Diagram of the scientific method  Can we use the scientific method as a guide for life? Let's find out!

  In these times science is either misunderstood or maligned (more often both), but what do you think science actually is? The "simple" Wikipedia definition is "a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe", which is a criminally roundabout way of saying it's the result of the scientific method, the one that you see in the picture there. No matter how little you know or how stupid you think you are, the scientific method is a way of acquiring knowledge and then building upon that knowledge. It has nothing to do with nomenclatures, hard mathematics, quantum mechanics or complex lab equipment. Those are results of science, not components. One may build upon them, but might as well decide they want to go another direction.

  Why am I writing this? Because I am not a scientist, but I feel inspired by the scientific method. It provides a sure algorithmic way of improving... well, anything! All you have to do is repeatedly follow four simple steps:

  • Observe
  • Predict
  • Test
  • Analyze

 And while discussing this with anyone is something I enjoy, this post is not about the entire process, but just about the first step: Observation. I strongly believe that what is missing most from our collective lives is observing the world around us. I was reading something about a plant today and I realize that I have no idea what the plants I see are called, what they are useful for, and furthermore I rarely pay any attention to them in the rare cases I do go out and find some. My wife is different. Her life is based on observation and, while I don't always agree with her conclusions, I begrudgingly have you admit that I mostly analyze her observations rather than make my own.

Imagine you are in a biology class in school, let's say primary school and they have to learn botany. Are you seeing it, in your mind's eye? Where are the students? How does the teacher enter the class? What does he do? What do the pupils do then? What tools are they using?

Now tell me, where did you imagine this class taking place? Because when I did it, I imagined a room at the first floor inside a concrete building. The teacher enters the room and writes something on the blackboard and the children open some textbook. Perhaps it's a whiteboard and children have tablets, because it's the future and I am fucking old. But where are the plants under study? If we are lucky, there are some in the window behind the teacher's desk, because they have a small, but higher chance of surviving there than anywhere else in the classroom. If the school has a high enough budget one can imagine an occasional field trip with the kids, using a bus to go to a botanic garden and walk around for a bit. An artificial and abstract representation of something that is never observed.

How can one study anything without observing it? In an average class what pupils are observing are the opinions of other people, translated into text and pictures in books. They move from subject to subject, always basing their learning on what someone else saw and abstracted away. They are taught, in a consistent and constant way, to base their thinking on what people in authority have chewed and regurgitated for them. It doesn't matter if those people are right or wrong, that's not the argument I am making, it's about what we are actually learning, in schools and then later in everything we do. It only takes one moment of disconnect, of betrayal of trust, for the foundation of entire lives to be shattered, because if you suddenly learn you may not get the right information from the people you thought of as experts and authority figures, then your entire life experience so far may be a lie.

Most people dislike and distrust science because it is presented in an abstract manner, removed from day to day experience. But that's not science! Science is based on *your* experience. The very word means knowledge. And while you are bombarded with information every minute of every day, that's not knowledge unless it fits in your chain of experiences.

Now tell me another thing: what do you want to improve? Your life, probably. How do you define it, what are its components, how do you measure its quality? In the end (or is it the start), how well are you observing your life? How do you observe yourself, the people around you, the world in which you live?

Let's start there, with defining ourselves and our place in the world, let's observe the immediate reality of our existence. We'll wing it from there. It won't be science until we make testable predictions, actually test them and then adapt to what the analysis tells us, but it's a start. The alternative is to try to fix something without understanding how it works. Or worse, waiting for someone else to do it for us and hoping they understand it better than we. We will end up hitting something repeatedly, expecting it to start working as we want.

I was reading an article a few days suggesting that he have evolved to hold opinions that make us "win" not that are necessarily true, that those opinions are there to define our belonging to a social group and not to inform our actions according to reality. The scientific method appears to do away with emotions and instinct, thus feel unnatural, but in the things we choose observe we find ourselves, in the predictions we make we put our hopes and in the effort to test and improve our understanding we enforce our will.

Do you feel lacking control over things? Are you angry and frustrated? You might not have much power, but *this* you can do no matter who you are, where you are and who stands with or against you. Science: see, think, try, choose.

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