What are disagreements? Often an image of an argument between friends or spouses is associated with this word. However, this is very stereotypical because the word can have many interpretations. Disagreements occur in forms other than between individuals. For example, the argument between religion and atheism is a disagreement between two schools of thoughts, and the conflict between the scientist and the public on global warming is a disagreement between two communities of people. These disagreements sometimes narrow our perspective on the issue at hand.
It prevents us to see the world with an open-mind to try and work through the conflict. Although this is true, can disagreements aid the pursuit of knowledge? To what extend does disagreements in natural and human sciences aid the pursuit of knowledge? In what ways are the pursuits of knowledge different in human and natural sciences? Human sciences study and interpret experiences, activities, constructs, and artifacts associated with humans. While natural science gives us insight into the world with the lack of the “human factor”.
Although the human science is generally known to be less “scientific”, due to the fact that not all variables can be controlled, it is by no means the lesser of the two areas of knowledge. But because of this added “human factor", the results from human science experiments normally have a larger deviation from the mean. This means more trials and larger sample sizes are required to overcome this disadvantage. Is there a difference between the disagreements in human and natural sciences? Some theories in human sciences are asserted without a way to disprove it.
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An example of a theory that is not able to be falsified is Freud’s theory on the ego-superego-id structure of human behavior. Any story could be made up about a patient to explain their psychological problems through the basis of ego, superego, and id, but it does not prove the cause of the disorder. Human science theories in general posit some facts about the internal behavior of an individual based on their outward behavior, and then predict future actions on the basis of the internal facts. We have now disproved Freudian psychology, because it is highly unlikely.
But have we really disproved it? The fact that ego, superego, and id do not relate to anything definite prevents scientists to study each individually, thus there is no way to prove or disprove the theory. These unfalsifiable theories lead to a list of theories that could be true, but could not be proven true or false. This prevents the elimination of wrong theories; instead we mark them as “unlikely”. How do we know which theory to accept as the truth? Thus, a disagreement between two theories in the human sciences can never be resolved with hard evidence.
It is rather resolved by weighing the likeliness of the prospect, a very unscientific way to gain support. This is the reason it is harder to reach the truth through the process used by the human sciences. However, this does not mean knowledge cannot be gained from disagreements in human sciences. In fact, it is easy to gain knowledge of trends in observed data, but it is extremely hard to reach the right conclusion based off the data. Theories in natural sciences are known for their falsifiability.
They are created to encompass the evidences already present, instead of inferring evidences based on the theories as mentioned in some cases in the human sciences. When there is a disagreement between two theories in the natural science, although there is not always a definite “winner”, there are always definite “losers”. If the theory can give an explanation for all of the evidence then it wins a temporary victory. I say temporary because new evidences can emerge that the old theory does not encompass. This is the way to falsify a theory.
For example, Newton’s law of gravitation was supplanted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity when it failed explain the motion of extremely small and extremely large objects. It is when none of the theories provide an explanation for the evidences that we can continue the pursuit of knowledge. Science makes progress precisely because there are disagreements. Without these internal conflicts, science does not renew its basis, and is cold and dead. Just because during the disagreement a theory came out as the “loser”, does not mean the theory is discarded forever.
A “loser” can undergo small modifications to provide an improved fit to the evidence. Theories might be defeated now but later come out as the new winner. As a scientifically minded individual, I understand that I should not always trust the current paradigms in science. I learned that just a century ago we did not believe that we could land on the moon. Looking back at it now, this belief was absurd. We landed on the moon only sixty-six years after the Wright Brothers. This is the reason as a student I enjoy intentionally creating disagreements when it comes to scientific concepts.
These healthy competitions between scientific ideas are what weeds out the weak hypotheses from the strong ones. In the long run, this ability to falsify is what leads humans to discover knowledge and uncover the truth. So in the case of natural science, disagreement leads to a truth to the best of the knowledge at the time. Disagreements in science do not only occur in the form of conflicts between theories. Scientists often produce controversial discoveries that the general public do not want to accept. Why is it in our human nature to resist change?
Most of the time change leads to knowledge, but it is almost like we are trying to protect ourselves from the facts. For example, there are many people out there that deny global warming. This is due to the fact that the media puts the spotlight on the controversial scientists that are mostly confined to non-participants in global climate science. Since their theories are often not published in the scientific journals, they resort to the media to gain support for their ideas. Their poorly evidential theories gain support from the public because most of them trust these “experts”.
I know I stated before that we should never regard anything as impossible, but this is absurd because the theories are asserted without evidence. People are against putting funds to resolve this “fake” problem, thus prohibits the pursuit of knowledge. Can we ever assert anything without evidence in science? According to the scientific method, an inductive method, any statements must start with observations and evidences in nature. Based on the scientific method, nothing can be asserted without evidence. But the scientific method is only exclusively used in a perfect world, or when you are in elementary school through high school.
In the real world of science many researchers do not follow the scientific method to a tee. They are able to assert a falsifiable statement instead of a hypothesis before their research, and during their research will try to disprove their statement. Although I believe this opens the results to a lot of conformational bias, it is widely used in the scientific community. Disagreements in science do not only occur in the professional field. Many students seek the pursuit of knowledge through classroom discussions. In biology class this year, we were talking about telomeres. I asked Mr.
Creighton “If we age because our cells chop off the ends of our DNA after each replication, how can we produce sperm and eggs which create a baby with young DNA? ” This question led to a whole class discussion on the theories of aging. Although there were many disagreements, at the end of the class period, I found myself to have a better understand of the process of aging and cellular division. If the whole class decided that the cutting of telomere was the only theory to the process of aging, then there would not have been arguments, and I would not have gained any new knowledge.
Disagreements come in many forms. From verbal arguments to all-out war, disagreements permeate our society. Most of the time they are known to reverse the pursuit of knowledge because it closes the participant’s mind to further ideas, but disagreements in science are different. Scientists understand that their ideas improve with the criticism of their peers, and that is the only way science can advance. However, this does not mean that all disagreements in science promote the pursuits of knowledge, because there are certainly different forms of disagreements in science.
Disagreements in humans sciences tend to create a deadlock because none of the ideas can be disproved. The deadlock can be only solved through “popularity” contests. This can be easily demonstrated in politics. Politicians claim that their policies are the best for the United States. Since there are no ways to disprove them, they are selected mostly depending how they are viewed by the public. Disagreements can occur between two scientists and their theories or ideas, this is constructive because it allows mutual aid to improve their hypotheses. But some disagreements in science can be unconstructive.
This is especially true when the public is misinformed and actively prevent the pursuit of knowledge. The public has a need to know the truth. I believe people have to be able to think for themselves and be able to identify pseudo-science from real science. They have to able to identify demagogues from people who are trying to create a better future. Does science have an absolute truth? I do not think so. Science is not a religion, but an instrument for people who want to discover the world through an organized fashion. I appreciate its willingness to entertain disagreements to pursue knowledge.
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