Thinking Scientifically

Lord Haskel

We benefit a lot from the discoveries made by science.  But we can also benefit from the way that science thinks.  David Brookes hinted at this in an article last week in the Herald Tribune about tools for thinking.

For instance, when an issue has many facets we try to take a “holistic view”.  We try to look at it in the round.  Science would be more specific and more thoughtful call it an emergent issue.  A system where all the different interacting elements produce a new element more important than all the individual elements and exercises an influence on the whole.

I tried this out in an economics debate last week.  Government grants look at individual aspects of a business – jobs, skills, research, exports, location, tax – and many of these grants have a low take up.  This is generally believed to be because of bureaucracy.  But is it also because modern business is an emergent system and this is why business angels and other investors who look at the people and the project as a whole are more successful?  The project is more important than the individual elements.

 Sadly the idea wasn’t picked up.

We know that giving something a scientific name lends it more authority.  It gives the impression that it has been thought through and understood.  We also know that when individual elements establish a pattern because of their interaction an emergent system results.  We see this in many of our problems today – crime, employment, even bad marriages are all emergent issues.  By scientifically identifying them as such, perhaps we can be more effective in dealing with them.  It’s worth a try.

20 comments for “Thinking Scientifically

  1. MilesJSD
    milesjsd
    05/04/2011 at 1:57 pm

    There are existing, and still-improving, Thinking-systems that include the scientific-mode in their sequencing;

    and a large number of other ongoing textbook and research type publications to help Thinking and good-communication thereof:

    “Blueprints for Thinking in the Cooperative Classroom” (Bellanca & Fogarty);

    “Six Thinking Hats” (de Bono);

    “Logic: theory and practice” (Rennie & Girle);

    “Fallacies and Argument Appraisal” (Tindale);

    and I have on order

    “The Emerging Mind: the BBC Reith Lectures 2003” (Ramachandran).

    ————
    What I need to see is
    “The Emerging Exemplarily Sustain-worthy Democrat & Leader”

    and of course its natural sequel

    “The Emerging Sustain-worthy Earth-citizen & Follower”.
    ============
    1457T05Apr11.JSDM.

    • Lord Haskel
      Lord Haskel
      11/04/2011 at 11:07 am

      Thank you for that response. I wasn’t aware of all these efforts about thinking systems. Obviously communicating them well is a trick to be learned.

  2. maude elwes
    05/04/2011 at 5:34 pm

    This gives a good cover of science and where it is leading us.

    However, as with all things, the nature of the beast can be as dark as it is light.

    http://www.project2061.org/publications/sfaa/online/chap3.htm?txtRef=&txtURIOld=%2Ftools%2Fsfaaol%2Fchap3.htm

    Whether the use of scientific terms will lend a more credible or acceptable vision of the topic or creation in question sounds a little duplicitous. Surely explanation without verbosity is a more practical way to go?

    • MilesJSD
      milesjsd
      06/04/2011 at 1:12 am

      Yes;
      and “the nature of – ”
      (any and every living-creature)
      “can be” –

      nay,

      is

      “as dark as it is light”

      And essentially, but always exceedingly problematically, every liv9ng creature is as destructive as it is constructive.

      And so, since we humans appear to be at the top-of-the-squirming-Life-Mass,
      we need to story
      and then measure
      and then manage

      every Event and each Form and form within It

      etcetera etcetera etcetera
      et cetera-paribus

      The hidden factor being that verbosity’s essentiality
      to be both upheld and disciplined*
      is that no existence or presence**
      shall be lost to Reduction (one-eyed R)

      In more common vernacular,
      let not the baby be thrown out with the bath-water,
      nor the wood not be seen for the trees
      or the tree not be seen for the wood;

      just as its opposite vernacular-pith warns
      let not the ship be spoiled for a ha’porth
      of tar,
      little acorns into great oaks may grow; but
      for want of a horseshoe-nail … the whole human nation was lost.

      .* consructively, not punitively
      .** not ‘existence nor presence’ .
      ============
      Maude’s “Explanation without Verbosity” is nonetheless good;
      its just that whilst human-verbal-language is still not so much ‘evolving’ as ‘struggling-in- dire-need-of-development’,
      it nevertheless is making well-grounded practical progress;
      so when we rise into the practice of both good-communication and honest-argumentation,
      we need to have a working-familiarity with its pre-requisites, a compound-one of which is:


      Examples of sentences that are (or make) statements:
      “Socrates is a man.”
      “A triangle has three sides.”
      “Paris is the capital of Spain.”
      The first two (make statements that) are true, the third is (or makes a statement that is) false.
      Examples of sentences that are not (or do not make) statements:
      “Who are you?”
      “Run!”
      “Greenness perambulates”
      “I had one grunch but the eggplant over there.”
      “The King of France in Wise”
      “Pegasus exists”
      The first two examples are not declarative sentences and therefore are not (or do not make) statements. The third and fourth are declarative sentences but, lacking meaning, are neither true nor false and therefore are not (or do not make) statements. The fifth and sixth examples are a meaningful declarative sentence which Russell held was false but Stawson held was neither since it did not make a statement.

