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Journey part 4, a straightforward discussion on what the Scientific Method is.
  Journey 04 - SCIENTIFIC METHOD FOR DUMMIESScientists have written little about scientific method. The only book on the subject written by ascientist that I know about is STRONG INFERENCE, written by a biologist. He draws adistinction between hard science (physics, biochemistry, geology, astronomy) and soft science(psychology and sociology). The hard sciences use strong inference to set up decisive either-or experiments, while the soft sciences rely on weak statistical correlations. Scientists will tell you there is nothing all that complicated about scientific method. For them, it isno more than common sense. They learn it by example, handed down from Nobel Prize winner toPostdocs to graduate students or medical students. It would help non-scientists if we also had itwritten down. For one thing, it would greatly clarify the disputes between the forbidden sciencesand the Psi-cops. If we had a verbal statement that scientists could accept, the intellectual historyof the West might be quite different. I am going to attempt it. I begin with one basic assertion:scientific method is pure logic. It makes no assumptions about reality. If it did, it would just beanother religion.Shade tree mechanics, mothers with crying babies, gardeners, and even the master detectivehimself, Sherlock Holmes all use Scientific method. If the baby is crying, we first see if it is wet. No. Hungry? No. Is a pin or other object sticking the baby? No. Needs to burp? No. Maybe the baby is bored. Get out the stroller; take the baby for a walk in the park. The crying stops. Problemsolved. The key thing is to see scientific method as problem solving. The problems may be variedand abstract. Newton solved all sorts of problems, having to do with the tides, and the trade winds,the flight of cannon balls, the working of pendulum clocks, and indeed, the motion of everything inthe heavens and on Earth.The genius and humanity of science lives in a certain kind of curiosity. Thousands of people over thousands of generations must have walked past cliffs showing geological unconformities, withoutthinking about it, without wondering about it, without caring about it. In the 18th Century, a Scotchman named James Hutton wandered past just such a cliff, and stoppedto wonder, to question, and to imagine what might have happened. The top formation showedhorizontal layers of marine limestone and shale. Hutton and others before him thought the processes of sedimentation going on at the present time could produce these horizontal layers insome ancient ocean or shallow sea. Below the first formation was one where the layers were nearly vertical. Such boundaries betweenclearly different formations are examples of what geologists call an unconformity. Hutton realizeda huge gap in time must have been missing. The second formation must also have been laid downin horizontal layers by sedimentation, then uplifted in a mountain range that was then worn away by erosion and eventually found itself on the bottom of the ocean again, to receive the topformation that was once again raised up as mountains that must have in turn been worn down byerosion into the gentle hills of Scotland. It was Hutton who first gave us geological time. As hesaid about geological time, there was “no sign of a beginning, no prospect of an end.”1  Below the second formation was a third, with smooth arches and folds, and different minerals.Hutton thought (correctly) that both the folding and the transformation of sedimentary rocks intoother kinds of rock could only have happened in great heat, deep within the Earth. These are the pictures conjured up in Hutton's imagination by looking at a cliff. Sometimes being a scientist is just being curious about things that other people see, but do not wonder about. Scientific method does not require math, laboratories, or explanation. Nor does it require double blind experiments, reported in peer-reviewed journals. It is not limited to the visible and tangible.Those are just the accidents of 19th and 20th Century academic science. We have a problem. Wetry to solve it, whether it is the motion of the planets, unconformities in geological formations, or the spectrum of thermal radiation. Scientific method requires reproducibility, veridical details, andrigorous tests to rule out all the known alternatives. A well-established theory is one that survivesalone amidst continued rigorous testing and expansion of its range of application. We call this scientific proof, not to be confused with mathematical proof.  Veridicality is a concept that applies to facts. A fact is really an interpretation of experience and issomething like a hypothesis in miniature, since it is necessary to rule out alternative interpretations.Veridicality has no yardstick, but it does have various degrees. Typically, a data set will have dataof widely varying veridicality. To establish the existence of an improbable phenomenon, the dataset as a whole must have perfect veridicality, capable of ruling out every possible alternative,including ones that are themselves hypothetical, improbable, rare or non-existent. That is what thelanded occupant cases do for UFOs, and that is what Ian Stevenson's lifetime of work does for reincarnation.The other thing scientific method requires is reproducibility. This does not mean it must be possible to do it in a laboratory. One cannot make rock flow like hot plastic in the laboratory, yetfield studies show that it happens in nature. One cannot create a large quasar in the laboratory (beglad of that!), nor a supernova, nor a galaxy. Field observations show us many instances of plasticdeformations in layered rock, and many examples of quasars, and many supernovae, though nonein our own galaxy during the age of science.It is all too easy to make mistakes in scientific studies. It is reproducibility that allows us to catchhoaxes. The Piltdown man is one of the most famous. It was a cranium of a primitive man with alarge brain and ape-like teeth, found In Situ, in the early years of the 20th Century. However, asfossils of early hominids began to appear in museums, they were not at all like Piltdown man. Thereal hominids had small brains, upright posture, and human teeth and hands. Finally, about mid-century, a closer look was taken of Piltdown man and it was shown to be a forgery, though who didit and why is unknown. When Sherlock is examining a crime scene, he is not making deductions. He is making uphypotheses to account for this smudge of boot black on the mantel, the sailor's knots holding thedamsel in distress, the bit of candle wax on the carpet, and the three glasses of port, one of whichhas no dregs. The police notice these things, but to them they mean nothing. Sherlock is dreamingup fantastic theories involving a sailor in collusion with the said damsel. He knows of ways tocheck this hypothesis. That's where the deduction comes in. Sometimes more than one theory will2  fit the facts, and he