Humans: Naturally Born Scientists

Philosophers, through the ages, have tried to distinguish man from beast. The soul was suggested as a possible distinction (that was an old Middle Age theory, later adopted by Descartes). Tool usage was proposed (Bergson). And then language was offered as characteristic of humans. But animals were found to have theories of mind, tools, and language. How is man going to feel proud and different?

What about science? Does the inbred ability to produce it characterize us? I think so.

What Is Science? It Is Not To Be Confused With Scientific Theories:

Science is the body of certain facts. Science is the body of facts which have been proven experimentally to be true.

Curiously, many people do not get this simple statement. Is it because primary school is not taught adequately?

We Have Been Scientists, All Along, Ever More

We Have Been Scientists, All Along, Ever More

Science is the body of certain facts. Science is the body of facts which have been proven experimentally to be true. How hard is it to understand this?

Newtonian Mechanics for example is science because, within its domain of application, all its predictions are, and have been proven to be, indeed, what is observed.

Same thing for classical thermodynamics: facts are predicted, and observed to be true, time and time again. Same thing for continental drift: it predicts that continents are moving, and they are observed to move, indeed. At the exact rate predicted.

Biological evolution, too, is science. It says species have evolved. This is indeed what is observed. Thus, evolution is science. It’s not just a theory. Biological science says even more: that species are still evolving, as observed.

And so on:

Science is the body of facts which have been proven time and time again, to be indeed, occurring.

Then there are so-called “scientific” theories.

Scientific Theories Are Not Science, But, First, Theories:

Theory means: a point of view. Theories are not just facts anymore, but a way to organize them according to a perspective. That calls onto pieces of logic which are not proven. A “scientific” theory can be made of a mumbo-jumbo of facts, and completely unproven, even outrageous hypotheses.

Evolution is science. But scientific theories of how this evolution exactly happens are debatable, and debated. They are not sure. They are just theories. (Is evolution just from “natural selection”, haphazardly, or is there more, such that intelligent steering by Quantum epigenetics, as I believe?)

Most Quantum mechanics is science: it’s a set of rules, a logos, which has been checked, time and time again. However, as soon as one steps a bit away from it, it becomes uncertain (for example the Many Interacting World, MIW, a theory is handy, but it assumes that particles are points; that latter point is not a proven, certain fact).

String Theory, Supersymmetry, Multiverse, for example, are theories which include some “scientific” or “mathematical” facts. But they cannot even be checked, let alone capable of making predictions which are observed.

So those “scientific theories” are not “science”. They make a body of knowledge of some sort, like a game. But they are not allowing to make predictions observed in nature.

***

Subtleties:

There are so-called “demarcation problems“, always. It happens within science: Newtonian Mechanics makes superbly exact predictions about where space probes go as engineers use planets as slings to launch them further. However, if one wants to find out about GPS drift, one has to use the more general version of gravitation of Einstein (the latter reduces exactly to Newtonian Mechanics inside the solar system; so the theory changes from Newton, for rockets, to General Relativity (GR), for GPS).

A more subtle demarcation is found, within the body of any given science. For example, part of Einstein theory of gravitation is science, as it predicts exactly what is exactly observed (say with the Geo Positioning System). However, the same set of ideas when applied to, say, Black Holes, comes short: it runs out of enough ideas to make exact predictions, runs out of experiments to be checked, and observed facts.

Thus the theory of gravitation, GR, is science (the closest one stays to Newton), and also a hoped-for scientific theory (but not as disconnected from reality as String Theory, Susy, Multiverse, etc.). However, GR, as a general scientific theory, has disappointed: the unified theory which Einstein tried to develop did not work. (Instead it morphed into something else the general fiber space theory with Ehresman connections, known as Gauge Theory, also know as Quantum Field Theory, etc.)

Thus:

Science is what we know for sure:

How do we know that a logic is true, for sure? By conducting experiments.

By that token, archery was a science (launched just right, an arrow goes where it’s supposed to). Archery later blossomed into gunnery, ballistics, Newtonian Mechanics. Nowadays we would not consider archery as a science, but it’s among the simplest cases of dynamics.

For millions of years, our ancestors have used plants to help with their health. (Ethology has shown many animals do this, not just upper primates.) At this point, around 60% of our medical drugs come from plants.

The European iceman was found carrying general purpose antibiotics. Not by accident. He died more than 5,000 years ago.

