So here we are, “The Art and Science of Human Sensitivity.” Let’s begin to examine the “Science.”
Science… but first a digression on knowledge
Now, it’s already complicated. To write about “Science” we’ have to write about knowledge. Wikipedia describes Science as “…a systematic enterprise that build and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe,” and goes on to say Science “…most often refers to a way of pursuing knowledge, not only the knowledge itself.” And here I’m sorry. I generally don’t like reading about subjects which are immediately introduced with one or another dry definition of the term under consideration, yet I have to start somewhere, and I need a frame.
Knowledge, knowledge, knowledge and what do we know about that?
Knowledge, to me, is a tricky thing, ranging from the relative certainty of answering the who, what, when, where, why and how of something to the relative uncertainty of whether we can know anything at all. The formal study of knowledge falls into the realm of philosophy known as epistemology and presumably is based on issues of belief, truth, and justification. Now instead of trying to define all of these words, I looked up their synonyms on thesarus.com. Knowledge has 46 synonyms, belief 49, truth 46, and justification 47. In my opinion, it’s no small wonder we have difficulty wrapping knowledge into one neat bundle of language.
A practice example…
I’m fascinated by the way knowledge plays out in our daily lives. For example, I’m sure I can go to Ralph’s, a large supermarket nearby, to buy a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and get home… the best known part… the navigating and ambulating. I want a pint of Chocolate Therapy, but if they’re out, I’m reasonably certain I can get another flavor, say Chocolate Fudge Brownie… the somewhat less sure part. However, when I get there, not only may they not have either of these, or none at all, not one pint… the unknowable part. This unknowable thing actually happened to Cathy recently, despite never occurring before on any of our hundreds of visits and thus statistically unlikely. If there is none, I’m still faced with a variant of “Know Thyself,” which by chance also happens to be the motto of my college alma mater, and at this moment, I’m not a bit sure of whether I’ll get home ice cream-less or not… kind of a knowing thyself or not, that is the question sort of thing… the least understood part. And, parenthetically, I did much better over the years with the education I received at Hamilton College than I did with the motto… hence the late discovery of myself as a highly sensitive person.
Knowledge, to me… and how it affects my view of science
I see two ways of looking at knowledge, especially as science pursues it. In the first, knowledge already exists as a thing outside us, available for our discovery, as in flakes of gold panned from a stream or the proverbial pearl pried from the oyster. This view implies a pure and abstract aspect to knowledge waiting there to be found and translated into worldly terms. In the second, we create knowledge by the application of our experience and the tools which we have at our disposal, as in the design and execution of the tests and experiments which we then carry out and evaluate. Thus knowledge is a man-made structure of some kind, not without some similarity to real estate, where maintenance, updating, and occasionally razing to create something like the “highest and best use” are necessary to maintain value.
I favor the second view.
Science… and knowledge… need to be considered carefully
When I was growing up in a small town in Vermont, there was a popular adage along the lines we all should look at things with a healthy dose of skepticism. Skepticism, like epistemology, is a realm of philosophy, and in the sense that skepticism questions the possibility of absolutely certain knowledge, I am most likely a skeptic. Dr. Barry Stroud, Professor of Philosophy at UC Berkeley has said on philosophybites.com “…maintaining skepticism means that a scientist will never be absolutely certain when they are correct and when they are not. It is thus an irony of proper scientific method that one must doubt even when correct, in the hopes that this practice will lead to greater convergence on the truth in general.”
In my next blog post, I plan to expand on why this concept possesses such great importance when reading about the science of things.