As a knower, this problem leads me to question the understandings I obtain through science. If scientific theories are discovered inductively then surely science cannot “prove” an idea, but can only disprove ideas through new discoveries. Science operates on the assumption that a particular scientific understanding is “true” until proven otherwise. The basis of the scientific method is that if an idea conflicts with what happens in nature then the idea must be changed or built upon.
Therefore, though scientific advancements have greatly benefited mankind for many centuries I do not agree with the belief of some people’s that the understanding provided by the natural sciences is superior to the other forms of “knowledge” we can obtain from the various other areas of knowledge. As we have explored the scientific method and problem with inductive knowledge we know that science is ever changing and constantly evolving. New observations and discoveries are made every day therefore we have to constantly bear in mind that a single idea backed up by a particular observation may be changed or falsified entirely in time to come.
How much ‘trust’ can we then have in our scientific comprehension? An example that can illustrate the absence of absolute scientific “truth” is the use of the drug Thalidomide in the late 1950s as an antiemetic that can help pregnant women overcome morning sickness. When the drug was experimentally tested what was observed that the pregnant woman experienced reduced morning sickness and could sleep better when they consumed Thalidomide. Based on this observation scientists induced the benefits of Thalidomide.
However in compliance with the evolutionary nature of science further tests and experiments showed that Thalidomide caused severe birth defects to the babies the mothers were carrying. Again this conclusion was drawn based on observations made after the babies were born. These effects outweigh the benefits and the prescription of this drug was banned. Science is falsifiable. There is a logical possibility that an assertion can be shown false by an observation or physical experiment. Karl Popper said that a hypothesis or theory is only scientific if it is falsifiable.
For example, the statement “all men are mortal” is not falsifiable since no finite amount of observation can demonstrate its falsehood. However “all men are immortal” is falsifiable by the presentation of just one dead man. Our certainty of what science tells us is therefore compromised when we realize that something we believe to be “true” today could be falsified tomorrow. Something which was once deemed beneficial could be tomorrow observed to be harmful. Due to this, different forms of understanding obtained through the other Areas of Knowledge may be of a greater value to some people.
Because of the subjective nature of fields of study such as ethics and the arts, “knowledge” in such areas can never be falsified. As ethics and art develop over time, previous ideas are not refuted as seen happening with natural sciences. For example, in Europe between the years of 1600 to 1750 Vivaldi, Handel and Bach dominated the music industry in what was the Baroque period. However 400 years later pop and R;B music are more favored among today’s generation. The introduction of this new age music does not in any way falsify baroque music, or prove it to be “invalid” in the understanding of music as an art form.
There is a greater room for opinions and two clashing ideas can exist simultaneously and appeal to different people. This is not the case in the natural sciences, so should the “knowledge” we obtain through the natural sciences be placed of greater importance? I think that the most valuable form of understanding is one that is subjected to my own personal inner beliefs and values. Subjective ideas that could not be falsified, such as the understanding of the love my family has for me, my favorite food, music I enjoy and people whose company I value.
Such ideas are unique to my own ways of knowing, my own perceptions and emotions. In conclusion I think the view that science is the superlative form of understanding involves both a misunderstanding of science as a source of “fact” and “truth” and a misunderstanding of personal conviction when it comes to the different areas of knowledge. However we cannot overlook the importance of science in the world today though we should think about to what extend does science provide assurance to what we think we understand about our world today.