And so on. Science is what is sure. We have been sure for a long, a very long time. If we were not so sure, we could not do much.

An artisan making a work perfectly is a scientist, in the particular domain in which this artisan excels. A prehistoric man striking a stone, just so that the force would split a crystal perfectly along pre-determined planes, was a scientist. A rock scientist. He, or she, was engaging in an application of a science we now know as crystallography. (And also in the theory of the mechanical forces, vector calculus.)

Humanity has blossomed, because humanity has learned how to establish, for sure, certain truths which required artificially devised experiments, and the proclivity to push the last frontier of truth, ever more, by being ever more subtle.

We evolved to become an intentionally scientific, that is, prone to experiment, species.

SCIENCE IS US.

And philosophy and its philosophical method, in all that? It’s the category of all the wild guesses, absolutely indispensable to suggest the next experiments, to feed tomorrow’s truths.

***

Science Is Starting To Address Ethics, And Theory Of Mind:

Long the rage smoldered between the so called “humanities” and science. How obsolete. Clearly science is making inroads in the humanities, and clearly the humanities can ask pointed questions to physics, biology, even engineering. Let’s consider the first point, how science is informing humanities.

There is a science called ethology. It comes from “ethos” which means character. Ethology is the logic of character. Ethos also gave the notion of ethics.

Ethology originally was the study of character of animals, from their objective behavior. A number of methods pertaining to the field were developed, Nobel Prizes in biology and medicine were awarded to ethologists.

Then, in the following decades, it dawned on ethologists that the methods of ethology could be extended to the study of the human character.

This is why I am surprised when I hear that one needs a metaphysics to have an ethics. Instead, ethics is something that is determined by the bottom up (instead of top down).

First, through trial, error, and natural selection, human ethology evolved in the last 500 million years. Nature played scientist to evolve us.

Second, human beings observe, and make theories, even social and ethical theories, and then they apply what is basically the scientific method to them.

The scientific method consists in establishing with reasonable certainty facts. As it becomes ever more subtle, it can address ever more sophisticated domains, which used to be exclusively philosophical.

An example? The Theory of Mind. That is a subject long exclusively philosophical. However, scientific research published in recent years showed that children exposed to a second language have, in the average, a better theory of mind. Here is a fresh example, published in 2015:

http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21652258-children-exposed-several-languages-are-better-seeing-through-others-eyes-do

Here is an abstract of the research:

HUMAN beings are not born with the knowledge that others possess minds with different contents. Children develop such a “theory of mind” gradually, and even adults have it only imperfectly. But a study by Samantha Fan and Zoe Liberman at the University of Chicago, published in Psychological Science, finds that bilingual children, and also those simply exposed to another language on a regular basis, have an edge at the business of getting inside others’ minds… Some objects were blocked from the experimenter’s sight, a fact the children could clearly see. With a large, a medium and a small car visible to the child, but the small car hidden from the adult, the adult would ask “I see a small car” and ask the child to move it. Both bilingual and those in the exposure group moved the medium-sized car (the smallest the experimenter could see) about 75% of the time, against 50% for the monolinguals. The successful children were less likely even to glance at the car the experimenter could not see.

Why is this happening? Multilingual children observe that different languages provide with different perspectives, thus different theories (theory means literally, to “see” (horan) a “view” (thea)). So multilingual children are more apt to consider which view others see, when considering others.

Multilingual children have a theory of theories of behavior, and we can prove it scientifically. Epistemics” is now a science. And it informs morality.

We are the scientific species. No science, no man. Now, more than ever. And at last smart enough to understand what it means. It means: “Plus Oultre!”, as emperor Charles Quint put it, five centuries ago. Wherever we arrived, in place, time, or understanding, we have to go beyond. It’s not just what ecology requires, it’s what we are.

Patrice Ayme’

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28 Responses to “Humans: Naturally Born Scientists”

  1. brodix Says:

    Patrice,

    I’m starting to take the hint they don’t much care for my thoughts at SS. I tried to make a fairly clear and succinct comment and it got the usual, “Does not compute” rejection. As it makes points similar to your comments, I thought I’d post it here to further the discussion;

    ““I am, in essence, defending the unity of knowledge — the idea that the boundaries between disciplines are mere conventions and that we inhabit a single epistemic sphere in which to form true beliefs about the world.”

