Our modern world had begun with the dawn of the Age of Reason. It was then, when the fundamental assumptions had been made and the direction of the progress chosen. We may not realize that, but the modern Western worldview, the answers which a typical citizen of the West gives to questions concerning our reality, world order, our past and our future stem from the Age of Enlightenment. The way we think about ourselves, politics, society, economy, and so on; had been largely decided during the epoch of Enlightenment.
Due to the subject of this text, we will focus on science. The way we see and define science nowadays is clearly a result of our post-Enlightenment worldview. And having a wrong view here, can be, and is - very costly. I had mentioned it, already, in my text on economics. Now, I will provide a much more elaborated explanation of what is, and what isn't, a science. The best place to start is, obviously, the definition of science. The very common one, we can find on Wikipedia. It starts with:
Science (from the Latin word scientia, meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.
Later, we have some additional explanations:
Modern science is typically divided into three major branches that consist of the natural sciences (e.g., biology, chemistry, and physics), which study nature in the broadest sense; the social sciences (e.g., economics, psychology, and sociology), which study individuals and societies; and the formal sciences (e.g., logic, mathematics, and theoretical computer science), which study abstract concepts. There is disagreement, however, on whether the formal sciences actually constitute a science as they do not rely on empirical evidence.
Astonishing. We learn that "There is disagreement, however, on whether the formal sciences actually constitute a science as they do not rely on empirical evidence.". But there seems to be no controversy in case of 'social sciences'. Is this an embarrassing lack of basic knowledge and understanding, or an intentional deception? Economists, in their fruitless efforts to show economics as a science, undermine every single element of the basic science definition. They claim that prediction is irrelevant, they doubt in testability and insist on "multiple truths" (no objective knowledge). I show it in my next text.
Yet, we have a mention on Wikipedia that the formal sciences are the problem. Singular. Logic and mathematics "do not rely on empirical evidence"?! It is quite the opposite. In fact, they are the essence of empirical evidence. They are built upon the most basic abstractions of the physical reality.
How to show it? That's very simple. If logic and mathematics are not based on empirical evidence, then what is their source? If it is not empirical - this world based, then their origin must be outside of our reality. Ancient philosophers called such knowledge "a priori" - before anything else. Given in a kind of supernatural illumination. To every human being on his/her birth. Do we accept such explanation? I doubt.
What are the roots of logic and mathematics, then? Well, they are very mundane. They were born with our first observations - when we emerged on the surface of Earth. When our speech was born. Logic and mathematics are pure consequences of our reality. And proofs are everywhere. Could we imagine the strict true-false logic, if our reality (empirical evidence) was not so strict in many aspects? Me - not me. You - not you. A dog - not a dog. Could the basic set algebra be what it is, if our bodies were not so clearly defined? Arms, fingers, legs, head, etc. What if we would be just an essence filling random count of objects (or parts of objects) over time? What if objects (things) were not so distinctly defined, but vague and uneasy to differentiate - mutually pervading? Would we end up with the same logic and mathematics (counting, for instance), as we do have now? If so, it would mean they have been given "from outside" - counter to our empirical experience. A truly divine intervention.
Still, the empirical evidence for mathematics is inexhaustible. Entire physics is mathematical. The advance in modern physics is often: mathematics first, then the empirical verification (vide the neutrino detector). Even the most basic Newtonian laws have their mathematical formulas. The fact, that we can develop mathematics 'as such' - without following the physical phenomena, and later find domains of application to the physical reality, does not mean that mathematics does "not rely on empirical evidence". That's a really daft conclusion.
Every time, an engineer makes calculations to predict the proper construction (of anything), he provides empirical evidence for mathematics. The only way to deny such evidence is through manipulation and deception. Or just the denial of reality.
As we see, the not so bad Wikipedia definition is followed by the deceptive clarification "whether the formal sciences actually constitute a science". It is very typical. We will keep finding such deceptive distractions in many places. They are to convince us that the "social sciences" are not the problem, or not the only problem, or not the biggest problem, at least.
Let's check the more professional definition, now. The one taken from Britannica:
Science, any system of knowledge that is concerned with the physical world and its phenomena and that entails unbiased observations and systematic experimentation. In general, a science involves a pursuit of knowledge covering general truths or the operations of fundamental laws.
Indeed, the first sentence of this definition is more precise and therefore it lets more clearly distinguish science and non-science. It states plainly that science "is concerned with the physical world and its phenomena". However, the second part is astonishing, again. Science as "a pursuit of knowledge covering general truths" is rather a strange element here. General truths are just general truths - often true, sometimes not. While the laws of the physical world are always true. Always. No exception.
