Science is more than lab coats and test tubes and Einstein's bad hair day.
Science is the systematic study of the natural world through observation and experiment.
We start with a testable hypothesis: a claim about the world that we can prove right or wrong through experimentation. For instance, "Application of bio-fertiliser accelerates plant growth."
We can test this claim using various experimental controls (different plants, different fertilisers, different application schedules) to come to an evidence-based conclusion.
This brings us to the first of four principles used in science: Testability.
Anyone can claim they time travel in their dreams, but without testability, we can't even begin to explore this as a possible truth. It's a scientific cul-de-sac.
The next principle is Empiricism, which says knowledge is derived from repeatable sense-experience. In other words, if we can consistently measure it, we can develop a scientific framework around it.
Science is sceptical of claims we can't measure (and therefore test), such as the afterlife, mediumship, and telepathy. They might as well be made up. Given that storytelling is part of human nature, the more likely explanation is they're fantasy.
This brings us to Parsimony: scientific theories should makes the fewest assumptions. This is also known as Ockham's Razor. It's very helpful in the development of theoretical models.
Parsimony rescues us from jumping to conclusions, which as pattern-seeking animals is something we do all too often in error. Coincidences (having no apparent causal connection between events) can be explained mathematically, but not supernaturally.
Lastly, there's the scientific principle of Determinism. The known universe is a complex web of cause and effect, from the centrifugal forces that compel the shape of galaxies, to the molecular interactions that guide the neurotransmitters in your brain. It means there are always guiding forces at play.
This predictability in nature renders notions of fate, karma, and even free will moot. Why? Because these untestable claims assert multiple causes for singular effects.
These four principles of science have changed the world dramatically in the last 300 years. Science drives much of what's critical to society, including energy and water supply, agriculture, transport, medicine, communication, computing, and much, much more.
Just imagine your day without the inventions of science. You wouldn't get very far—unless of course, you currently thrive semi-naked in the wilderness. For narrative purposes I'm assuming you don't.
Perhaps because of these ground rules, non-scientists hold the misconception that science is rigid and unyielding. In fact, these principles give rise to a scientific culture that's eternally responsive to change. We see this in action when scientists assimilate new evidence to expand or even overhaul established theories.
This willingness to throw out old ideas and embrace the new is how science progresses, honing in on objective truths with increasing specificity.
This fluidity of thought contrasts with religion which, by its nature, is governed by ancient dogma and so must strongly oppose change. Literal interpretation of religious dogma is particularly problematic. For example, the belief that the world is 6,000 years old blocks any attempt to integrate modern evidence of geology and evolution.
This is an important distinction to make. Science evolves and improves not by hanging on to outmoded convictions, but by embracing new evidence and its applications. So start building up your own personal cache of scientific enlightenment. Go ahead and wrangle with science, pull it apart, try to prove it wrong.
See? You're already sciencing.
"Science is different to all the other systems of thought. You don't need faith in it, you can check that it works." - Brian Cox
Why Fox Pokes Cats
My son, Fox, is fascinating with animals. He went through a phase of probing cats to see their reaction. Psychologists call this bottom-up processing. He didn't make any assumptions about cats—only bootstrapped his way to conclusions.
Eventually, a cat scratched Fox and ran away. That day, he learned that cats have sharp and rather effective claws.
Now when Fox meets a cat, he doesn't have to go through the whole experimental rigmarole of poking it senseless to see what will happen. Now he's top-down processing. In other words, he started with an established conclusion.
Children adopt this scientific framework naturally because it's simple and intuitive. It's very effective, too. They learn about the world through direct observation and build up a catalogue of conclusions.
The problem is, after a while, we get cocky. We begin to think we know the answers already. We cut corners and start to top-down everything.
By the time they're adults, many people fail to gather data in the light of new situations. They forget their open-minded schema of childhood which would have led them to empirical truth.
Science stops us cutting corners by being course-correcting. As its core, scientific training teaches us to go back to basics and build truth from the ground up.
So if you haven't already, put on your science filter and start making new evidence-based conclusions. Use an empirical lens to navigate society's minefield of pseudo-science and ideological indoctrination.
With scientific thinking, we can make more effective decisions about our own lives: education, medicine, climate change, politics, and any indeed many aspects of modern life.
Cast off your top-down assumptions, adopt a questioning approach, and play in ways you haven't done since you were five years old and poking cats.
"Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge." - Carl Sagan
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