Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A diverse basis for science

The sum of our experiences, environment, and genetic predispositions form the basis for how we view and interpret the world. This is a principle of many philosophies and helps to explain the broad diversity in human behavior.

The practical view of science is of a rigid structure built upon basic assumptions and prior knowledge. After the proper application of "the scientific method," this foundation leads us to new discoveries. Roughly speaking, the method goes as such: we start from our current state of knowledge, make a hypothesis followed by observations, formulate a proper model that accommodates the data, then draw our conclusions while taking into account the prior information. This outline must follow the rules of logic and not contradict what we already know to be true (and if it does, we place this contradiction under extreme scrutiny until the contradiction is resolved).

This generalization of the scientific method is confounded by the inherent variability in the assumptions from which it starts. In reality, every one possesses a different set of beliefs regarding scientific inquiry. This is exactly analogous to the variety of metaphysical beliefs held by people across the globe. And, just as this variety gives rise to the diversity of people, it leads scientists to different interpretations of theirs and others' work.

Rather than enforce a common basis for the pursuit of science, scientists ought to respect the basic diversity within their own field. Science is more than rote application of a formula; it engages the scientist to the point that discovery becomes an act of self-expression. A study is flavored with the thoughts and feelings of the people involved and can not be separated from them. Once this is understood, we can see that science is a very human endeavor and not the cold, calculated formula known as the scientific method.