      “Examples of sentences that are not (or do not make) statements:
       “Who are you?”
       “Run!”
       “Greenness perambulates”
       “I had one grunch but the eggplant over there.”
       “The King of France in Wise”
       “Pegasus exists”
      The first two examples are not declarative sentences and therefore are not (or do not make) statements. The third and fourth are declarative sentences but, lacking meaning, are neither true nor false and therefore are not (or do not make) statements. The fifth and sixth examples are a meaningful declarative sentence which Russell held was false but Strawson held was neither since it did not make a statement.”
      Wikipedia: Statement (logic) .
      ——————————————–
      (“) ‘Strict’- definition is a tricky procedure, and usually best preceded by clarification of the point in some other way, only after the failure of which should strict definition be pursued(“) ISBN 0959619607, p9.

      =============
      Now, your twofold Task should you choose to attempt it is

      .1. to colour-highlight respectively the part or parts of the above submission that would be essential, those that would be inessential; and those that would be in any context an utter waste-of-energy/time/paper/computers/lifesupports.

      .2. Read, and make your own margin-notes throughout, the following best-seller text
      “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre.
      “””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””
      0211W06Apr11.JSDM.

      • Lord Haskel
        Lord Haskel
        11/04/2011 at 11:10 am

        Yes, I too am a great fan of Ben Goldacre. And he writes well too.

  3. Dave H
    06/04/2011 at 6:31 am

    Too much government policy fails to consider the big picture. Often that’s because of pressure from interested parties who are only looking at their own short-term interests.

    I’d use universities as an example – the target of 50% of children going on to university is in isolation a laudable target, but when taken in the context of who’s been paying the bill up to now, and the knock-on effects of 50% of young adults having a degree, it’s a bad idea. It’s devalued the degree while vastly increasing its cost, so everyone loses out.

    • Lord Haskel
      Lord Haskel
      11/04/2011 at 11:12 am

      Would you then call universities an emergent system and the government is making mistakes because it is too bogged down on who goes to university?

      • Dave H
        11/04/2011 at 6:48 pm

        University should be there for those at the top of the academic ability range. This is a relatively small number who then can go on to the relatively small number of jobs that require degree-level abilities. If the government thinks that state school pupils are missing out then perhaps they need to look more closely at why. If they’re not getting the grades required then that is a failing of schools, not universities. You shouldn’t be applying bodge fixes to the wrong part of the system, it’s like curing a leak in a water system by putting a bucket under it.

        The traditional university system should not be an emergent system, but recent government policy has treated it as such. It’s being pushed into doing something for which there is no need.

  4. jake____
    06/04/2011 at 11:33 am

    “Sadly the idea wasn’t picked up.”

    That doesn’t surprise me. Successive governments have had a blatant disregard for science, in all forms. It is one of the reasons our economy has shrunk compared to Germany’s. Ministers constantly put ideology and prejudice over scientific data (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12865441). Did you know that science takes up about 2-3% GDP but physics-based industries alone contribute 6% GDP back. Where are our priorities? Why do we let the wrong decisions and processes guide policy?

    I suppose that because ~95% of those making policy studied PPE or History at university and have no idea how to rationally look at figures, and instead turn to the tabloids for guidance could be one of the answers…

    Science may not get everything right straight off the bat everytime, but show a scientist conclusive and irrefutable EVIDENCE and they have to accept it. Politicians, economists etc.. just carry on with their own view, usually with overt or covert vested interests. With grants, the government only wants to be seen to tick all the boxes so it shows they are ‘doing something’. It is exactly the same with science funding, where a direct measured benefit will get funded over a blue-sky idea, even though breakthroughs generate far more money for the treasury in the long term than evolutions…

    “By scientifically identifying them as such, perhaps we can be more effective in dealing with them. It’s worth a try.” Yes, but no one listens – have a look at Lord Norton’s QSD for a Royal Comission (http://lordsoftheblog.net/2011/03/02/debate-on-royal-commission-on-drugs/), where ALL the evidence/science says what we have doesn’t work, but the government doesn’t “believe” that rationally implementing the science is the answer. It is disgusting but unsurprising. Our leaders do what is right for their own interests, use science when it helps that interest and bury, suppress, ignore and ridicule those who bring genuine science to the table when it doesn’t follow their interests.

    The scientific method is incredibly dangerous in politics as it can prove your own ideas wrong…

    • Lord Haskel
      Lord Haskel
      11/04/2011 at 11:13 am

      The scientific method is dangerous in politics because it deals with things that you know rather than things that you believe.

      • maude elwes
        15/04/2011 at 5:45 pm

        @Lord Haskel:

        Nor necessarily. Science is theory until it is proven to be fact. Which can take forever. And even when it is said to be proven, it is often changed when more comes to light and proves it was incorrect after all.

        Take the LHC. Now there is science waiting to be proven as fact.

