It is making a guess, a assumption about how the world works, you compute the consequences of the guess. Then you check your prediction against nature or a experiment or experience. See if it works. If it disagrees with the experiment then it’s wrong. That is key to how science works. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the guess is, how intelligent the person who made it or respected they are. If it disagrees with the experiment it’s wrong. It needs to Hold a mirror up to nature and best reflect reality.
I want to talk about three ideas from the Scientific method I found useful in thinking about problems. They are tools for thinking, discovering how the world works and checking for alternatives explanations to the facts. They are principles of false ability, causation and repeatability.
Falseability is the idea that nothing can be proved with unless it is able to be falsified. a scientific claims can be proven wrong, but they cannot be proven right. We are closer to the truth if we Show that nothing can falsified the idea. It doesn’t mean we are truly reflecting reality but we have a more Likely model of how the world works.
We Tend to only look for evidence that confirms are initial believes and not to look for evidence that would prove us wrong. Otherwise known as confirmation bias or my side bias.
Where do these biases and errors in our thinking come from. They are set of heuristics or rules of thumb about taking in information and making decisions. Most cognitive psychologists believe we have two modes of thinking one is fast and other is slow – aptly named system one and system two thinking. System one is fast, unconscious , automatic, effortless and error prone and system 2 is slow, conscious , energy intense, effortful and reliable. We rely on system one thinking for most our day to day decisions and system 2 for more complex decision making – it is a trade off between speed and accuracy.
Are brain is like a duel mode camera with automatic setting for landscape and portrait pictures and a manual mode. Automatic setting are a efficient but inflexible and Manual mode are flexible but inefficient. Put them together and we get the best of both worlds, providing we know when to use a manual mode and when to just point and shoot.
We try to solve complex problems using the wrong mode of thinking.
So why did evolution not give us one system of thinking – if the manual mode – is so reliable?
Will simply put, our more thoughtful ancestors, Who considered how the lion was feeling usually ended up inside it. The world of our ancestors was lot more simpler then the complex society that we have created in the last 5,000 years of civilisation.
Just ask yourself, why do giraffes have longnecks?
Not because seem the food up on the tree and thought would be a splendid idea to grow longer necks. Over millions of years from small random variation in there neck size, giraffes with long neck size trend to survive long and have children to pass on the longer neck gene then the shorter neck gene. This progress repeated over millions of years.
Evolutions main function was not intelligence but survival of the genes. Our brain discovered rules – mental shortcuts to improve survival of the species and the gene pool. Later, brain added higher levels of thinking deal with complexity of living in larger social groups.
Humans are patterns detecting machines we have the incredible ability to recognise connections between different things and how they interact. This is helped us to master the world around us. Unfortunately we are to good at this, for the world is very different now then the ones our ancestors live in during the time in the plains of Africa. We see patterns in data that are purely random and unrelated and use it to draw conclusions.
For example, In Glasgow, there is an intense following of football, the old firm of Celtic and Rangers, my friend he is Celtic mad – one time we are watching the Scottish cup final, I walked out go to the shops, that second Celtic score and when I return with beers got into the living room Rangers equalise. Now my friend thinking I am a bad omen and jinx, then in last five mins of the game I go into the kitchen and score Celtic, now he convinced I am jinx and I am starting to believe it myself, my friend is going crazy now, shouting you can’t leave the kitchen until the game is over. So I wait – just in case. After five mins he run in shout – we did it. – we did it. Like my negative power didn’t work from the kitchen. He never ask me to watch a game with him again.
Lots of our superstitious behaviour and thinking comes from this strange coincidences. we find stories to make sense of Random events.
However, in science, we have something call correlation, is trying to define the Relationship between two valuables . For example, in general – height and weight, usually the taller you are the heavy you weight. We all now outliners such very short and heavy and very tall and skinny. But in general the relationship holds strong correlation. In this case As one increase the another increases. Or we have the case, one increase and another variable proportionally decreases.
My football friend, should have remembered, “Correlation does not imply causation”
We have a very a strong relationship between people drowning and sales of Coke-Cola. As sales of Coca Cola increase the more people drown. It seems strange why carbonated sugar water makes people drown. As temperature increases people like to drink coke and also like to swimming in rivers and lakes and to chill off and therefore more people drown. Do you to a codependent on a third factor temperature explain these both increase.
Science is good at untangling the complex relationship between different factors. The two relatively simple examples, in more complex system 2 worlds of thinking and connecting pattern sometimes the feedback from relationships isn’t straightforward it is delayed at random intervals, ambiguous and inconsistent. This very hard for system one to deal situations. But system 2 thinking and the tools of science can help.
The foundation of all good Science is repeatability. Work the ideas of randomness maybe you did the experiment and you just happen to get the right numbers by accident. We have a call the p-value go people go crazy for this number. If below 0.05 “stats significant” and then they go away and publish their research and become famous. However, there is a big problem, our friend randomness, what you find in bad science, scientist don’t like to publish work doesn’t show anything interesting we find maybe lot people same experiment but never published. But the person who does publish the one who find something interesting.
It’s almost like giving a great speech, i’m sure at one point we can all give an inspiring talk. However it id not a sign of a great speaker you happened to hear one good speech from someone. It’s the idea of being consistently good at it over long periods of time.
This is also true, when you read lots of business books, they look at companies that are successful because they have these Key business strategies and why they successful. They don’t look at all the other companies that had the same strategy and were not successful. Or how other factors play in there success. But this does make for best sellers – “insert business secret here” and you be great too.
These three ideas are just small sample of way we use Scientific thinking to better help us understand the world around us and understand how we can make better decisions. I spoke about errors in system 1 thinking but in very complex world we do need short cuts to thinking but need to more aware of when speed and effortless thinking can lead us astray. And when we need to slow down and think over the situation in more details. We understand at more conscious level when you’re just pointing and shouting and step back use a more slow manual mode to understand a complex problem.
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