists have written little about scientific method. The only book on the subject written by a scientist that I know about is STRONG INFERENCE, INFERENCE, written by a biologist. He draws a distinction between hard science (physics, biochemistry, biochemistry, geology, astronomy) and soft science (psychology and sociology). sociology). The hard sciences use strong strong inference to set up decisive either-or either-or experiments, while the soft sciences rely on weak statistical correlations. Scientists will tell tell you there is nothing all that complicated about scientific method. For them, it is no more than common sense. They learn it by example, example, handed down from Nobel Prize winner to Postdocs to graduate students students or medical students. It would help non-scientists if we also had it written down. For one thing, it would greatly clarify the disputes between the forbidden sciences and the Psi-cops. If we had a verbal statement that scientists could accept, the intellectual history of the West West might be quite different. I am going to attempt it. I begin with one basic assertion: scientific method is pure logic. It makes no assumptions about reality. reality. If it did, it would just be another religion. Shade tree mechanics, mothers with crying babies, gardeners, an d even the master detective himself, Sherlock Holmes all use Scientific Scientific method. If the baby is crying, we first see if it it is wet. No. Hungry? No. Is a pin or other object sticking the baby? No. Needs to burp? No. Maybe the baby is bored. Get out the stroller; take the baby for a walk in in the park. The crying stops. Problem solved. The key thing is to see scientific method as problem solving. The problems may be varied and abstract. Newton solved all sorts of problems, having to do with with the tides, and the trade winds, winds, the flight of cannon balls, the working of pendulum clocks, and indeed, inde ed, the motion of everything in the heavens and on Earth. The genius and humanity of science lives in a certain kind of curiosity. curiosity. Thousands of people over thousands of generations must have walked past cliffs showing geological unconformities, without thinking about it, without wondering about it, without caring about it. In the 18th Century, a Scotchman named James Hutton wandered past just such a cliff, and stopped to wonder, to question, and to imagine what might have happened. The top formation showed horizontal layers of marine limestone and shale. Hutton and others before him thought thought the processes of sedimentation going on at the present time could produce these horizontal la yers in some ancient ocean or shallow sea. Below the first formation was one where the layers layers were nearly vertical. vertical. Such boundaries between clearly different formations formations are examples of what geologists call an unconformity. unconformity. Hutton realized a huge gap in time must have been missing. The second formation must also also have been laid down in horizontal layers by sedimentation, then uplifted in a mountain range that was then worn away awa y by erosion and eventually found itself on the bottom of the ocean again, to receive the top formation that was once again raised up as mountains that must have in turn been worn down by erosion into the gentle hills hills of Scotland. It was Hutton who first gave us geological time. time. As he said about geological time, there was “no sign of a beginning, no prospect of an end.”
Below the second formation was a third, with smooth arches and folds, and different minerals. Hutton thought (correctly) that both the folding and the transformation of sedimentary rocks into other kinds of rock could only have happened in great heat, deep within the Earth. These are the pictures conjured up in Hutton's imagination by looking at a cliff. Sometimes being a scientist is just being curious about things that other people see, but do not wonder about. Scientific method does not require math, laboratories, or explanation. Nor does it require double blind experiments, reported in peer-reviewed journals. It is not limited limited to the visible and tangible. Those are just the "accidents" of 19th and 20th Century academic science. science. We have a problem. We try to solve it, whether it is the motion of the planets, unconformities in geological formations, or the spectrum of thermal radiation. Scientific method requires reproducibility, reproducibility, veridical details, and rigorous tests to rule out all the known alternatives. A well-established well-established theory is one that survives alone amidst continued rigorous testing and expansion of its range of application. We We call this "scientific proof," not to be confused with "mathematical proof." Veridicality is a concept that applies to facts. A fact is really an interpretation of experience and is something like a hypothesis in miniature, since it is necessary to rule out alternative interpretations. Veridicality has no yardstick, but it does have various degrees. Typically Typically,, a data set will have data of widely varying veridicality. veridicality. To establish the existence of an improbable phenomenon, the data set as a whole must have perfect veridicality, capable of ruling out every possible alternative, including ones that are themselves themselves hypothetical, improbable, rare or non-existent. That is what the landed occupant cases do for UFOs, and that is what Ian Stevenson's lifetime of work