This is a brief note on the fundamental nature of science, its method, power and limitations. It also presents open questions concerning what we might do concerning whether its beneficial for humanity to continue to pursue and trust in unscientific systems of inquiry and their authorities or not.
The ideas are at the core of the work being undertaken by the author and other similar researchers, into how science can better be utilized to not only advance the industrial, material needs of humanity, but also its spiritual needs - if at all such is feasible.
We are at the dawn of a new era, and it's critical that thinkers all over the world engage in a review of these fundamental perspectives we hold today, especially with regards to the most widely held worldviews, of which science is a dominant, albeit ill understood paradigm.
Dedicated to free-thinkers, men and women that love wisdom and those inquirers into the essential nature of our existence.
Lutalo Joseph Willrich
joe [at] nuchwezi [dot] com
NuChwezi School of the Esoteric.
This note has also been published on ISSU, and you can get a PDF of the same from there.
Science is a framework, purely conceived and evolved by mankind, with which we can not only ask logical questions about the objective, consistent, quantifiable and qualitative nature of existence and its phenomena, but also develop logical models or proxies, with which we can then establish working answers (not essentially fundamentally true or absolutely true answers), and continue the process (with each new iteration and advance meant to improve what’s been achieved before) - enhancing the models and the answers they can provide.
A more holistic definition would add: with the aim of improving the human condition and bettering an understanding of who we are and what existence might fundamentally be.
The general method of science, which is technically called the scientific method, is composed of (without excluding the first 5 of these phases):
Observation of phenomena
Only observable phenomena can be studied and or be explained by science.
Positing a question about the phenomena.
If one can’t ask questions about phenomena, they can’t apply the scientific method to that phenomena.
Proposition of an answer to the questions asked concerning the phenomena.
The proposition of answers doesn’t have to necessarily precede observation (a priori theories), but can be a result of extracting answers from observed phenomena (posteriori theories).
Testing of the answers proposed, to see if they are consistent with and whether they can explain or predict the observed phenomena.
If an answer can be challenged or can’t be tested against the observed phenomena, then it can’t be proved to be of any scientific value, no matter how elegant, plausible or applicable it might be.
Note that failure to test or prove an answer doesn’t necessarily render it useless, it only means that one can’t claim its credibility on purely scientific terms.
In many domains of science (especially in the applications), it is the norm that even where an answer hasn’t been tested or proved yet, if it can be shown to offer utility in some manner, and where no better answer exists (yet), it is logical to accept the proposed answer and possibly even utilize it (with precaution though). But ardent proponents of the scientific method do reject such - if it can’t be tested, don’t even use it - but that’s a matter of choice and not absolute truth.
Rejection of the proposed answer if it is found to be inconsistent with and incapable of predicting the observed phenomena, otherwise the acceptance of the proposed answer, if it is found to be consistent with and capable of predicting the observed phenomena.
No matter how ridiculous or absurd an answer or result might be, if it's found to be consistent with observed phenomena, it ought be accepted (on purely scientific grounds).
Many scientists discover, present and apply results that are often contrary to their intuition and established beliefs, but because they choose to be true to the scientific method, and choose to trust in its efficacy, they go ahead and accept these results as essentially true.
This is the great character of the true scientist - to follow where the data leads them.
Once a particular level or rigour and accuracy of facts has been established as an essential standard, a scientist will be expected to reject anything that fails to pass the requirements, no matter how convincing it might be to the senses and or imaginations - mostly, on principle.
[Optionally] Where multiple, even competing answers seem to be consistent with the observed phenomena, it is very possible that either the observations are insufficient or that the answers have not been sufficiently developed - basically, it calls for a re-iteration of and improvement of the methods used in arriving at the answers.
This is not fundamentally essential, but is recommended, as it’s leads to ever simpler, more general answers than is initially obvious.
Also, as a matter of consistency and elegance, where multiple answers seem to fit the same data, it's preferable to accept or adopt the simplest one of them all (Occam's Razor). This again is meant to ease the evolution of scientific knowledge, and to encourage and enhance its applicability.
Once an answer to phenomena has been obtained, it is then encouraged to explore:
How applicable that answer might be - preferably, in solving existing real-life problems.
How the answer might be further optimized - so it can deliver the most utility where it is applied
How the answer might be further be generalized - so it can be applied to other similar problems and questions.
