Wednesday, 20 May 2015 07:34

The scientific method and the study of human beings

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The scientific method is a way of looking at things; it is a way of looking that accepts as true only those things that observers can verify as true. For an idea to be scientific it must be universally perceived as true and is verifiable by any observer who follows the scientific method. An idea that cannot be verified is discarded.

Karl Popper added the additional criterion of falsifiability; an idea must be falsifiable to be scientific; that is, there is a way to prove its truth or lack of it. For example, if one says that there is God there is no way we can prove it or not prove it as true hence it is not a scientific idea. On the other hand, if we say that water is a molecule composed of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen (H2O) we can prove that idea or disprove it; if further we say that each atom is composed of particles (electrons, protons and neutrons) we can prove or not prove it. Science deals with what all observers following the scientific method can verify as factual.

Science has proved marvelous in the study of matter, space and time; it has enabled us to understand the world of things and has radically transformed our world. Beginning with Galileo (1610) embracing the scientific method as his primary mode for explaining matter, science has yielded rich dividends for the world.

Our ancestors used to believe that stars, such as our sun were gods. Now we know that a star is a cloud of hydrogen atoms in whose core pressure and heat fuse hydrogen to helium and give off heat and light, energy that travels from the core of the star until it leaves its surface as the light we see.

Social science is an attempt to use the scientific method to study human beings and their society. Since the nineteenth century various attempts have been made to study people as they are, not as we want them to be and to study the processes of society as they are in fact, not as idealists want them to become.

Have we succeeded in making the study of the individual's psyche and society a science? Is psychology a science? Is sociology a science? If they are sciences do observers no longer express their opinions about people, but know who they are and what their society is?

Who are people and how do we ascertain that reality? Is describing people's behaviors and social processes science? Is science merely describing cultural practices that have nothing to do with how society objectively should be? And who decides how people and their society should be?

The study of government, aka political science describes political behavior and political organizations. Is that what science is? Is describing politicians all over the world evincing a pattern of screwing people science or is there such a thing as normative political behavior that all politicians should adhere to? And if so who decides on the norms?

Does the individual pause to make sure that every time he says something about people that he is speaking the truth about them? And what is the truth about them? Who ascertains that truth?

Consider psychoanalysis and its concepts of Id, Ego and superego. Where are id, ego and superego in the brain or for that matter in the mind? Are those not mere intellectual constructs designed to enable observers to understand the various aspects of people's behaviors, their natural amoral behaviors, their socially imposed moral behaviors and the conflict between the two?

Can a human being really say something that is objective about other people without injecting his self-interest into what he says about them or injecting his past learning about who people are, a picture given to him by his society, a picture that may or may not be true, into what he says about them?

Our preconceptions and presuppositions are generally rooted in our cultural frame of reference and seldom have anything to do with reality. At any rate, what is reality? Is reality a social construct, what most people in a society agree to be true? Is consensual reality actual reality or is there such a thing as reality outside human conception of it?

Clearly, we must struggle to understand ourselves and our society with the tools of the scientific method but we must always bear in mind the limitation for we are the observers trying to observe ourselves.

Ozodi Osuji

May 20, 2015

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: ozodiosuji@gmail.com (907) 310-8176