by Jamie Hale
Recently, a friend and I were discussing my article Sham Psychology or Scientific Psychology when he asked, “Are there any definites in Psychology?” I answered by telling him there are no definites in psychology or any branch of science, or any other method of knowledge acquisition. Some people have the idea that science claims certainty, when in fact science knowledge is tentative. The tentative nature of science is one of its strong points. Science, unlike faith-based beliefs accepts the preponderance of evidence and changes it’s stance if the evidence warrants.
The scientist has the attitude that there are no absolute certainties. R.A Lyttleton suggests using the bead model of truth (Duncan R & Weston-Smith M 1977). This model depicts a bead on a horizontal wire that can move left or right. 0 appears on the far left end, and a 1 appears on the far right end. The 0 corresponds with total disbelief and the 1 corresponds with total belief (absolute certainty). Lyttleton suggests that the bead should never reach the far left or right end. The more that the evidence suggests the belief is true the closer the bead should be to 1. The more unlikely the belief is to be true the closer the bead should be to 0.
The non-scientist is ready to accept explanations that are based on insufficient evidence or sometimes no evidence. They heard it on CNN or their teacher said it so it must be true (logical fallacy of an Appeal to Authority). They reject notions because they can’t understand them or because they don’t respect the person making the claim. The scientist investigates the claim and critically evaluates the evidence.
The scientific method is the best method we have for acquiring knowledge. Sometimes science is wrong, but science does not claim absolutism, nor does it claim to have all the answers. I have heard some people say, “science doesn’t matter, what matters is the real world”, news flash- the scientific method is the very best we have for understanding the real world. Of course, no one complains about science while watching TV, driving their car, or receiving their medications, all luxuries given to us by science.
Duncan R & Weston-Smith M. (1977) The Nature of Knowledge by RA Lyttleton. The Encyclopaedia of Ignorance. Pergamon Press.
Hale, J. (2009). Scientific and Nonscientific Approaches to Knowledge. http://www.maxcondition.com/page.php?126
(Accessed July 28, 2010)