  5. Gareth Howell
    06/04/2011 at 7:48 pm

    We benefit a lot from the discoveries made by science. But we can also benefit from the way that science thinks. David Brookes hinted at this in an article last week in the Herald Tribune about tools for thinking.

    The theory is that things like basic quadratic equations increase the synapse and neurone activity of the brain; they are made to work while solving them.

    Calculus and hieroglyphic systems for a variety of scientific disciplines, such as Statistics are merely convenient methods for remembering facts precisely using those, what may be called in the age of the computer, “character sets”.

    I believe “Logic” today is a discipline rather like classical mechanics, which was thoroughly understood by the late 19thC, with very little more to add to its knowledge. (I may be wrong, but MiledJSd will know after reading all those texts he has quoted!)

    “holistic view”. We try to look at it in the round. Science would be more specific and more thoughtful call it an emergent issueissue.

    Not closed but open. A question of definition
    Curious how the noble lord identifies holism or holistics as “round”. Does that also mean circular? If it did it would also introduce the idea of a circular argument which really is not helpful.

    Ok so a scientific problem or the resolution of it, is described as emergent, when all possible avenues of inspection have been exhausted, and even solved.

    Wait! There might be another one!
    It is an emergent issue!

    • Lord Haskel
      Lord Haskel
      11/04/2011 at 11:15 am

      No, a holistic view is looking at something as a whole. An issue is emergent not when all possible avenues of inspection have been exhausted. It is when the issue changes because all the different factors combine to change the nature of the original issue.

  6. Carl.H
    06/04/2011 at 8:34 pm

    Holistical views.

    The Labour view:

    Money is the problem, therefore redistribution of wealth will solve it.

    The Tory view:

    Heirachy is the problem, more freedom for bosses, less for workers will solve the problem.

    The Lib-Dem view:

    Let’s be honest, then renege on everything as long as we have some power at very long last, forget ethics.

  7. Bedd Gelert
    07/04/2011 at 6:50 pm

    “Science would be more specific and more thoughtful call it an emergent issue. ”

    “A system where all the different interacting elements produce a new element more important than all the individual elements and exercises an influence on the whole.”

    “But is it also because modern business is an emergent system and this is why business angels and other investors who look at the people and the project as a whole are more successful? ”

    Forget about science for a minute. I think you need to go on a communication course. I cannot make head nor tail of the ambiguities in the above. Maybe you need to write in more concise sentences to give greater clarity.

    This is the problem with this country. The ‘arts’ graduates can express themselves clearly, and go on to work in politics and the media – having a disproportionately large influence on policy.

    The scientists are not well understood by the population, and the politicians are thus free to ignore the siren voices of the mathematicians and statisticians who point out the policy errors.

    • Lord Haskel
      Lord Haskel
      11/04/2011 at 11:17 am

      Yes, perhaps the argument is expressed in dense language. As you say, those that express themselves well have a disproportionately large influence.

  8. Twm O'r Nant
    08/04/2011 at 7:38 am

    The apotheosis of logic has been the development of logic gates for computer technology, and digital technology itself.

    In that sense Logic is “emergent” in that we know as much about logic as we are likely to know at any time in the future, but like all good empiricists the doors are left open just in case! It is an emergent issue.

  9. Twm O'r Nant
    08/04/2011 at 7:50 am

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

    The apotheosis of logic has been the development of logic gates for computer technology, and digital technology itself.

    In that sense Logic is “emergent” in that we know as much about logic as we are likely to know, but like all good empiricists the doors are left open just in case! It is an emergent issue.

    As per the link above the uses to which Logic may be put are many and varied, ” a logic” being developed for which ever different discipline needs it.

    • Lord Haskel
      Lord Haskel
      11/04/2011 at 11:18 am

      Thanks for the link. Using logic as a method of thinking about a problem goes back to classical Greece. There is nothing new in that. Digital technology could be called a logical development!

  10. ZAROVE
    13/04/2011 at 9:40 am

    The problem I see in giving things Scientific names is, this really is not going to make hem more True. it’s a mind trick.

    While sometimes it describes real Phenomenon, other times its used to simply rationalise a pre-existing Dogma.

    EG, the Soviets had something called Slouching Schizophrenia. It was a catchall term. All religious people had it. Most Political dissidents had it too. A lot of the Enemies of the State had it.

    It was a nice, neat Scientific term that was well defined in Diagnostic manuals and applied with Gusto.

    Of course we see it nowadays as simply the attempt to justify imprisonment or coercion of those the State wanted rid of, or the oppression of beliefs they didn’t like.

    Making something sound more Authoritative doesn’t mean its actually got the Authority that most counts, that its True.

    When we give a Scientific Name to a perception, and treat that perception as fact, we run the risk of creating an unquestionable Dogma that we simply adhere to and try to force into Reality even if it doesn’t seem to be producing good results.

    This is why I dislike how we tamper with Language. Language regulates more than how we communicate, but also how we think.

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