In the process of carrying out (any of) the previous steps, the scientist is then expected to make more observations of the the same or other related phenomena, and then ask yet more questions - the process then returns to step 1, and this is meant to proceed ad infinitum, until hopefully the day when science delivers to man the answers to all possible questions (which end is easier believed, than proved feasible, but which is noble to pursue).
Much of the allure and efficacy of the scientific method lies in its systematic reliance upon principle. If science were to let go of the principles of its method, it might not fail in obtaining results, but would most likely not be any more efficient and no more reliable as it typically is.
So, what really makes science tick at those problems it's best suited for?
When something can be claimed by one authority, and then if the same result can be verified or refuted by anyone employing the right procedures or principles, then the results and their implications are easier and more attractive to accept and utilize.
This makes science free from the biases and instability of mere opinion and the dogmatic trappings of such authorities as religion, mysticism and other unscientific domains of knowledge.
When a claim, procedure, experiment or result that’s presented by one authority is capable of being independently reproduced from following the same exact principles by other parties, then credibility can be attributed to the results presented, and those wishing to apply the principles developed and their results can do so from a firm basis.
Also because of this characteristic of science, it makes more sense to invest in the process of improving and optimizing scientific procedures, as once a certain result has been obtained in a particular instance, it is guaranteed that if the conditions are maintained, then the same exact results ought be obtainable in all other such instances. This is one of the core principles behind the leveraging of science in automation and industry.
As is often the case, the power and utility of any scientific result can very easily be assessed by evaluating how easy it is to arrive at the said result from mere first-principles or by leveraging other, already proven results assumed or implied by the a given result.
Also, this very power makes science a firm, and powerful contender to any other predictive system within those domains where science can be applied - the best example being how by limiting oneself to a purely mechanical paradigm of existence, and having the initial conditions of any system, it’s not only possible to predict the next state of the system, but any possible future state, and with reliable accuracy!
Also, this makes it possible for results obtained from experiment to reinforce or augment those arrived at from mere theory and vice-versa, something that’s a bit difficult to utilize outside of science.
Sadly though, it’s for these very reasons that some (often amateur and or arm-chair) scientists are (disturbingly) blind believers in the principles, results and methods of science - they basically ascribe to any prevailing or popular result the status of infallibility on the (often false) assumption that it must have been rigorously verified by “others”, that science hardly fails, and thus its credibility on results it presents and opinion on various matters need not be questioned! This typical of those results that manage to survive the publication and peer-review system, and more especially those that find adoption in industry.
The dangers and prevalence of this is sort of problem have never been more pronounced as in the modern information and multimedia infested age. As many people, especially those blindly identifying with the zeitgeist, have sacrificed critical thinking in the face of competing, sugar-coated and innumerable ideas being churned out of both industry and academia ever single day. These people will accept any and all results, theories presented to them by accepted authorities, regardless of whether the results have indeed passed the essential rigors of the scientific method or not. If you wish to verify these things for yourself, just spend a few minutes challenging the scientific notions ardently held onto by the people you normally conversate with, and see how good their basis for a firm belief in those results are. The best, easiest place to find such examples yet, should be any typical social media forum on the Internet.
Having reviewed the principles of science and its method as presented above, it should be immediately clear that science does have its inherent limitations. Some of these have already been highlighted in the presentation above, but we shall here try to summarise them for ease of reference.
First, it should be noted that science, is a thought paradigm, just one of many possible ways of interpreting and reasoning about the world and how we experience it. It is a mechanism by which the human mind can systematically organize, explain and apply its knowledge about the universe (and it doesn't matters whether it is the objective or subjective universe being considered, the principles employed remain the same regardless of what phenomena or domain they are applied to). But also, because of this very reason, science can safely be deemed an enterprise not only purely constructed by the mind, but also one limited by it - and it’s not only science that would suffer from this backlash, but any and all human activity in general.
In principle, if it is true that the human mind is finite, then as a consequence, it readily be established that it can’t possibly apprehend the infinite. Put another, better way, if the human mind is indeed relative - meaning whatever the mind can concieve or infer is limited to what it can ascertain from its limited, relative perspective of the universe, then it is logical to conclude that it can't possibly apprehend the absolute. The consequences of these two limitations not only affect science, but religion and all other human enterprises as well. Herbert Spencer has elaborately explored these ideas in his First Principles, and Kurt Godel alludes to the same, even though from an otherwise, mathematical and purely abstract perspective.
