Scientific Impartiality

ecological spirit

 

Scientific Impartiality

Russell (2009) stated that the scientific mind is neither sceptical nor dogmatic and discoveries are never absolute. Popper (1966) stated that the aim of an argument should be progress rather than victory. Yet certainty makes it difficult to believe conflicting evidence (Russell, 2016).

“Some things are believed because people feel as if they must be true, and once this occurs, an immense weight of evidence is necessary to dispel the belief” (Russell, 2016).

According to Bohm, impartiality is about setting aside one’s own biases, beliefs and assumptions in order to truly listen to, understand others and to work together towards common goals (Bohm, 2013). Impartiality is a means of overcoming the fragmentation and polarisation that usually occurs in groups and societies.

“The scientific state of mind is neither sceptical nor dogmatic. The sceptic holds that the truth is undiscoverable, while the dogmatist holds that it is already discovered. The man of science holds that the truth is discoverable though not discovered, at any rate in the matters which he is investigating.
But even to say that the truth is discoverable is to say rather more than the genuine man of science behaves, since he does not conceive his discoveries as final and absolute, but as approximations subject to future correction. Absence of finality is the essence of the scientific spirit. The beliefs of the man of science are therefore tentative and undogmatic” (Russell, 2009).

Bohm states the importance of creating a safe and respectful space for dialogue, in which individuals can express themselves freely and openly, without fear of judgment or retribution (Bohm, 2013). Bohm viewed impartiality as a key component of effective communication, collaboration, problem-solving and as a necessary quality for building more harmonious and compassionate societies which is essential for a sustainable future. Yet discourse appears to be polarised and some academics even marginalised preventing healthy scepticism and rigor in science policy research (Bhattacherjee, 2012; Bohm, 1985, 1992, 2003; Chong & Druckman, 2007; Gregory, 2018; Rosling, 2019; Russell, 1928; Sang, 2009; Stoker & Curry, 2020; Whitehead, 2014).

“Once we make the critical (and false) assumption that thought and knowledge are not participating in our sense of reality, but only reporting on it, we are committed to a view that does not take into account the complex, unbroken processes that underlie the world as we experience it” (Bohm, 1992).

Bohm’s view is that we have a hereditary belief that mind (or thought) is of a higher order than matter, nurturing a faith in “objectivity,” (Bohm, 1992). Bohm defines objectivity as “the capacity to observe and report neutrally on some object or event, without having any effect on what we are looking at, or without being affected by it.” He made considerable contributions to philosophy of mind and the nature of consciousness. He proposed a radical concept of the relationship between mind and matter, suggesting that they are part of an undivided whole. Bohm was actively involved in promoting dialogue between people from different cultures and developed a dialogue process called the “Bohm Dialogue,” designed to help individuals communicate and think more creatively and collaboratively (Bohm, 2013).

Bohm argues that this has historically given us a paradigm where isolated, fragmented parts mechanically interact with one another. Holding this knowledge and principles as fixed prevents learning (Bohm, 1992; Chinnaiah, 2018; Chong & Druckman, 2007; Gregory, 2018; Grint, 2005; Lakoff, 2014; Papafragou, 2000; Rosling, 2019; Sang, 2009). Lakoff (2014) similarly states that most of how we think is unconscious, emotional, uses the “logic of frames”, metaphors and narratives.

“For it is of the essence of scientific honesty that you do not pretend to know what you do not know, and of the essence of scientific method that you do not employ hypotheses which cannot be tested. The immediate results of this honesty have been deeply unsettling and depressing. For man seems to be unable to live without myth, without the belief that the routine and drudgery, the pain and fear of this life have some meaning and goal in the future. At once new myths come into being—political and economic myths with extravagant promises of the best of futures in the present world. These myths give the individual a certain sense of meaning by making him part of a vast social effort, in which he loses something of his own emptiness and loneliness. Yet the very violence of these political religions betrays the anxiety beneath them—for they are but men huddling together and shouting to give themselves courage in the dark” (Watts, 1951:19).

The essence of scientific method

Alan Watts summarised this idea with the essence of scientific method where a hypothesis can be tested, leads to scientific honesty (Watts, 1951). Watts discusses the honest science as a true path of facts, leading to the truth with “unforced action” as with the concept of Wu-Wei and “choiceless awareness” (Lutyens, 1988)), letting go of the ego and acting responsibly following the natural order where knowledge is used up to a certain point until it gets in the way (then letting go allowing for new knowledge).