General truths are the ones found in religions, good literature, tales, myths and aphorisms. Philosophy is a pursuit of general truths. Theologies speak of general truths. Mother-in-law jokes often contain general truths. But nobody talks about the Einstein's or Newton's theories as "general truths". They are simply the laws of physics.
With such definition, nearly every mental activity could be seen as a part of science. Why to water down the simple, effective definition contained in the first sentence? The answer is simple: to protect the social sciences. Without this addition, it would be impossible to call psychology a science. Or even economics.
And here we get to the point. To the error of Enlightenment, which is carefully preserved in our contemporary world. It all started with the Revolution of Reason. It was a revolution in thinking, in seeing us (the humankind) and the universe. "From now on, we shall use Reason as the only source of knowledge" - was the motto of Enlightenment. "We shall question everything, we throw away with contempt the old knowledge. The new era has begun".
The popular view of this time was to see the world as a mechanism. And God-Creator as the Great Watchmaker. With such worldview everything could be explained through mechanical - mathematical, irrefutable laws. The Mechanism started at the beginning of time, it was ticking invariably since then, and shall continue to the very end. And God is just an observer. In such vision of reality, everything could be known and foreseen. There is no limit for our understanding - we can know everything. And only one model is enough to get to know the reality - cause everything follows the same rules. The rules of a mechanism. A purely materialistic view.
Objectively speaking, it was an assumption as good as any other, at that time. We had known very little about our reality, and we had to start with something. Unfortunately, it was not an ad hoc taken, unbiased assumption. From the very beginning, it was the ideological choice - in opposition to religion (Christianity). "God is dead" was the quintessence of this movement. Or more precisely: "God is a superfluous hypothesis. Even if he exists, he does not interfere".
The problem is, that this ideological bias survived much longer than it was reasonable. It is still vivid in our modern world. It is fiercely defended. The materialistic worldview conceived many fashionable and influential ideologies. It is a confession of faith for many modern people living in the Western world. They are being convinced, that materialism is wise, scientific, facts based. But that's a fake. In fact, it is a modern, "secular religion". An oxymoron, I know. But it truly depicts the reality.
It is really sad to see, how the openly claimed pure and fair approach of reasonable, unbiased and impartial knowledge building is only a disguise for firm standing on the ideological ground of blind materialism. In my next article I show how many manipulations, fake arguments and often primitive intellectual tricks must be used to defend this very old false worldview. To keep proving time and time again, generation after generation, that economics and other social sciences can be called: sciences. Without it, the materialistic worldview could not be defended.
How many texts could we find proving that physics is a science? That chemistry is a science? There is no need of proving it. Physicists do not waste time on proving that they deal with science. The discrepancy between proper definitions and the reality of 'social sciences' is even more striking, when we look at the definition of "scientific method" (Britannica again):
Scientific method, mathematical and experimental technique employed in the sciences. More specifically, it is the technique used in the construction and testing of a scientific hypothesis.
How many "mathematical techniques" are used in the 'science' of psychology? In sociology? How inappropriate and deceiving are the "mathematical techniques" in economics, I've shown already. It is quite amusing to read the next fragment from Britannica:
The process of observing, asking questions, and seeking answers through tests and experiments is not unique to any one field of science. In fact, the scientific method is applied broadly in science, across many different fields. Many empirical sciences, especially the social sciences, use mathematical tools borrowed from probability theory and statistics, together with outgrowths of these, such as decision theory, game theory, utility theory, and operations research.
Funny to see, how the authors feel obliged to stress that "especially the social sciences, use mathematical tools". It is very objective and informative to distinguish here the 'social sciences' (like psychology and sociology), which "especially" use "mathematical tools" from the natural sciences (like the quantum physics) where mathematics is used rarely. We all know, that psychologists are "especially" good mathematicians. Really funny, isn't it?
But seriously: "mathematical tools" are especially used in formal sciences. Most especially in... mathematics. And logic. A little less "especially" in physics, chemistry or biology. Social sciences are at the very end. So, why to lie? By suggesting that "especially the social sciences are mathematical"? And not mentioning the natural or formal sciences? The subject is: "scientific method". This sentence about the social sciences is totally superfluous and off topic in such a short text. It adds nothing to the definition of the scientific method. The scientific method is a "mathematical technique", as the definition says. So, the use of "mathematical tools" in (empirical) science is obvious - straight from the definition.
