I have been told by some people that they use the practice of science or logic to go through life. In this blog post I will explore this situation and intend to show that not only is it not practical, but it is virtually impossible too. In addition if one could manage it in his or her life it would be in a shambles. I know nobody and have read of nobody that can do this in their lives. Matter of fact there are experiments that show we are not as rational as we think we are. In addition there are other studies that show that in decisions that have many factors to them, we often do better to fellow our guts than our brains. Of course, the guts they are referring to are in the brain too.
The way I anticipate my exploration going is that I will discuss what it actually means to do science and logic. After each depiction I will argue why these cannot be applied to our personal lives. I will also describe someone I know who claimed to lead his life scientifically, and how he is anything but well-balanced. I will also explore the intimate connection between feelings and thoughts and attempt to show how this works against applying science and logic to our lives.
Typically the practice of science is done within the sphere of the scientific method. The scientific method is usually thought of as posing hypotheses and running controlled experiments, which can lead to the rejection of the hypothesis, adjusting the hypothesis, or accepting the hypothesis; all of these outcomes should lead to further study. This is a never ending process. Even those theories that are the most accurate and well confirmed (e.g quantum physics, relativity) are continually being tested.
However, there is more than this depiction to the scientific method. There are fields of science where no experiments can be performed. One such field is astronomy. We cannot rerun the universe over again and see where everything ends up 13.8 billion years later and compare the results with what we see today. Even this is not strictly accurate. What we see today is what transpired in the past. Light travels a certain distance in a year, so if you observe a star ten light years away, you are seeing the star not as it is now, but as the star was ten years ago.
Astronomy studies the structure of the universe, but other fields of science use astronomical instruments. Astrophysicists use spectronomers attach telescopes to determine the elements that make up an astronomical object. This allows for testing. The spectronomer breaks light up into component colors. Like a Bunsen burner you can tell what elements make up some object. Each element has it own particular colors and patterns of lines. Astrophysicists can tell the age of a star partly by its component elements. By comparing elements between stars astrophysicists can create a scale of star ages. if any were to be found that contradict that pattern, astrophysicists would have to reconsider their models of star structure.
In medicine studies can take various routes. The best experiments are ones that are controlled by dividing participants into two groups, typically, one receiving the treatment (drugs or medical procedure), and one not receiving it. Neither the participants or the researchers know who is in what group. These are the only experiments that can determine a direct cause and effect. All medications need to be subject to these types of experiments to show their effectiveness (and safety).
Other studies are longitudinal. They compare results of two, or more, different groups. Say one group who limits saturated fat in their diets and another not restricting it. Then, after so many years the groups are compared for their effect on some health measure (e.g. less heart attacks). Another class of studies are retrospective. A group of participants with a condition and and one without it are given surveys on say the amount and type of vitamins they have taken. The researchers than look for differences between the answers of the different groups to see if there is any differences between the groups.
These two types of studies are called epidemiological studies because they compare different populations that differ in certain health components. They are also correlational studies, which unlike the control experiment, cannot determine cause and effect, but only compare two, sometimes more, variables. This is the correlations between the two. The reason why cause and effect can not be nailed down is while the variables might correlate well, you cannot rule out some other variable that might be influencing the results. Also, these types of studies mostly rely on questionnaires, which have reliability issues, such as bias. These can be reduce by keeping the participants naive as what the questionnaires are seeking. In some studies this is still not possible.
So, science works in different ways depending on the availability of experimental access or not. Sciences that do not use controlled experiments are still labelled science. By observation one can still refute a hypothesis or give more confidence that it is correct. An example of how a hypothesis that could be refuted is the fossil layers supporting evolution. All fossils so far found are found are only in certain geological strata with newer species always in a higher level strata than older ones. If we ever find a fossil out of order, like an older species in a higher strata than an earlier one, the support for evolution would be a in jeopardy, but not terminally so. The fossil record of the differing stata is a huge component in confirming evolution, but not the only one. Other scientists would be used as independent observers to confirm another scientist’s finding.
I just mentioned other scientists checking up on the work of their fellow scientists. This makes up a large component of how science works and what makes something science. This is primarily done in three ways. The first (no special order) is the replication of experiments. This is any independent scientist should be able to replicate the experiment and get statistically like results. In practice the exact same experiment is not repeat, but a similar one which is altered to ask a different question, but the experiments are basically the same at the their core.
The second type of checking is called peer review. This a process whereby a paper describing an experiment and its results and conclusion(s) are submitted to a scientific journal. After the paper is submitted the editor (usually) will send out the paper to be reviewed and critiqued by scientists who work in the field of science within which the experiment belongs. These reviewers (usually three) look at the background, experimental procedures, statistical results, and the worthiness of the conclusion(s). They can either accept, reject, or ask for revisions. Most likely revisions will be asked for and this perhaps is the most important aspect of peer review—science advancing. Scientists in general will try to submit their work to the most prestigious science journals. The higher the prestige of the journal the higher the exposure of the paper in it will be general.
The third type of checking I will relate is scientific conferences. This is where scientists will hobnob with fellow scientists. In these conferences scientists will present their work. Following the presentation the floor is open to questions and comments. In response the scientist will attempt to answer any objections and clarify their work. Conferences can be lively events, but the worse thing for a scientist to hear is silence. About the absolute worst thing to hear is “This isn’t right. This isn’t even wrong.” This was said by Wolfgang Pauli; although, he did not say it at a scientific conference, but Pauli was known to be gratingly critical at conferences. It is lack of criticism of his or her work that is hard to take. With silence you learn (a central concern of most scientists) nothing, .
