The Scientific Method

(The following is a paraphrase) In science we have an ethic. We argue from evidence based on publicly available information. When you become a scientist you agree to be bound by that, even if the evidence goes against your own theory. To do this you must first have disagreement before you can devise a theory to test. A problem is not definitively solved until we have evidence from experiments. Lecture at NSF, Leo Smolin, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Physics in trouble, why the public should care. Podcast on the Research Channel. http://www.nsf.gov

090926TGT_dsc4358SsDr. Smolin is a physicist highly trained in the use of the scientific method to differentiate between measurable facts and hypotheses. He is qualified to speak about the scientific method, the universal laws of physics and the various theories and facts therein.

I hear quite a few people grabbing some untested or inadequately tested idea that physicists are throwing around and presenting this idea as a fact in some book or in their practice. This is fun and it is probably as comforting as the various ideas about God, spirit and spirituality, but it is not science. Science is the study of measurable facts using the scientific method. (And by the way, this does not mean we got the answer we want in one isolated experiment, even if that experiment was published. The scientific method requires more than one result as proof.)

Spirituality and religion are sometimes fun and sometimes comforting and sometimes a way to sell books. Mostly they are fine and beautiful and real. But they are not science, and I think it’s sad when we use fake science rather than real measurable facts as we try to deal with the measurable, solvable problems that we are now facing in our culture and our environment.

It’s time to learn the difference between spirituality and science so that we can get the maximum benefit from both. We should not limit our spirituality by tying it to measurable facts — fake or real. On the other hand, we will never solve factual problems if we aren’t willing to acknowledge and deal with the facts.

2 Responses

  1. Yes I understand the basic premise of scientific inquiry and it has done a lot to relieve us of superstition. However it has not provided a reliable way of exploring a non physical universe. Spiritualities should try to develop an equivelant method for doing spiritual research. Material scientists often deny the existence of any non physical realm. But the very nature of scientific inquiry implies that humans do not know everything and we may even bridge the gap into another realm tomorrow. What did science know about electricity or germs just a short time ago? Most cultures recognize some other realm and at least an intelligent designer. I think what we need is humility from scientists and religionists to admit our limitations and willingness to keep the dialog open (like in your blog).

    • Thank you Maaark, for saying what I also want to say.

      As you know, I differentiate between science and technology. I don’t know any basic scientist who would claim that science understands everything, although of course there may be some. But the very nature of science tells us that we can only deal with measurable facts, and I’m sure you agree there are many realities that are not measurable. So that leaves the problem of developing a dialog, because we can not deal with problems like global warming without science to tell us what the ecosystem requires for its health, and we definitely need the religionists and the philosophers etc. to deal with human behaviors that are endangering the ecosystem. Just for one example.

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