On the other end, maybe it is not about the social sciences. Perhaps the probability theory and statistics (or their outgrowths) are so exceptional and important, that they require a special mention? If so, then what about calculus? Entire physics with its many outgrows (much bigger than the game theory) uses calculus extensively. Is calculus an unwanted child? Why is it left without even the slightest remark?
And computers. The computational power of modern CPUs is widely harnessed in many empirical sciences for calculations and simulations. Do they not deserve a mention? What is so special about statistics (just between us - rather boring branch of mathematics)? I'm unable to find any objective, rational reason for mentioning it here. Moreover, this deliberate mentioning of such little "outgrowths [...], such as decision theory, game theory, utility theory" suggests that the empirical sciences do not "borrow" tools like algebra or calculus. Or, that it seldom happens.
Or maybe it is all because we know, that the social sciences are unable to follow the scientific method (=mathematical and experimental technique). But we deny it, and stress that "social sciences are especially mathematical. Really! We mean it! Look at the wisely sounding words we use, to support that claim: decision theory, game theory, etc.".
The other explanation (not the ideological - denial based) is that the text is simply ill-considered. That such sentences got there by accident. That Britannica has been written carelessly, maybe even: thoughtlessly. Which one is worse?
Finally, we have:
The scientific method is critical to the development of scientific theories, which explain empirical (experiential) laws in a scientifically rational manner.
We learn here, that the scientific method is "critical" to the formulation of scientific laws. Laws. And what economists do? They provide "natural histories", "accounts", and above all: "multiple truths", to freely choose from. Opposite 'theories'. Here we see, that science requires "scientifically rational empirical laws" and we get instead an irrational mess of opposite concepts. It is mutually exclusive: either empirical, objective laws, or "multiple truths" of psychology, sociology, economics. Nevertheless, we are obliged to insist, that there is the economic science. A real queen of all the 'social sciences'.
We have seen how the false assumption of: "the entire reality is physical - mechanical, explainable through mathematical equations - strict laws" leads to contradictions, obvious lies and intellectual mess in places, where the perfect order and precision should be expected - in the encyclopedic definitions. The real, great, and above all: true achievement of the modern era, which is: the modern science, has been tainted with false assumption, which stays carefully preserved contrary to our experience, experiments, and rational thinking.
Now is the time, to sort things out. The assumption that the physical world behaves like a mechanism had been proved true. The phenomena of the physical reality follow the (perfect) automaton behavior: "If you press this button, you will get this. Pressing that button and pulling that lever shall get you that". We have objective, testable, immutable laws here. What we've found true, stays true. Even if we discover better, more sophisticated mathematical models and theories, the older ones still hold true (to some well defined degree).
Of course, at the very edge of our knowledge, we may have competing theories and models. Even contradictory. But this is a natural process of experimentation over an unknown mechanism. That's how the advance happens. Until we prove one hypothesis true, we may have many. But after we find the true one, all the competing hypotheses have to be rejected.
There is only one truth - that's how mathematics works. We have only one true science of the physical world - physics. Every other science is an outgrowth of physics. Chemistry is the physics of elements and their properties. Bio-chemistry deals with the miraculous physics of the living. Biology is even higher. But the common denominator, the fundamental feature of every true scientific research is the mathematical modeling of the immutable mechanism. That is why experiments work. Without this assumption experiments are nonsense. An experiment makes sense if we can expect the same behavior time and time again. If we cannot trust the results to be every time the same - there can be no objective laws that govern the behavior under experiment. Nothing to discover. Nothing to model mathematically. No empirical knowledge.
Mathematics is perfect. With just a handful of definitions for mathematical entities and properties we are able to build incredible worlds of true and perfectly fitting statements. How well do they fit together? Well, the π (pi) invented in times of the ancient geometry, the Euler's number - e - found as the limit of a sequence in XVII century and the i number defined as √-1; they all fit together as eiπ = -1. Awesome. Incredible. Unbelievable. But true. This is mathematics. The language describing the physical world behavior. The language of physics. The language of science. In real science we can start with a good mathematical model and learn something about the universe. And, afterwards, confirm our findings with empirical research. With experiments.
