Two Powers of Science

We have been tough on the observational and experimental methods, pointing out their pitfalls and not saying much about their virtues. When science is done correctly, their virtues are great. Observational and experimental research give us two distinct powers, prediction and control. Early psychologists from James to Watson all endorsed that goal for psychology: prediction and control of behavior .

What general goal was endorsed by psychologists from James to Watson?

    A Macho Scientific Head

Some people do not like this emphasis on control. Methodological controls like the double-blind design are fine, but the idea of "controlling behavior" or "controlling nature" implies that nature is hostile and unruly and must be subdued or controlled by masterful humans. This assumption has been criticized as (a) distinctively Western, and (b) excessively macho.

Smith (1992) points out "the control of phenomena as an explicit aim of science is of relatively recent origin... For centuries, the aim of science was taken to be the understanding of natural phenomena."

What "two distinct mental abilities" are amplified by which two types of research?

Substituting the goal of understanding in place of the macho "control" idea, we can say observational and experimental methods amplify two distinct types of mental ability: (1) prediction of future events, and (2) understanding of natural systems.

Prediction Science can give us advance warning of phenomena. Through observational research, we can detect correlations and make predictions.

Understanding Science can help us gain knowledge about systems , so we understand how they operate. Having analyzed the components of a system and how they work together, we can interact more skillfully with the system or repair problems in a system that is damaged.

Prediction and understanding resemble the human powers of intuition and analysis . Intuition involves sensitivity to patterns. It is often expressed in "hunches" or predictions. To the extent these predictions are accurate, they must be based on the brain's ability to sense patterns or correlations, but we may not know the underlying cause of the correlation. This is much like observational research, which reveals patterns and allows prediction even if we do not understand the reason for the correlation.

Analytic intelligence, by contrast, resembles experimental research. Experimental research is designed to reveal how the components of a system interact. "If I manipulate A and hold B steady, what happens to C?" This sort of active exploration increases our understanding of how things work. It is also fits the dictionary definition of analysis, which is to "break a system into its parts" to see how it works.

Both sorts of intelligence, intuition and analysis, are necessary for a well-rounded person. Both sorts of research, observational and experimental, are important to science.

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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey