Sunday, January 28, 2007

Consciousness and the Scientific Method

I finished an article in Time ("The Mystery of Consciousness" by Steven Pinker, January 29, 2007) on the issue of consciousness a few minutes ago and was left with an observation.

The scientific method (SM) is a circular process. Let me explain. An observation leads to a hypothesis, then an experiment is done to show the validity of this hypothesis. To be clearer: the circularity is seen in that the nature of the hypothesis determines the experiment and thus the answer. Or to put it another way: an a priori can and will materially determine the answer to a given question (not to mention what question is being asked in the first place!).

In the case of consciousness the question is Where is the consciousness located? The a priori is that knowledge must be observable and measurable. Thus the hypothesis (which is influenced by the question and the a priori) is that the consciousness exists in the brain's activities (which must be empirical). Experiments are done that back up this hypotheses (though they do not prove it!) and the answers are viewed highly because they were found using the SM.

Where is the place of creativity in this process? What of openness to outside-the-box thinking? Where is true searching? Determining one's answer at the outset leads to neither creativity nor openness nor true searching. It seems to me that the SM restricts and inhibits progress and observation (scientific or, especially, otherwise). Instead we should observe things as they are, without imposing our foreign hypotheses on top of them. In doing so we may see the answer that has always been right in front of faces.

Formerly intellectual prejudice engendered by the well-intentioned SM blinded us...but is it possible to now see through it, in spite of it, and beyond it?


Duane Smith said...

What you see as circular, scientists see as positive (confirming) or negative (disconfirming) feedback.

J. Matthew Barnes said...

But my point still stands that one's hypothesis plays a major determinative factor in the feedback one receives from one's experiment...thus, creating circularity that gets one no closer to the truth than when one began.