Now, let's look at the world of the human minds. To better understand the difference between physical world behavior and human mind behavior, I propose a very simple experiment. A typical tea time meeting. One person (me) asks another: " - Can you pass the sugar, please?". I suppose, the answer would be just passing the sugar. Remarkably, I had to use the phrase: "I suppose" here. But let's continue. What if I put back the sugar to the very place, it stood in the beginning and ask again: " - Can you pass the sugar, please?". Is anyone able to predict the reaction at this time? It might be, I get the sugar again, as I got it the first time. But what if I repeat my action again? Put the sugar back and ask for it? And again? And again?
It may seem naive and stupid. But what we do here is broadly known as: an experiment. If the sugar bowl would be made of iron and I would use a magnet to "pass me" the sugar, nobody would protest, and say that what I do is stupid. A perfect example of an experiment. The outcome is always the same. But the unpredictability of the human mind (behavior) in this repeatable situation is so obvious, that we consider such 'experiment' as nonsense. The consecutive results are completely unpredictable. If the person asked for sugar would be a gangster, it could even end up with shooting. Having this in mind, let's think for a while about the application of the scientific method (according to Britannica) to such cases:
In a typical application of the scientific method, a researcher develops a hypothesis, tests it through various means, and then modifies the hypothesis on the basis of the outcome of the tests and experiments. The modified hypothesis is then retested, further modified, and tested again, until it becomes consistent with observed phenomena and testing outcomes.
How could we develop any hypothesis consistent with the unpredictable outcomes? It's a nonsense.
We generally know the behaviors of others. This is the basic requirement for any society. But our knowledge of others falls into the "general truths" category. General truths about human behaviors, and physical laws of the universe. Disjunctive spaces. Why to lump them together? For one reason only: to defend the post-Enlightenment worldview. A false worldview.
The experimental, empirical method of science requires repeatable results. A thing under experiment is treated as a black-box - an automaton. Time and time again, we set the same starting conditions and the method requires the result to be the same. Or, at least, that we are able to enumerate the possible outcomes. And as such - the impossible outcomes. That is: the outcomes, that we cannot get. Like: you cannot get 7 on a six sided die. In case of behaviors being a product of the human mind, we cannot exclude anything. This "black-box" is not an automaton.
It is not a quantitative question (more laws adherence, less laws adherence), it is a distinction in quality: human mind does not follow any strictly defined laws as the physical world does. So, applying the scientific method invented to discover physical laws governing the material world to the human minds is ludicrous. It cannot succeed.
The conclusion is simple: there is no use in being adamant that any so called 'social science' is a science - just like the natural or formal sciences. And it will make our science definition much simpler:
Science is understanding the physical world as a perfect mechanism (automaton).
I suppose, I owe my readers some explanations. The word "understanding" means here: following the specific worldview - a general assumption. We see the physical world and treat it as an automaton. This way of understanding the physical world assumes specific method of acquiring knowledge about it: through experiments, testing, and use of mathematical modeling - suitable for mechanisms (automatons). We assume, that what we discover is objective and immutable. "Eternal" in our timescale.
We can repeat the experiments of Newton or even Archimedes and get the same results. It is because the automaton (the universe) is perfect. Neither time, nor repeatable experiments can damage it in any way. The atoms of oxygen and hydrogen will always react in the same way. This is the perfectness, which allows us to build our knowledge for centuries, without worries that, what we'd found true once, may become invalid some day.
Now, the final word about the "social sciences". They are not sciences. They are just social knowledge - general truths. They are "general" but not universal. They are culture dependant. People of different times, religions, worldviews - that is: different cultures behave(d) in different ways. The "general truths" for them are different. Sometimes, they may vary a lot, or be quite opposite. Even if some truths are common across cultures - like the parental care for children - they usually assume various ways of enacting such care. This means: general truths may be valid, but the expected results - very different.
Experiments here are useless and ludicrous. Generally unrepeatable. The casual results tell us nothing. They are simply accidental. The proper way of gaining knowledge here is through learning and understanding the culture, the mentality of the groups of people. The sources of such knowledge are well known: tales, myths, literature, religions. Especially religions tell us some fundamental truths that seem to be valid across times and cultures.
Finally, the difference between science and knowledge. Science is a very specific kind of knowledge. As I defined it. Knowledge is just everything we know. John's Friday schedule is also a knowledge (perhaps very desirable for his fiancée). Occultism is a knowledge. History is knowledge. The sources and value of knowledge may be various. It may be subjective or objective. Very different. Here is the place for the social knowledge.
Science, scientific method, scientific approach. They are just a tool. Impressive one, that we can be very proud of. But: a tool. Nothing more. As any other tool, science or its methods cannot be used for everything or everywhere. Doing otherwise is manipulation.