This is the fourth post in a series. (The previous posts are here, here, and here.)This post, like its predecessors, will leave you hanging. But despair not, the series will come to a point — eventually. In the meantime, enjoy the ride.
Type 2 thinking has two main branches: scientific and scientistic.
The scientific branch leads (often in roundabout ways) to improvements in the lot of mankind: better and more abundant food, better clothing, better shelter, faster and more comfortable means of transportation, better sanitation, a better understanding of diseases and more effective means of combatting them, and on and on. (You might protest that not all of those things, and perhaps only a minority of them, emanated from formal scientific endeavors conducted by holders of Ph.D. and M.D. degrees working out of pristine laboratories or with delicate equipment. But science is much more than that. Science includes learning by doing, which encompasses everything from the concoction of effective home remedies to the hybridization of crops to the invention and refinement of planes, trains, and automobiles – and, needless to say, to the creation and development of much of the electronic technology and related software with which we are “blessed” today.)
The scientific branch yields its fruits because it is based on facts about the so-called material universe. The underlying constituents of that universe may be unknown and unknowable, as discussed earlier, but they manifest themselves in observable and seemingly predictable ways.
The scientific branch, in sum, is inductive at its core. Observations of specific things lead to guesses about the causes of those things or the relationships between them. The guesses are codified as hypothesis, often in mathematical form. The hypotheses are tested against new observations of the same kinds of things. If the hypotheses are found wanting, they are either rejected outright or modified to take into account the new observations. Revised hypotheses are then tested against newer observations, and on into the night. (There is nothing scientific about testing a new hypothesis against the observations that led to it; that is a scientistic trick used by, among others, climate “scientists” who wish to align their models with historic climate data.)
If new observations are found to comport with a hypothesis (guess), the hypothesis is said to be confirmed. Confirmed doesn’t mean proven, it just means not proven to be wrong. Lay persons – and a lot of scientists, apparently – mistake confirmation, in the scientific sense, for proof. There is no such thing in science.
The scientistic branch of Type 2 thinking is deductive. It assumes truths and then generalizes from those assumptions; for example:
All Cretans are liars, according to Epimenides (a Cretan who lived ca. 600 BC).
Epimenides was a Cretan.
Therefore, Epimenides was a liar.
This syllogism exemplifies a self-referential paradox. If the major and minor premises are true, Epimenides was a liar. But if Epimenides was lying when he said that all Cretans are liars, Epimenides – Cretan — wasn’t necessarily a liar, though he might have been one because it is plausible that some Cretans are liars, at least some of the time.
What the syllogism really exemplifies is the fatuousness of deductive reasoning, that is, reasoning which proceeds from general statements that cannot be subjected to scientific examination.
Though deductive reasoning can be useful in contriving hypothesis, it cannot be used to “prove” anything. But there are persons who claim to be scientists, or who claim to “believe” science, who do reason deductively. It starts when a hypothesis that has been advanced by a scientist becomes an article of faith to that scientist, to a group of scientists, or to non-scientists who use their belief to justify political positions – which they purport to be “scientific” or “science-based”.
There is no more “science” in such positions as there is in the belief that the Sun revolves around the Earth or that all persons are created equal. The Sun may seem to revolve around the Earth if one’s perspective is limited to the relative motions of Sun and Earth and anchored in the implicit assumption that Earth’s position is fixed. All persons may be deemed equal in a narrow and arbitrary way – as in a legal doctrine of equal treatment under the law – but that hardly makes all persons equal in every respect; for example, in intelligence, physical strength, athletic ability, attractiveness to the opposite sex, work ethic, conditions of birth, or proneness to various ailments. (I will say more about equality as a non-scientific desideratum in the next post.)
This isn’t to say that some scientific hypotheses – and their implications – can’t be relied upon. If they couldn’t be, humans wouldn’t have benefited from better and more abundant food, the many other things mentioned above, and much more. But they can be relied upon because they are based on observed phenomena, tested in the acid of use, and – most important – employed with ample safeguards, which still may be inadequate to real-world conditions. Airplanes crash, bridges collapse, and so on, because there is never enough knowledge to foresee all of the conditions that may arise in the real world.
An honest person would admit that an airplane crash falsifies the “science” of aircraft design and operation because it shows, irrefutably, that the “science” was incomplete in some crucial way. The same goes for collapsed bridges, collapsed buildings, and so on.
That isn’t to say that human beings would be better off without science. Far from it. Science and its practical applications have made us far better off than we would be without them. But neither scientists nor those who apply the (tentative) findings of science are infallible.