This weekend was the March for Science. What was the March for Science? A march for philosophy.
Judging by the number of people who participated in the March for Science, there are a lot of people who don’t understand what science actually is. Perhaps nothing illustrates this fact better than the commonly used phrase, “The science is settled.”
Science, or more specifically the scientific method, is a process of discovery that relies on observation and experimentation. First, a phenomenon is observed. Second, a hypothesis that explains that phenomenon is developed. Third, an experiment is performed to determine whether the hypothesis is plausible or not. Eventually, if enough experimentation indicates that the hypothesis is correct, a theory is developed. The keywords here are “hypothesis,” “experimentation,” and “theory.” Theories are not immutable truths. Every theory has the potential of being proven incorrect by future experimentation. So science can never be settled.
The existence of this misunderstand can be further illustrated by people mixing the scientific method with democracy. How many times have you heard a variation of the phrase, “[Insert an arbitrary but large number] percent of scientists agree that…” as if it meant something? Democracy is based on the idea that truth can be discovered by polling a voting body. Science is based on the idea that observation and experimentation can help us explain natural phenomenon. The two are unrelated. Even if 99.9 percent of scientists agree on one theory they can be proven wrong if the remaining 0.1 percent perform an experiment that proves the majority’s theory incorrect. A debate based on what the plurality of scientists think isn’t a scientific debate.
The purpose of the March for Science was to promote science-based policies. This purpose is entirely philosophical in nature. You see, the scientific method is a tool that can address a specific problem domain, namely the understanding of natural phenomenon. The scientific method cannot address all problem domains though. There’s no way to prove that two plus two equal four with the scientific method. To do that humans rely on deductive logic. There’s also no way to prove that the scientific method is the proper tool for understanding natural phenomenon. To do that humans rely on philosophy.
What is the best way for humans to conduct themselves in groups? The scientific method is not the proper tool for answering this question because the answer cannot be discovered through experimentation. The best way is not a natural phenomenon, it’s a subjective criteria. For example, the most important criteria for decided the best way is individual freedom. For a somebody else, the most important criteria may be equality in wealth. The question is necessarily philosophical because it’s subjective.
Whenever somebody says that the United States needs more scientists they’re using philosophy because they are using their subjective criteria, the number of scientists, to decide the best way for humans in an arbitrarily defined group (often referred to as “society”) to conduct themselves. The same is true for anybody who says that there needs to be more government funding for scientific education.
Naturally, I’m apt to blame the government indoctrination system, which is often mistakenly referred to as an education system, for Saturday’s deplorable public display of ignorance. I’m also smart enough to know that my blame is philosophical in nature, not scientific, because there is no way for me to perform an experiment that can confirm or deny my hypothesis. I will also say that I philosophically find this widespread ignorance detrimental to humanity (based on my subjective criteria of what is best for humanity).
3 thoughts on “The March for Philosophy”
I disagree that with the assertion that science is not the proper tool to teach us about how conduct ourselves.
Science never really reveals absolute truths to us, it really only shows us what is false. What is left after falsehoods are stripped away is a more accurate picture how the universe works. We progressive to finer and finer detail we always find that our models are not accurate enough and replace them with a more refined model.
I’d argue that there have been several ongoing large scale “experiments” which reveal to us what are not effective ways to conduct ourselves, we simply ignore the results.
The problem is defining “effective.”
I, for example, find a system that has a tendency to perpetrate mass murder to be terrible. To a person who believes that population reduction is necessary for the survival of humanity or a racist who believes ethic cleansing is an attractive option, the systems I find detestable could appear very beneficial.
Observation and history (experimentation) can shine light on what is likely to happen when certain systems are utilized but it cannot say whether those outcomes are the property way for humans to conduct themselves. Different people favor different outcomes from group interactions. The scientific method cannot tell whether one method is right or wrong as it doesn’t deal with morality (which is a common criteria used when people are deciding what is the right way for humans to conduct themselves in groups).
I understand you are making a distinction between deductive reasoning and scientific experimentation, I’m not sure I make such a distinction.
If you got a few minutes take a listen to this.
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