Wednesday, April 23, 2014

All of the Empirical Data

It's raining today.

So what? you say.  You live in Washington State and it rains a lot.  Well, yes and no.  The western side of the state (west of the Cascade Mountain range) it rains a lot.  But I happen to live in the rain shadow of those mountains and we average 8 inches of rain per year.  Seattle got more than that last month!

So it's raining today and my thoughts hearken back to my 9th grade "Earth Science" class.  The teacher (who was a PE major in college) decided to demonstrate the scientific method using rain as an example.  He ask the class to pretend we didn't know rain came from and what facts could we observe to form a theory of where rain comes from.  One student said, "It gets cloudy."  Another offered, "It gets cooler."  Now this is empirical data, i.e., data that is observed.

So I said, very seriously, "It falls out of the sky."  And everyone laughed.  No, this is not about childhood trauma.  I am very used to, and was even then, being laughed at or ridiculed when I know I'm right.  Even in the face of authoritative opposition because the PE major laughed, too.

But here's the thing.  If it got cloudy and cooler and the water came out of the ground, you'd need a different theory than you'd have if it came from the sky.  That was an important empirical datum.  But to everyone else in that classroom, rain fell from the sky by definition.

This is why science is difficult.  You have to look at all the data.  And there might be data you're not aware of that you're not seeing because you're assuming rain always falls from the sky.  People often miss what is right in front of their eyes because it doesn't fit their pattern of thinking.  Or they see patterns where they aren't because of prejudice.

For instance, if you think people with green eyes are all idiots, anytime you see a person with green eyes being an idiot, it reinforces your prejudice.  If you see a green-eyed person acting smart, you dismiss it and often forget about it because it doesn't fit the patterns of your prejudice.  This is why scientists have developed many tools to eliminate prejudice and preconception and other facts of human nature.

So when you're looking at a phenomena, try to gather all the empirical data, even that you don't agree with.

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