    What if knowledge is based on the very existence of boundaries? While much of our knowledge and the boundaries defining it, do seem fuzzy, indistinct horizon lines, when examined closely, if they didn’t exist, would there be that “single epistemic sphere,” that is “the unity of knowledge,” or would there be an intellectual void?

    What are “true beliefs?” Aren’t beliefs what we are willing to accept on faith, while truth is what needs no support, or suspension of skepticism in order to exist?

    Our knowledge of the world arises from feedback with it, as we observe, predict and try to explain it.

    To make sense of Harris’ argument, we need to consider it as a modern rejection of certain cultural norms, i.e.. religious models. In order to do that, it might be more effective to go back and consider how these beliefs developed and why they were chosen as culturally foundational. Rather than simply taking them at face value and trying to argue them from a modern rational premise.

    For instance, if we really go back to the ancients, science and religion would seem to have originated as the same effort to describe and explain natural order. Yet while the proto-scientists rushed on to ever more expanded knowledge and understanding, leaving explanations to be fought over, it naturally left much of society in the dust, still trying to fathom prior explanations. These then became the cultural icons out of which religion grew. With philosophy trying to bridge the gap between social needs and intellectual inquiry.

    What is monotheism, if not a platonic ideal of an anthropomorphized social organism? The father as role model. Three thousand years ago, this was cutting edge conceptual insight.

    Today religion is viewed as having very deep cultural roots, while science is viewed as being shallow and indecisive, going wherever the winds blow it.

    Harris does not seem to present particularly consequential arguments and it is to sidetrack some of the deeper issues, trying to filter them through his particular concerns.

    One would really need to go back and properly consider the history and evolution of religion as a cultural framing device, to properly critique it.

    For instance, are good and bad really the cosmic dual between the forces of righteousness and evil that western monotheistic religions assume them to be, or are the the biological binary code of attraction to the beneficial and repulsion of the detrimental that lower biological organisms treat them as and as such, our cultures form around communally agreed on polarities of good and bad? Even if not only other communities have different views of good and bad, but other communities are often put in such categories?

    Then we definitely do not have that “single epistemic sphere in which to form true beliefs.”

    What is knowledge? What is truth? What are good and bad? Using Harris, even if just to critique him, provides a poor guide.”

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      I don’t understand all the excitement about Sam Harris. All together, Sam says less, and less hard, than your truly. He is a sort of yours truly light. But he drives to fury lots of people. The same would be/are driven even more furious by what I said (I have had vigorous exchanges behind the scenes).

      I hope I made pretty clear science was everywhere. No science, no man.

      Truth is the knowledge that works. Evil the knowledge that works, but ain’t cuddly. And so on.

    • John Rogers Says:

      brodix

      Very nicely done. Thank you.

    • EugenR Says:

      The avoidance of scientists to inquire about morale questions scientifically leaves all the space in question of morality to religious or non-religious preachers, politicians and other kind of falsifiers. Education and scientific training seems to create people with higher integrity than any other activity of human intellect. It is probably caused by scientific method that doubt in everything is in its essence. Yet morality is about being right without doubt. The major question to be asked is, how to bridge between these two methods of thought.

    • gmax Says:

      That Scientia Salon guy, Massimo,”likes nobody” as P Z Meyers put it, and he is a total snob. His bone head is made of ivory, as he admits

  2. ianmillerblog Says:

    Interesting that you say theoreticians do not do science, because what they do is not known to be true. Interestingly, if someone asked me what science was, I would have answered that it is the application of the scientific methodology, which is that by which we attempt to discern the truth.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      This is interesting that you point this out, Ian, I had not even noticed! True. But, yes, I must admit, as I rudely pointed out, scientific theorizing is not science. When the theory becomes truth, it is science. Before that, it’s more akin to song writing.

      I had some difficulties with various people today, on this notion, including a big fight in an email exchange with some philosophers, which I will not make public, all the more as I told them they went their primary schooling left much to be desired… Apparently Sam Harris has been saying stuff similar to what I say (but what I say I have said for MANY years; only today’s formulation maybe vaguely new). Harris is well known, with lots of enemies, hence the agitation…

      Anyway I distinguish the science, and the hope. The scientific method itself is as old as two or three species before our own.