Now, how is an individual suppose to apply science to his or her own life. It would be difficult to put this into operation. Controlled experiments is out because of the lack of an adequate control group. You would think as a control you could have a period without a situation and then one with it. This is not an ideal situation. With the movement of time not all variables will remain constant as one can control them in a laboratory experiment. So the controlled experiment is not really a good option. Of course, there is nothing wrong with taking different approaches to issues in you life, but to claim they are controlled like in a scientific experiment is to blur both accounts. Thinking you have proof when you do not is not a sound practice to have toward your life. And thinking you need such accuracy is a mistake also, even if attainable. Even controlled experiments yield statistical results.
Now as I said above the controlled experiment is not the only way that science is practiced. Plenty of science is based on observation, like astronomy. But, not all observations are equal in quality. Scientific observations can be highly accurate using specialized equipment, like the spectrometer mentioned above. There is nothing comparable when we observe our everyday lives. It is not easy to get lab results on your own besides blood glucose testing and a few others that provide exact results are not easily achievable. So the needed quantification of science is not available in everyday life.
But, does anyone even try to do this, and do it in a consistent manner? I have not known anybody that does. And the one person I knew personally that said he did, obviously did not. Not only was his life poorly lived, he was a Jesus believer. How is it possible to have a belief in a supernatural being, when all science is capable of is investigating the natural world. If science were capable of this the supernatural would not be the supernatural anymore—it would be the natural.
I come now to logic. This is even more of a stretch than living your life in a scientific manner. Logic is a system of achieving truth, based on a set of axioms and rules for reasoning with them. There are many types of logics. Aristotle’s system of syllogisms was maybe the first. He did not use axioms, but rules for moving from premises to conclusions.
In the late nineteenth century the system of propositional logic started to be worked out. As logic moved into the twentieth century it began to expand to include predicate logic. There was even an attempt to found all of mathematics on logic. This attempt failed, but set theory took its place. As the century moved on new logics were devised. There was modal logic (necessary and possible things), multi-valued (three or more), and fuzzy logic (toward the end of the century). A multi-valued logic is seen by some to be a better reflection of the quantum world. These of course are not all the different logics, but I hope it gives you the impression that logic has widespread uses (in its proper place) and approaches.
I will not go into a descriptions of all these logics. The most prominent of them are propositional and predicate logics. Propositional logic uses propositions, like “Jack is tall.” But propositional logic uses symbols to do its work. So, Jack would be represented by (a) and tall as (b). The statement is true only if (a) is Jack and (a) is (b). You can work with propositions as a whole tol, like in modus ponens. This is (p) & (if p then q). This states that that (p) is true [whatever (p) might represents] and (p) implies (q) then (q) is true [whatever (q) represents]. Under these conditions the argument is consider valid. If (p) and (q) are true it represents a true argument as well.
Predicate logic uses propositional logic, but in addition uses quantifiers and relations. The quantifiers are things like (there exists an (x)) or (for all (x)) Also their negations are used as well (there does not exist an (x)) or (for no (x)). Relations can be things like equality (a = b) or less then (a < b). This type of logic as you might notice is most suitable for doing mathematical proofs. And it is its main use.
I will say something briefly about multi-value and fuzzy logic. Multi-valued logic whether three valued, or higher, allows for more options than just true and false, like indeterminate or close to or further from. Fuzzy logic is where the truth values come in percentages, like the circle is 75% red to the question what its color it is, or he is 1/3 of the way bald in relation to someone’s amount of baldness.
I think you will rarely find anyone who applies strict logic to their lives. It is even harder than being a scientist toward it. This is because our brains do not work that way on a everyday basis, unlike science which is basically asking questions and testing any answer by observation or experiment. Daniel Kahneman (I think it is him) has studied how humans make decisions. He found that we do not use logic on the whole. We often do poorly when attempting to solve a logical problem. He also found that when making complex decisions we do better by going by our guts, rather than trying to analyse a lot of factors.
Other work shows poor decision making when trying to apply strict logic. The reason for this is that we need feelings to make decisions or perform actions based on them. In fact you will never find a thought without an emotion, and consciousness of feelings can accompany thoughts as well. The brain is a colossal network of neurons, and there are many connections between areas of the brain implicated in thought, and those implicated in emotions and feelings. Because of this it is impossible to separated them. Without proper feelings we could not think well, and without proper thinking feelings would be lost. So, it is simply impossible to rid yourself of feelings, so one can not apply strict logic to her or his life.
As a small case study there was a man (mentioned above) at the day program I attend that claimed he uses science to guide his life. He was not talking about using the findings of science, but applying scientific methodology to it. Now I realize he was mentally ill (probably bipolar), but if he really was using science in his life, he would not exhibit certain qualities. The biggest is the centrality of Jesus in his life, leading him to proselytize. Acting as a scientist, one would never even claim Jesus’s existence let alone his being god. If he did act as a scientist, he was not a very good one. His life appeared to be in shambles.
So, I have given a description of how science works. Albeit a very short one, but I think it covers some of the basic ideas about it. I have also describe logic to a degree. Both of these you will find some people claiming to live their lives in these ways. I have hoped to have shown that in regards to science it as not very possible. At best one can seek guidance from the findings of science to make decisions. But reliance on them is not sufficient to making wise decisions. In the case of logic it is not even possible. We human beings just do not have what it takes to live by pure logic. Most of us most of the time are not that logical anyway. The logician and mathematician are a special case as their life’s work is based on or around it. But, when these same still individuals step out onto the street they act pretty much like the rest of us.
Finally, I would point out that life does go easier if your reasoning holds no incoherencies or contradictions.† Both of these are nemeses of science and logic. However, again in everyday life we seem to have these in our lives, so hence our thinking, but we are equip with more than reason, and most of us manage our lives well or at least adequately.
† I plan on a future post about the contradictions that crop up in our lives.