“It is necessary to teach both to accept and to reject the past with a kind of balance that takes considerable skill. Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers of the preceding generation” (Feynman, 1999).

Feynman (1999) discusses the need for a balanced with an open mind to both accept and reject data. Trusting science is a lesson past generations have learnt, science in not flawless. Russel (1928) referred to this as truthfulness and the ‘will of doubt’ where knowledge is transitory (Russel, 1928:129). Truthfulness, according to Russel, “is the habit of forming our opinions on the evidence and holding them with that degree of conviction which the evidence warrants. This degree will always fall short of complete certainty, and therefore we must always be ready to admit new evidence against previous beliefs” (Russell, 1928:168-169).

Bohm (2003) reiterated this and Agassi, (2016 :46) asserts a similar conclusion claiming scientific truth can be tested and not refuted. However, not all scientific theories are scientific truths (Agassi, 2016). This honest science or truth though is an idealistic viewpoint, and possibly unachievable (Bohm, 1992, 2003; Chong & Druckman, 2007; Gregory, 2018; Sang, 2009). Although scientific breakthroughs though are more likely to be resisted, because they upset orthodoxy and status quo, scientific progress can be made when open to falsification and eliminating contradictions (Popper, 1966; Saad, 2020). Popper also states that this assumes the contradiction is permissible and avoidable, therefore forcing the scientist to attempt to eliminate it.

“Out of thought is then born desire, the urge to continue, to enhance, to possess, to make secure that which is pleasant and to guarantee the avoidance of what is unpleasant. Desire attaches itself to an object of the imagination, in order to attain permanence. But the object of desire is always changing.”  (Bohm, 2003 p205).

Kuhn (1970) discusses “the major turning points in scientific development” in terms of scientific revolutions in great detail in “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” with the examples of Copernicus, Newton, Lavoisier, and Einstein (Kuhn, 1970; Marcum, 2015). Normal-scientific practice often separates fact from theory yet they are not definitely separate (Kuhn, 1970; Marcum, 2015). Thought is based more in imagination than reality (Bohm, 1992; Tearle, n.d.). Thought and emotions end up following habitual patterns, which transcends both individual and society. (Bohm, 1980).

Lack of shared meaning

Bohm (1985) states that the lack of “shared meaning”, is the biggest obstacle to progress and hinders the dissemination of information. Bohm (1985) further discusses the need for dialogue which involves active listening, where one remains open, curious, and involved with others, even in the face of disagreement or conflict. In his book “On Dialogue” (Bohm, 1985), writes that impartiality requires a willingness to let go of our assumptions and listen without judging to others, while paying attention to the underlying structures or thought processes that shape our perceptions and beliefs. Bohm (1980) states that it is crucial to ask the right questions with scientific enquiry, yet every question contains implied presuppositions. Wrong or confusing presuppositions means the question to a problem will give no meaningful answer. When the presuppositions are changed new questions can be asked leading to paradigm shift in understanding. Where scientists become entrenched in paradigms that define their own work (Saad, 2020) the science can be perceived as a matter of fact (Bohm, Kelly, & Morin, 1996). The scientist can become a science advocate rather than an honest broker (Pielke, 2007).

“The world we see is far more than those words, but it is organized through a representation in which those words have had a big effect.”  (Bohm, 1992).

The meaning of an abstract concept can be very different depending upon how it is represented and are only partially correct or even illusory, therefore making collaboration difficult (Bohm, 1992). Reality is filtered by our perception, filtered by our framing and thus a cause of conflict due to the contradiction of ‘facts’ (Bohm, 1980). Policy adoption is not always simple and is open to interpretation, politicians and policy makers need more than clear data (Bohm, 1992; Rosling, 2019).

With such uncertainty it is important to create an environment where the views of others are respected, and discourse remains impartial. Bohm (Bohm, 2013) discusses with the spirit of the dialogue there is no attempt in an argument or discussion to win or make a particular view prevail. There is the spirit of learning from one another.

