The Scientific Method & Humanities

Old_Bailey_Microcosm_edited

Reference: Scientific method from Wikipedia / BUDDHA by Karen Armstrong

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From Wikipedia we get the general steps of the Scientific Method as follows:

(1) Use your experience

  • Consider the problem.
  • Try to make sense of it.
  • Look for previous explanations.

(2) Form a conjecture

  • State an explanation.

(3) Deduce a prediction from that explanation

  • Predict consequences that may follow from that explanation.

(4) Test (Experiment)

  • Check for the opposite of each consequence to disprove the conjecture.

Note that this method can never absolutely verify (prove the truth of) the conjecture. It can only falsify the conjecture. If the conjecture cannot be disproven then one continues with step (1). If the conjecture is disproven then one goes back to step (2).

We have had pretty good success applying this scientific method to physical problems. We have running water and air conditioning in our houses. We can communicate over long distances. We can travel at faster than the speed of sound. In these instances the success can be verified objectively. Underlying these successes are basic principles that have proven themselves out time and time again.

But how about the success in applying this scientific method to mental problems? We have meditation, psychoanalysis, conditioning, auditing and training of the mind. We also have psychiatry that primarily deals with the physical brain. Do we have basic scientific principles here that are equivalent to such basic principles as the conservation of mass and energy?

Let’s consider the problem of human suffering. This problem can be witnessed both objectively and subjectively. Science has helped us reduce the physical aspects of this suffering by conditioning  the immediate physical environment around us. Can Science also help us reduce the mental aspects of this suffering?

Buddhism is said to be the earliest scientific approach to the problem of human suffering on the mental plane. The method recommended by Buddha is called Vipassana meditation. This method is based on the premise,

“If you look at things just as they are, you gradually gain the insight that makes the suffering more tolerable. It does not prevent the suffering that comes from growing old, getting sick, etc., but you can be peaceful in its presence. Following those insights you naturally develop a conduct that enhances peace and happiness.”

Buddhism is said to have brought civilization to three-quarters of the world at the peak of its popularity. Are there conjectures in Buddhism that measure up to being scientific?

The first conjecture from Buddhism may be stated as follows.

Looking at things just as they are can dissolve problems, confusions and suffering.

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Comments

  • vinaire  On April 30, 2012 at 9:29 AM

    I am in touch with a researcher who is working on her doctoral thesis in the area of consciousness. The abstract of her recent paper is as follows:

    Abstract: Emerging understanding in sciences is pointing to our biology as the root for personal consciousness. Knowing happens in the experience of the whole being. This brings into question the scientific method where the scientist, as an independent observer, can gain an objective understanding of the world being investigated. In fact, reality is perceived and understood through an embodied cognition that involves the whole being, not independent of it. As such, the process of deep knowing is an arduous journey of self-actualization when one expands consciousness to experience more of the real world. This way of knowing is at the heart of wisdoms of revered Chinese masters Lao-Tzi and Confucius.

    You may read up on “embodied cognition” in Wikipedia here:

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

    This is in agreement with my view that spiritual and physical are different aspects of a single system.

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  • vinaire  On April 30, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    From Wikipedia:

    “Locke’s theory of mind is often cited as the origin of modern conceptions of identity and the self, figuring prominently in the work of later philosophers such as Hume, Rousseau and Kant. Locke was the first to define the self through a continuity of consciousness. He postulated that the mind was a blank slate or tabula rasa. Contrary to pre-existing Cartesian philosophy, he maintained that we are born without innate ideas, and that knowledge is instead determined only by experience derived from sense perception.”

    From the current theory of embodied cognition it appears that the postulate, “the mind is a blank slate or tabula rasa” would be falsified.

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  • vinaire  On April 30, 2012 at 12:06 PM

    The following is how I view the “will” of man in the overall scheme of things:

    “As consciousness expands according to the divine Principle; qualities develop, forms take shape, and powerful influences bring the process to fruition.

    “All the forms obey the divine Principle and regard their qualities highly. The omnipotence of the divine Principle and the importance of qualities are ordered naturally; not arising from the will of man. Thus, as consciousness expands according to the divine Principle; qualities develop; growth, nurture, completion, maturation, preservation and repetition follows.

    “Creation without possession, action without reliance, growth without harvest, such is the profound quality of ascension.”

    Lao Tzi, Tao Te Jing

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    I picked up this quote from Lily’s paper.

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