      • ianmillerblog Says:

        Dear Patrice, your post has me in a bind. Here was me, considering that I am a scientist, and hey, maybe I am not. Aaargh! However, I have a problem with “truth” . First, is partially true science? I refer to Newtonian mechanics as my prime example. It is true within its premises, but at least two premises are missing, and there is no way Newton could have seen them because there was no sign whatsoever in his time that they were important. I argue it is science, even if many argue it is not strictly speaking true, but rather an approximation.

        The second question is, if everyone thinks it is true, even if it is not, is it science? As an example, in my PhD I entered a field in which a strong debate was raging, and needless to say, with my luck, my results came down unambiguously in favour of the side that everyone eventually decided was untrue. A review came out showing what I believed was untrue was, in fact, true, and it did this by omitting about 60 different types of experimental results that disproved their hypothesis. Nevertheless, they produced quantum mechanical computations that proved their conclusion. The problem was, the computational method also “proved unambiguously” the stability of polywater! This was chemistry, of course, and much later (I had to get a day job) I tried a review that showed the opposite. What happened next was it got rejected by one journal for “too many maths” and in others because “we do not publish logic analyses”.

        Since then, I have embarked on various theoretical exercises, in which I try to find premises that encompass observational results that do not fit standard theory. The standard scientists reject my views because I do not necessarily accept their theories, and now I find I am not a scientist from the other side of the debate. Aaargh again!

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Dear Ian: We are all scientists, in the sense we all know some things, for sure. And that we could not even function if we did not know some things, for sure.

          I addressed, tried to, the problem of “partial science”. Well, it’s science. It’s just a question of domain of application, as I tried to point out. To send the “New Horizons” mission to Pluto, one used exquisitely precise Newtonian Mechanics, not Einstein’s GR, totally useless in this case (or, rather, exactly reducing to Newtonian Mechanics).

          As I said, many scientific theories everybody talks about are not science. Including the Big Bang and Quantum Mechanics in their most outrageous claims (first three minutes, live dead cats, etc.). Not that those are false in all ways. No. But by claiming (probably) more than they can chew, they are (probably) just partial science. The “science” parts are what is known for sure, and they both possess plenty. The harmonic oscillator, and most chemistry, and QED for QM, galaxies spreading out for Big bang, etc.

        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          When Buridan his “impetus”, a mix of inertia and momentum… It was science, because it represented a distinct truth or two, certainly not found in Aristotle (who had the opposite). It was true, because rough experiments could show it to be true.

          So are there fifty shades of truth?
          Indeed. Science is a relative thing. Making a rock knife by cleaving crystals, prehistoric style, is crystallography, but not as much as the present versions…

  3. Paul Handover Says:

    Fascinating essay. It reminds me of the of ‘curse’ of confirmation bias and how easy it is to find supporting ‘evidence’ for just about any belief. I well recall many years ago listening to a lecture by De Bono and registering the need to be ruthless in testing alternative hypotheses. Ergo, be scientific.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Thanks Paul! A theory, scientific or not, is just that, a theory, a perspective. To become science, it has to be tested. And found to be true, again and again, and again… until that plane is mostly probably not going to crash…
      PA

  4. Alexi Helligar Says:

    We tell bigger stories, and often bigger lies.

  5. Alexi Helligar Says:

    Under certain moral and ethical regimes, meaningful lies can be more significant and hence more adaptive than meaningless truth — at least in the shorter term.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Patrice Ayme: Lies are adaptative: well educated people lie all the time, that’s central to their education. Conversely, my lack of education is characterized by the gross and deliberately rude manner of telling the truth all too much.

  6. gmax Says:

    You are an iconoclast! 😉 Love it. Very interesting: art is science, but theories are not. Wow. And we are all scientists at heart… Evolved that way…

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Thanks, GMax. Not just at heart. Our minds evolved to produce science. How long? At least since the first tools, say four million years. One could even say five millions, supposedly the last time there was interbreeding with chimps having left a DNA trace. So science is distinctly human.
      PA

  7. EugenR Says:

    Dear Patrice, thanks for the clear defined article. As to the the scientific theories i feel you poured out the baby with the water. Some i f most of the great scientific discoveries come out of correct or not correct scientific theories. Kepler is an example of having a “scientific” theory about planets orbiting in Platonic “perfect”spheres. Then the evidence proved otherwise. Circle happened to be a unique geometric form out of more general Ellipse. He was smart enough to drop his wrong theory, even if he invested in it a fortune. He prepared a golden model of his “perfect” theory, to present it to the King. I wish many others (mainly politicians and banksters) would have his courage, to abjure wrong investments and start again from the scratch.

