Tentative Scientific Believing
Science is enlightened common sense. Karl Popper
Among all the ways of knowing ever devised, only the scientific method strives to combat our confirmation biases by asking the question: “What is the evidence?” How many ways of knowing are there? If you don’t believe in the scientific method, what method do you believe in? Scientific methods shouldn’t be reserved only for scientists.
This blog is another version of my plea for positive uncertainty about what we believe, enlisting the support of the scientific method. The scientific method is tentative; doubt is the scientist’s friend. A hypothesis is a scientist’s educated guess about how things work and that can be tested. And retested; and retested. This requires doubt and uncertainty.
However, we the people, don’t seem to be natural doubters — because the confirmation bias is always there in the human mind. Humans have a disposition to believe too readily. Our natural state is not doubt, but a willingness to believe whatever is personally or socially congenial. The confirmation bias, the most popular of the many human subjective biases, is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirming our existing beliefs, thoughts, opinions, assumptions, and point-of-view (all synonyms).
How do we know if our existing beliefs are true? How does one involve the scientific method in their beliefs? My proposed strategy has been: “Treat beliefs as hypotheses”. Even, “treat truth as a hypothesis”. (See previous blogs). This, of course, involves positive uncertainty, doubt and retesting. Isn’t that common sense?
Accepting your belief as true because you want it to be true (the confirmation bias) is not common sense. But scientific believing may sound too technical, rigorous, impractical. And it may never be able to overcome the confirmation bias of the subjective mind. Subjective is defined as: based on personal beliefs or feelings
rather than based on facts; Taking place within a person’s mind such as to be unaffected by the external world. A person’s mind is where personal beliefs are created; the external world is where objectivity exists and where the scientific method is tested.
The strategy of hypothesizing about our believing may help dealing with the confirmation bias’s tendency to mislead us. Knowing that what we believe may be influenced by our disposition to believe too readily, and unaffected by the external world, we might be more willing to subject our beliefs to some questions, to some testing, to investigating their validity — to hypothesizing. Try it; it makes sense.
If we want to understand how we err, we need to look at how we believe. Kathryn Schulz