has to rule out alternatives. Sometimes he fails to come up with the correcthypothesis until more crimes are committed or more facts emerge.Eliminating the alternatives is purely deductive logic, applied first to the processing of experienceinto scientific fact, and secondly in the proof of theories. The alternatives considered must havetestable consequences. That is why Creationism is not a scientific theory, and why “CreationistScience” is an oxymoron.Ian Stevenson ruled out the alternatives, leaving reincarnation as the only explanation for the youngchildren who spontaneously recall former lifetimes, in the concluding chapter of his book,TWENTY CASES SUGGESTIVE OF REINCARNATION. That is improbable, perhaps, givenour current worldview. If we call ourselves scientists, we must either redo the studies, or acceptthese improbable results and reject reductionism. Scientific method requires reproducibility to catch fraud, incompetence and gremlins. Therehave been many follow-up studies of reincarnation children, published in the JSPR over the years.Anyone can repeat the studies. By contrast, cold fusion never seemed able to produce results whenvisiting scholars were around. Similarly, Stephen Hawking discovered that the more rigorous thecontrols in Parapsychology, the less the Psi observed. I am a little dubious about this last point. One is no longer doing science if the experiment is set upto prevent the phenomenon from happening. That is what dogmatic skeptics will do, if we allowthem to set up the controls in a Psi experiment. In any case, the best studies of Psi are studies of spontaneous cases, not studies made in the sterile and forbidding confines of a laboratory. Parapsychology (lab investigation) does seem to be a soft science, while psychical research (fieldinvestigation) is a hard science. The biggest difference is that parapsychologists come into the fieldfrom psychology, while the greatest psychical researchers are MDs. Medical diagnosis requiresscientific method, with a combination of field observations and laboratory tests. Psi eventsdepend on human psychology. People are not machines, and do not respond well to being treatedlike machines. It is surely wrong to design a test in such a way as to make the phenomenonimpossible. I will give you an example of the Psi-cops doing this.In one of the Psi-cop’s appearances on the Discovery Science channel, I saw a “test” of the well-known phenomenon of staring at someone until they notice and turn around. However, they put thetwo people in different rooms! How can that be a test of the phenomenon? Such an experimentonly guarantees the phenomenon will not happen. Similarly, it always seemed to me that J. B.Rhine's ESP tests would inhibit ESP, since they consist in deadly dull and repetitious guesses, withno positive feedback, involving cards that have absolutely no symbolic or emotive significance. Iam also leery of any science that depends on statistical wizardry to tease a weak and erratic signalout of a lot of noise. If the parapsychologist gets no positive correlation between targets andguesses, he may change his search to look for statistical correlations to cards displaced by one or two before or after the target. By contrast, Professor Stevenson's studies do not depend onstatistics. That is universally true of Psychical Research, the field study of remarkable paranormalevents.3  Remember that our facts must be both reproducible and veridical. Veridical means details thatcannot be explained away that are found to be true. In the Chinese tests of apportation, girlsknown to have this talent were asked to remove the cigarettes from a sealed box. Every time oneof the girls said she had done so, the investigators would open up the box and count the cigarettes.There would be one fewer. Cigarettes do not spontaneously disappear. The girls did not touch the box. It remained in plain sight of everybody throughout the test. What alternative could there be,other than an apport? Hallucination? That is Hume’s rule again. Mystical experiences are reproducible. This was William James's great discovery in his book THEVARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE. Unlike other sorts of religious experience, mysticalstates are the same in all cultures, under all religions. Symbolic interpretation is reproducible, atleast in the hands of experts like Carl Jung or Joseph Campbell. See the book MAN AND HISSYMBOLS by Carl Jung. Symbolists find the same lessons in folk-tales, mythology, the dreams of Western children and in religious ritual. The chief discoveries of Psychical Research are alsoreproducible. Anyone with the time and money can reproduce any of these studies.Science is universal and non-sectarian. Even at the height of the Cold War, Soviet and Western physicists were friends and went to the same conferences, even those scientists who had built theH-bombs for each side. Every truly scientific theory has testable consequences, and thus we candecide between competing ideas by rigorous experimentation.That is why scientists ignore Creationism. It is not out of any prejudice against Christianity. It is just that Creationism is untestable, and provides no help to the scientist in trying to figure out whereto look for what. Doctor Leakey went to Africa to look for our ancestors, because Darwin's theory shows us to be primates. Except for us and the Yeti, primates prefer tropical climates. Furthermore, he knew fromgeology that Pleistocene fossils were washing out of the soil in the Great Rift Valley in Africa. Heand his wife did immediately find plenty of Pleistocene fossils, everywhere they looked. It took almost 30 years to find a hominid fossil, because our distant ancestors were relatively rare. Neanderthal fossils are easier to find. It is much harder to find 3 million year old hominid fossils. Scientists can be just as opinionated and hotheaded about their favorite theories as anyone else can.That is unfortunate but it may motivate them to challenge any new idea. That is good, because itforces its originator to go back and examine new possibilities. Sometimes the new result turns outto be just an artifact, something not reproducible. Further tests always resolve scientific disputes peaceably. This is what I love about science, that and the adventure of ideas. On the other hand, the existing sciences are very narrow in their scope, and leave out most of thereally interesting questions. The existing sciences restrict themselves to a narrow band on thespectrum of reproducible experience, namely, the visible and tangible.The trouble is that mystical experience is not visible and tangible. It does not register on photographic equipment. Neither do most of the things investigated by Psi researchers. Poltergeist phenomena will register on photographs, and even haunts may show up on infrared cameras, butapparitions (which are far more common) do not register on photographic equipment. Nor is themind itself visible or tangible. We see the mind by powers inherent to the mind. These4
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