Monday, October 8, 2007

Science and other ways of knowing

In my previous post, I think I just kept on saying “science, science, science,” etc. etc. etc. I am perhaps a little self-conscious—I wonder if I look rather arrogant saying, “I know I’m right because SCIENCE is on my side.” “Aren’t there other ways of knowing?” my hypothetical second reader asks.

Of course there are. But how do we know that another “way of knowing” is actually a way of knowing truth, and not a way of knowing, well, something else? That’s right, we compare its conclusions to that of science. (an aside: Here, I use an extremely broad definition of science that encompasses all of reason and observation. The more common conception of science—what scientists do—is only a subset of my meaning.)

For example, we can consider intuition a way of knowing (and I do) because we often find that our intuitions are later confirmed by observations. More generally, we can use observation and reason to determine how often and under what conditions intuition is correct, and, of course, it’s not correct all the time (while we’re at it, neither is science). For example, logical fallacies are usually a place where intuition can be mistaken.

If we find a method that is reliable enough under certain conditions, we can use induction to argue that it is reliable even when science itself gives us no results. But first, the method must be tested by science. In conclusion, there can be other ways of knowing, but these other ways are really just indirect application of science, and even in some sense part of science.