Bibliography

Agassi, J. (2016). Popper and His Popular Critics Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend and Imre Lakatos (Vol. 26). Springer.

Bhattacherjee, A. (2012). Scholar Commons Social Science Research: Principles, Methods, and Practices. Retrieved from http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/oa_textbookshttp://scholarcommons.usf.edu/oa_textbooks/3

Bohm, D. (1980). Wholeness and the Implicate Order. Routledge.

Bohm, D. (1985). Unfolding Meaning: A Weekend of Dialogue.

Bohm, D. (1992). Thought as a System. Routledge.

Bohm, D. (2003). The Essential DAVID BOHM (L. Nichol, ed.). Routledge.

Bohm, D. (2013). On Dialogue. In L. Nichol (Ed.), On Dialogue. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203180372

Bohm, D., Kelly, S., & Morin, E. (1996). Order Disorder and the Absolute: An Experiment in dialogue.

Chinnaiah, P. (2018). Jiddu Krishnamurti on World Predicament. Proceedings of the XXIII World Congress of Philosophy, 16, 71–76. https://doi.org/10.5840/WCP23201816573

Chong, D., & Druckman, J. N. (2007). Framing Theory. Annual Review of Political Science, 10, 103–126. https://doi.org/10.1146/ANNUREV.POLISCI.10.072805.103054

Feynman, R. P. (1999). The Pleasure of finding Things Out. In Basic Books. A Division of Harper Collins Publishers.

Gregory, J. (2018). Effortless Living. Wu-Wei and the Spontaneous State of Natural Harmony. Simon and Schuster.

Grint, K. (2005). Problems, problems, problems: The social construction of ‘leadership.’ Human Relations, 58(11), 1467–1494. https://doi.org/10.1177/0018726705061314

Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions. In Knowledge and Postmodernism in Historical Perspective (Second). https://doi.org/10.5840/philstudies196413082

Lakoff, G. (2014). Praise for The All New Don’t Think of an Elephant! Praise for the first edition, Don’t Think of an Elephant! Chelsea Green Publishing.

Lutyens, M. (1988). Krishnamurti: The Open Door.

Marcum, J. A. (2015). Thomas Kuhn’s Revolutions. A Historical and an Evolutionary Philosophy of Science? In Bloomsbury.

Papafragou, A. (2000). Modality: Issues in the Semantics- Pragmatics Interface (U. Jaszczolt, K.M. University of Cambridg & U. Turner, K. University of Brighton, Eds.). Elsevier.

Pielke, R. A. (2007). The honest broker: Making sense of science in policy and politics. The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics, 1–188. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511818110

Popper, K. (1966). The open society and its enemies Vol. 1 & 2 (5th edition) (5th ed.). Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=qmen4jpgL9AC&oi=fnd&pg=PA423&dq=The+open+society+and+its+enemies&ots=WVmXCPQo9R&sig=7xsUcRbmqfdBJT2wu1tc1qHpHIY

Rosling, H. (2019). Factfulness. In Review of Global Management. https://doi.org/10.19083/rgm.v4i1.924

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Russell, B. (2009). Education and the Social Order (1st ed.). https://doi.org/9780203864838

Russell, B. (2016). The impact of science on society. New York: Routledge.

Saad, G. (2020). The Parasitic Mind. How Infectious Ideas Are Killing Common Sense. In Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 6(11), 951–952. Retrieved from https://oceanofpdf.com/authors/gad-saad/pdf-epub-the-parasitic-mind-how-infectious-ideas-are-killing-common-sense-download-94787982878/

Sang, L. H. (2009). The Daodejing of Laozi The Living Dao: The Art and Way of Living A Rich & Truthful Life translated with annotations by The Daodejing of Laozi 2 2 Acknowledgements. Retrieved from https://www.ln.edu.hk/econ/staff/daodejing%2822 August 2002%29.pdf

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Tearle, D. O. (n.d.). Who Said, ‘We Have Nothing to Fear Except Fear Itself’? Retrieved February 18, 2022, from Interesting Literature website: https://interestingliterature.com/2020/04/nothing-fear-except-fear-itself-quotation-origin/

Watts, A. W. (1951). The wisdom of Insecurity. A Message for an Age of Anxiety. Vantage Books.

Whitehead, M. (2014). Environmental Transformations. Routledge.

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