The Scientific Bias? I thought science doesn’t have a bias. I thought it was objective, truth-seeking and pure. At least I used to.
What changed? Well, one day I was talking about science’s perspective on human consciousness with my sister-in-law (yeah, I know, quite the dinner topic). I told her it’d discouraged me from believing in any sort of higher power or alternative world-view, which made me a bit sad to be quite honest. I was a reluctant atheist. Logic, reason, and the scientific method told me so.
“It’s just not possible,” I said. “The mind is just neurons firing and chemical reactions. They have all the proof. They can see the results on brain scans, etc.”
She casually sipped her coffee and replied, “But what about the scientific bias?”
“What do you mean scientific bias? There is none. Scientists act on observation, reactions, and fact.” I replied.
“Okay, so you’re telling me that the scientist who developed the brain scans didn’t have his own agenda? You’re telling me that he doesn’t have his own lens through which he views the world?”
And then, eureka. It all came together and I understood. Let’s talk a little about the scientific bias:
1) Scientists view the world through a particular worldview, or lens.
They only talk about the observable phenomenon in the world. If you read my previous Neo-Socrates Nature of Mind post, you’ll see that there could very well be unobservable factors at play. Let’s take the placebo effect as an example. The placebo effect is when scientists or doctors are doing some experiment for clinical drugs. Some patients are given the real medicine, while others are given sugar pills or something with no medical value. Oftentimes the scientists don’t even know who is who until after the experiment to ensure quality results. Now, what happens is that some of these people popping sugar pills actually get better.
For a scientist, their worldview dictates the placebo effect is some fluke result due to a person believing they were actually taking medicine. They get better by their mind basically. But how do you measure that? How can you measure that? A Christian would maybe say it’s an act of God. This is also a worldview lens. It’s the first response you go to when answering questions you cannot explain. Which is right or wrong? That’s the beauty for us to decide.
How about a more philosophical example? If people could never see, would we know what the colour blue is? In fact, we probably would not know of its existence without our ability to see, would we?
This begs the question of what about the things we cannot perceive? Bats have sonar, a completely different perception. Some animals in the water are able to detect chemicals through their skin – another perception we lack. How would we view the world differently if we could perceive all the things we’re missing? How can we even know what we’re missing? Can we know there are even colours without the ability to see?
Then you take into consideration that mathematicians believe there are 12 dimensions to the universe and we only perceive things in the third dimension, and wow that opens the box! You get where I’m going with this, right? We just can’t measure EVERYTHING. We can’t explain things completely. We can only explain things with the tools we have right now.
2) The individual scientist’s bias
Okay, what about Mr. Scientist? Here’s a guy who’s been doing brain scans to prove he can show that people’s minds are just their brain. He’s got a hypothesis and he’s gung-ho. He really believes in it and wants to prove it. As any social scientist can account to in university, there is a way to skew resources and references in order to just prove your opinion correct.
This can also take place in science. Perhaps not as abrasively or obviously, but Mr. Scientist unconsciously or consciously wants to be right. He’s got his career riding on this. If he’s right, there’s more funding and more opportunity for him. There’s less so if he’s wrong. Being wrong just isn’t so interesting.
3) The institution’s research bias
Coupled with the scientist’s research bias, his institution also has a bias. Universities need funding for their research. Where does it come from? Sure, some comes from donations. But the real juicy funding comes from (in the case of brain research I’m assuming pharmaceutical) companies, or the private sector.
Why does this lead to bias? Well because pharmaceutical companies have a vested interest in you and I believing that everything that makes up the human mind is chemical. If we do, we purchase drugs if there’s some kind of abnormality.
For example: You’re depressed. You’re girlfriend dumped you and you were recently fired from your job. Now, the brain researcher would say you have low levels of dopamine and seratonin in your brain. The pharmaceutical company would say, “We have pills full of that! Come on and buy. We can fix you and increase the levels in your brain to make you feel right. We have the research to prove it.” Blammo! We have reason for a bias in the research. Let’s not take into account some of the other factors that might be at play here. Now I’m not saying anti-depressants are wrong, I’m saying we have to think more holistically.
Let’s not throw the scientific method out the window. It has certainly taken us a long way and we’ve progressed a lot. What I’m saying is that there ought to be room for doubt. Just as we doubt the existence of supernatural forces, the quality of McDonalds food, and if your phone you bought in China was actually a fake (true story), we should also leave reason to doubt the scientific findings from time to time.
Let’s not take it on blind faith. Just as I think people ought to leave some room for doubt in their religious beliefs. Let’s give modernity reason to leave some doubt for other worldviews. Maybe these brain scans don’t have all the answers. I’m pretty damn sure we’re more than just neurons and chemical processes. But that’s my worldview. What’s yours?