But, besides those fundamental, possibility universal limitations that even science can’t escape, there are still other limitations that science would suffer, purely as consequences of the very way in which the scientific method is structured. These limitations are consequences of its methodology and ideology, and can be summarised as:
Science is limited to observable phenomena
Science can’t ask questions, nor offer logical answers, where the phenomena involved can’t be observed - it doesn’t have to be direct observation, as it’s possible to and it has been possible to measure and observe many natural phenomena indirectly (mostly from their effects on observable, quantifiable, and qualitative phenomena). All that matters is that there's some way of collecting and documenting data about the phenomena.
Science is limited to falsifiable (or testable) phenomena
Basically, unless there’s a way to prove the falseness or correctness of something, it can’t fall under the domain of science, and thus the scientific method can’t be applied to assertions or results whose validity we can't establish within the framework of the scientific method.
Science is limited to the systematic application of logic on observations and theories about them.
Science essentially reaches all (and any) of its conclusions by the application of deductive or inductive logic on observed or derived facts. Basically, outside of making direct observations, there's nothing new to accomplish beyond inference. Any other means of reaching a conclusion or result is not acceptable within the framework of the scientific method.
Those are the only fundamental limitations of the scientific method, and thus likewise limitations of science - regardless of which field of science one turns to. It's important to note though, that despite these limitations, science, unlike any other human enterprise, has been able to catapult mankind into the grandest realms of material and abstract knowledge than possibly any other system of knowledge has ever been able to do before, but these accomplishments don't make science the final solution to all mankind's problems, and considering the above enumerated limitations and the problems presented in the next section, it might make science just one of many possible systems of knowledge that mankind ought to explore and develop to fully harness his full potential and transcend the mysteries of the universe.
The following questions then come to mind, and these have been asked of science by both adepts and amateurs alike:
Can science answer all questions posed by man?
If science does have limitations, should man seek answers via other unscientific means or should he be satisfied with the limitations imposed on him by science and its method?
Is science the only reliable means available to man for obtaining answers?
What are those other potential methods by which man might obtain answers, where either science fails, or is not reliable?
Are there any important domains of human life where science can’t offer reliable answers or where it can’t out-perform unscientific methods?
Which are these domains?
Which unscientific methods can (or does) man utilize to find answers within these domains?
Is it still science, when observation is possible, but where it isn't necessarily objective or independent of observer bias - such as in psychoanalysis, anthropology, magick, etc?
Should falsifiability be demanded of results in domains where observability and or testability or reproducibility are impossible objectively?
Or rather, how should we systematize subjective science without falling into the chaos of Abstract Art?
Outside of science, can there be the possibility of reasoning about the universe and drawing utility from such explorations even where they don’t conform to the scientific method?
Metaphysics, ethics, epistemology, theology, mysticism, and other unscientific systems falling under this category.
There are questions that have been scientifically demonstrated to be intractable using the scientific method (inquire in the domains of mathematics and computer science especially). Would the exploration of unscientific methods of obtaining answers to these questions, by those willing to deliberately sacrifice the elegance and safety of science and its method, not be a worthwhile undertaking in the same spirit by which man chose to engage in and evolve science?
Or rather, what happens when we must invent entirely new fields of inquiry, perhaps even outside of, or beyond the original/classical scope of science? Isn't it worth it?
If the answers to these questions are established, even remotely, it shall be easier to assess and or better justify or critique the pursuits, beliefs and methods of those men and women who have chosen not to limit their explorations of the universe to only science and its method.
It is the hope of the present author, that these ideas will spark thought and contemplation in others, and probably bring to light many prejudices and biases that some people seem to have in relation to such domains of human exploration and expression as magick, religion, mysticism, alternative medicine and generally many other "unscientific" thought paradigms and worldviews spanning many cultures, social classes, ages and localities everywhere.
I take personal responsibility in any and all views and opinions expressed in this note, and would be happy and willing to defend and or evolve the ideas herein at any future date.
Feel free to propose and or share any revisions concerning the syntax and or semantics employed in this note. Critiques are even more welcome. Your input, no matter how subtle, will greatly aid present and future humanity.