does for reincarnation. The other thing scientific method requires is reproducibility. reproducibility. This does not mean it must be possible to do it in a laboratory. laboratory. One cannot make rock flow like hot plastic in the laboratory, laboratory, yet field studies show that it happens in nature. One cannot create a large quasar in the laboratory (be glad of that!), nor a supernova, nor a galaxy. galaxy. Field observations show us many instances of plastic plastic deformations in layered rock, and many examples of quasars, and many supernovae, though none in our own galaxy during the age of science. It is all too easy to make mistakes in scientific scientific studies. It is reproducibility that allows us to catch hoaxes. The Piltdown man is one of the most famous. famous. It was a cranium of a primitive man man with a large brain and ape-like teeth, found In Situ, in the early years of the 20th Century. Century. However, as fossils of early hominids began to appear in museums, they were not at all like Piltdown man. The real hominids had small brains, upright posture, and human teeth and hands. Finally, Finally, about midcentury, century, a closer look was tak en of Piltdown man and it was shown to be a forgery, forgery, though who did d id it and why is unknown. When Sherlock is examining a crime scene, he is not making making deductions. He is making up hypotheses to account for this smudge of boot black on the mantel, the sailor's knots holding the damsel in distress, the bit of candle wax on the carpet, and the three glasses of port, one of which has no dregs. The police notice these things, but to them they mean nothing. Sherlock Sherlock is dreaming up fantastic theories involving a sailor in collusion with the the said damsel. He knows of ways to check this hypothesis. hypothesis. That's where the the deduction comes in. Sometimes more than one theory will
fit the facts, and he has to rule out alternatives. Sometimes he fails to come up with the correct hypothesis until more crimes are committed or more facts emerge. Eliminating the alternatives is purely deductive logic, applied first to the processing of experience into scientific fact, and secondly in the proof of theories. The alternatives considered must have testable consequences. That is wh y Creationism is not a scientific theory, theory, and why “Creationist Science” is an oxymoron. Ian Stevenson ruled out the alternatives, leaving reincarnation as the only explanation for the young children who spontaneously recall former lifetimes, in the concluding chapter of his book, TWENTY CASES SUGGESTIVE SUGGESTIVE OF REINCARNATION. REINCARNATION. That is improbable, perhaps, given our current worldview. worldview. If we call ourselves scientists, we must either redo the studies, or accept these improbable results and reject reductionism. Scientific method requires reproducibility to catch fraud, fraud, incompetence and "gremlins." There have been many follow-up studies of reincarnation children, published in the JSPR over the years. Anyone can repeat the studies. By contrast, cold fusion fusion never seemed able to produce results when visiting scholars were around. Similarly, Similarly, Stephen Hawking discovered that the more rigorous the controls in Parapsychology, Parapsychology, the less the Psi observed. I am a little dubious about this last point. One is no longer doing science if the experiment is set up to prevent the phenomenon from happening. That is what dogmatic skeptics will do, if we allow them to set up the controls in a Psi experiment. In any case, the best studies of Psi are studies of spontaneous cases, not studies made in the sterile and forbidding confines of a laboratory. Parapsychology (lab investigation) does seem to be a soft science, while psychical research (field investigation) is a hard science. The biggest difference is that parapsychologists come into the field field from psychology, psychology, while the greatest psychical researchers are MDs. Medical diagnosis requires scientific method, with a combination of "field observations" and laboratory tests. Psi events depend on human psychology. psychology. People are not machines, and do not respond respond well to being treated like machines. It is surely wrong to design a test in such a way as to to make the phenomenon impossible. I will give you you an example of the Psi-cops doing this. this. In one of the Psi-cop’s appearances on the Discovery Science channel, I saw a “test” of the wellknown phenomenon of staring at someone until they notice and turn around. However, they put the two people in different rooms! rooms! How can that be a test of the phenomenon? Such an experiment only guarantees the phenomenon will not happen. Similarly, Similarly, it always seemed to me that J. B. Rhine's ESP tests would inhibit ESP, ESP, since they consist in deadly dull and repetitious guesses, with no positive feedback, involving cards that have absolutely no symbolic or emotive significance. I am also leery of any science that depends on statistical wizardry to tease a weak and erratic signal out of a lot of noise. If the parapsychologist gets no positive correlation between targets and guesses, he may change his search to look for statistical correlations to cards displaced by one or two before or after the target. By contrast, Professor Professor Stevenson's studies do not depend on statistics. That is universally true of Psychical Research, the field study of remarkable paranormal events.