    On the other hand there are more known successful scientific theories, that became later scientific truths. What jumps to my mind is Mendeleev’s elements periodic, where he presupposed order in elements, including prediction of unknown elements, (he was not the first Antoine Lavoisier was before him).

    Truth is scientific theory do has in itself element of faith, to be believed without support of evidence. And such a faith can be very dangerous and then has to be opposed. The main problem of human thought and philosophy is to separate the good scientific theories with potential to become scientific facts, from the false and dangerous ones, (mainly in social and political sciences), and not to oppose all of them.

    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Eugen: Science is the baby, scientific THEORY, the bath. We throw out the latter always, to keep the former growing ever healthier.
      Kepler made a “30 year war on Mars”. In the end, he PROVED that Mars followed an ellipse. At that point, Kepler had established a piece of science. A TRUE scientific theory is one that has been demonstrated experimentally. Before that, the theory is true, as a game is true.

      I do not oppose all theories, “scientific” or not. Far from it. I do little else than write down and imagine theories. Distinguishing between theories is indeed essentially human, and a necessary pregnancy for all and any new science.

      My essay had another main ingredient: everything that is sure, is science.

  8. John Rogers Says:

    Patrice

    On recent developments in archery and ballistics, I wondered if you knew about the Navy’s rail gun research to produce sort of the ultimate arrow.

    Basically a pointed iron bar hurled into motion by an electromagnetic launcher, achieving speeds of Mach 10 and such frightening kinetic energy that no explosives are needed to destroy pretty much anything.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Railgun

    Clever monkeys, always coming up with something new.

  9. I Feel, Therefore I Think | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] has been discovered recently that bilingualism helped with setting up a theory of mind in children, and also that physical exercise helps the […]

  10. itsnobody Says:

    lol…evolution is about as scientific as the Ninja Turtles.

    Evolution has never been experimentally verified as real and contradicts physics requiring a magical type of entropy decrease and increase in complexity, so why do you consider it to be science?

    It’s simple, you’re biased, one-sided and don’t really care about evidence.

    In your other articles you had no issue claiming that “free-will” exists even though the scientific evidence telling us there’s no free-will is about a billion times more concrete than the evidence supporting evolution (which is almost all just imaginations and speculations).

    The reason why you have no issue with inventing crackpot theories to believe in “free-will” but have an issue with questioning evolution is because you don’t really care about evidence or science.

    The only form of evolution experimentally verified as real is species becoming weaker, the only form of evolution possible by physics.

    Everything else in evolution is just imaginations and speculations.

    Like evolutionists point out flies evolving into something weaker, but it’s still weaker.

    In order for evolution to work there has to be an increase in complexity over and over again.

    Physics predicts 3 things for species: Remaining around the same, becoming weaker, or becoming extinct.

    In order for a primitive form of bacteria to have evolved into every species including humans you would have to have a ridiculous type of entropy decrease and increase in complexity that no one’s ever come close to experimentally verifying as real.

    Basically believing that a primitive form of bacteria evolved into all species including humans is equivalent to believing in magic or the supernatural.

    No one’s ever experimentally verified any genetic increases in complexity as real.

    All of the evidence for increases in complexity (contradicting physics) fits into these categories:
    – Imaginations and speculations (not experimentally verified as real)
    – Weakness or decreases in complexity labeled as increases in complexity
    – Increases in complexity caused by non-genetic factors unrelated to evolution

    With engineering you know that you can imagine and speculate all types of things that would never happen, this includes evolution, it’s just like someone imagining a perpetual motion machine working in their minds, it’s just fantasy and imagination.

    Genetic engineering and bioengineering basically falsifies evolution telling us that physics is right and evolution is wrong.

    The evolutionist idea is getting something from nothing.

    If I were to tell someone that two humans can reproduce and have a baby dragon with wings people would laugh saying how can those gene changes happen?…But the idea of primitive form of bacteria evolving into all species including humans is nearly the same…

    Eventually physicists and others are going to have to come out and tell people the truth that evolution is false…you can’t really keep protecting evolution from being falsified with science fiction ideas.

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