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Water Wheel
Why is a scientific mindset superior to competing epistemological frameworks?

Science is far more than a body of knowledge and facts. It is far more than the myopic stereotype of donning lab coats, shaking beakers and peering through microscopes.

It truly is a way of thinking about everything. We are not aware of any better method of evaluating truth claims and chipping away at reality than by calling on and applying the fundamental principles of the philosophy of science. Its elegance and strength is in its iterative, never ending and self-correcting cycle.

It’s like a water wheel that never stops turning and churning, constantly scooping up new data and running it through a process of synthesis and resynthesis. The problem is that no particular brain or brains can realistically keep up or possess all of the prerequisite knowledge to adequately analyze everything. But we challenge anyone to support the claim that it’s random, arbitrary and not mostly additive or that there is a better alternative on offer.

How many of you expect a new Iphone release to ever be made out of wood and contain nothing but a basic calculator app or that the onboard camera will regress to a 1X1 pixel resolution?

From moment to moment, we take a sample from that water wheel and draw tentative conclusions, simply out of expediency and pragmatism. We can’t afford to do otherwise. If we sit by idly, waiting for the process to “finish,” the world would pass us by with no attempt at solving real world problems, with no active response at all. We would be the ultimate victims of passivity, time and circumstance. By definition, unfortunately, this useful metaphor implies that the moment we take a sample, the data is already relatively obsolete.

By now, we would hope that you are acquainted with scientific principles: observation, hypothesis, experiment, repeatability, falsifiability, etc., etc.

But, the scientific mindset is also far more than a simple circular chart of the scientific method would suggest. It includes the use of formal reasoning, logic, skepticism and academic methods of critical thinking, It requires a mathematical and strict, methodical approach to deriving conclusions from data and discerning meaning from patterns.

For what is formal logic, if not a rigorous attempt at achieving the solidity and deductive benefits of converting ideas and hypotheses into a symbolic code for information processing? You are essentially building a model, a computer program which you can use to predict the future and assist in making informed decisions.

Again to call on metaphor, trying to figure out reality can be likened to a big jigsaw puzzle.

For any given truth claim, you have to collect as many relevant puzzle pieces as you can. To make matters far more complicated, some of the pieces that you will find and collect don’t actually belong to the particular puzzle that you are trying to solve.

The complexity, therefore, comes from not only finding all of the pieces, but in parsing the right pieces from the wrong pieces. Once you, theoretically, collect the best pieces, you pour them all out on the floor and start doing the hard work of trying to connect them. When we do it well, put in the necessary effort and remain committed, undeniable and distinct images form before our eyes. Each one of these puzzles ultimately are somehow related to a grand superpuzzle of everything. We just can’t yet see it all. Alas, our eyes are slow to open like a newborn kitten struggling to find out in which kind of world it has been born.

So, does all this mean that if we cannot cite, verbatim, peer reviewed studies in high impact journals, explain the dual slit phenomenon or name every element in the periodic table, that we cannot think “scientifically?”

Absolutely not. But it does mean that you have to not only learn the basics, be aware of the problems with your senses, the cognitive biases that every brain possesses and be willing to put in the required effort to learn method and fact. It also means you will need to work with others to supplement, share and exchange information.

Become the water wheel! Don’t stop churning

Image via Thinglink



About The Author

Science, Critical Thinking and Skepticism educator