Remember that our facts must be both reproducible and veridical. "Veridical" "Veridical" means "details that cannot be explained away that are found to to be true." In the Chinese tests of apportation, girls known to have this talent were were asked to "remove the cigarettes" from a sealed box. Every time one of the girls said she had done so, the investigators would open up the box and count the cigarettes. There would be one fewer. fewer. Cigarettes do not spontaneously disappear. disappear. The girls did not touch the box. It remained in plain sight sight of everybody throughout the the test. What alternative could there be, other than an apport? Hallucination? That is Hume’s Hume’s rule again. Mystical experiences are reproducible. This was William William James's great discovery in his book THE THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE. Unlike other sorts of religious experience, expe rience, mystical states are the same in all cultures, under all religions. Symbolic interpretation is reproducible, at least in the hands of experts like Carl Jung or Joseph Campbell. See the book MAN AND HIS HIS SYMBOLS by Carl Jung. Symbolists find the same lessons lessons in folk-tales, mythology, mythology, the dreams of Western children and in religious ritual. The chief discoveries of Psychical Research are also reproducible. Anyone with the time and money money can reproduce any of these studies. studies. Science is universal and non-sectarian. Even at the height of the Cold War, War, Soviet and Western Western physicists were friends and went to the same conferences, even those scientists who had built the H-bombs for each side. Every truly scientific scientific theory has testable testable consequences, and thus we can decide between competing ideas by rigorous experimentation. That is why scientists scientists ignore Creationism. Creationism. It is not out of any prejudice against Christianity Christianity.. It is just that Creationism is untestable, and provides no help to the scientist in trying to figure out where to look for what. Doctor Leakey went to Africa to look for our ancestors, because Darwin's theory shows us to be primates. Except for us and the Yeti, primates prefer tropical climates. Furthermore, he knew from geology that Pleistocene fossils were washing out of the soil in the Great Rift Valley Valley in Africa. He and his wife did immediately find plenty of Pleistocene Pleistocene fossils, everywhere they looked. It took almost 30 years to find a hominid fossil, because our distant ancestors were relatively rare. Neanderthal fossils are easier to find. It is much harder to find 3 million year old hominid fossils. Scientists can be just as opinionated and hotheaded ho theaded about their favorite theories as anyone an yone else can. That is unfortunate but it it may motivate them to challenge any new idea. That is good, because it forces its originator originator to go back and examine new possibilities. possibilities. Sometimes the new result result turns out to be just an artifact, something not reproducible. Further tests always resolve resolve scientific disputes peaceably. peaceably. This is what I love about science, that and the adventure of ideas. On the other hand, the existing sciences are very narrow in their scope, and leave out most of the really interesting questions. The existing sciences restrict restrict themselves to a narrow narrow band on the spectrum of reproducible experience, namely, the visible and tangible. The trouble is that mystical experience is not visible visible and tangible. It does not register on photographic equipment. Neither do most most of the things things investigated by Psi researchers. Poltergeist phenomena will register on photographs, and even haunts may show up on infrared cameras, but apparitions (which are far more common) do not register register on photographic equipment. Nor is the mind itself visible or tangible. We see the mind by powers inherent to the mind. These
observations have testable consequences, and they are reproducible. To restrict science to the the visible and tangible is to build assumptions about the nature of reality into into Science. If we do that, how is Science any different from Religion? The existing sciences also restrict themselves to a particular kind of problem, that of reductionist explanation and prediction. We do not always want explanations, particularly not those of a reductionist kind. One of many Utopian problems is to find ways to prevent thermonuclear war. war. What good would it do to be able to predict it, even assuming that this is possible? Reductionist explanation plays no part in Toynbeean History. History. It is part of the genius of Arnold Toynbee to show us that the patterns of history are not those of cause-and-effect. cause-and-effect. Rather, they are the free-will patterns of challenge and response. So far, far, historians and philosophers have not understood Toynbee, Toynbee, and inexplicably accuse him of being an “historicist,” a kind of determinist. I have to wonder if they aren’t just repeating some idiot early critic and have not bothered to read Toynbee. My goal is the Aristotelian task of separating the essence from the accidents. The essence of scientific method is problem solving, and for every kind o f problem, there is a relevant realm of reproducible experience. That is even true of free free will, the problem of evil, and questions about immortality and divinity. divinity. All we need to do is find the equivalent of a fact, an experiment, and a theory. theory. The concept of "well-established" is the same for all sciences, those accepted, those forbidden, those newly created, and any future ones. Something becomes a "fact-equivalent" or a "theory-equivalent" if we can empirically rule out the alternatives. Many Psi-cops Psi-cops claim that physical evidence is a requirement of scientific method. Not so. They interpret this to mean that they will believe in UFOs if we ca n show them one in the laboratory. laboratory. But there are no quasars in the laboratory, laboratory, no galaxies, and no quarks. In fact, there is a slightly amusing story about quarks. When first proposed, experimentalists looked for them. It shouldn’t be that hard to find something with fractional ch arges, of one-third or two-thirds the standard charge. When no such thing could be found, they changed the theory so that “naked” quarks could only exist in the first few fractions of a second of the Big Bang, effectively making it untestable. The independent testimony of numerous witnesses becomes especially important in the study of Near Death Experiences (NDEs). (NDEs). The best evidence for NDEs comes from Raymond Moody's original book, LIFE AFTER LIFE. It is only the first part of the the experience that we can verify with our five senses. A physician would have to work fast to verify the details seen by the patient in an OOBE state, since they are just trivial details about who came in, who went out, what they did, what they said, things like that. Some ER operating rooms have mounted a random sequence of numbers and letters high up by the ceiling, where only an OBE person could see it. This is not a good test. test. The mind, the body, body, and the soul all have their own distinctive powers and modes modes of evolution. The power to interpret an arbitrary sequence of shapes as letters and numbers is a brain function, one that is inaccessible during an NDE. A far better better test would be to videotape the room (with sound) and then check it against the NDE memories. Or they could put some small object up on that high ledge, a small red ball, for instance.
When it comes to applying scientific method to Psi research, the only special rule is to treat these people with dignity and respect. Treat them them as human beings, not machines. If you change the the psychological atmosphere, behavior will change as well. Hostile and dogmatic skepticism is likely to prevent Psi, not test it. Summary: Scientific evidence must be both reproducible and veridical. That essentially means that that we can rule out alternative interpretations interpretations of the experiment. Theories must have testable consequences, so we can set up decisive experiments that will either refute refute them all, or all but one. If that one continues to hold up under the battering of tests, it eventually gains the status of being well established. It is the best solution we know. know. Centuries from now, now, someone may come along with a better alternative. There is one more element required of science, and I will let Sir Isaac Newton provide the example. He provided a mathematical formula for the force of gravity, gravity, but said nothing more about abou t gravity. gravity. Some skeptics and critics said that this really wasn't an explanation of gravity at all, and what did he have to say about that? He drew himself up in his magisterial way, way, and said, "I make no untestable speculations." At least, that that is how I translate his 17th Century English. 20th and 21st Century Physics violates Newton’s Newton’s rule, and is in danger of becoming nothing but untestable u ntestable speculation. We We would then have to call it the mythology of physics, or the legend of physics, or perhaps the fairy tale called physics.