How do we know ? LO6330

Peter Pflaum (
Fri, 29 Mar 96 13:41:23 UT

[Host's Note: Peter is forwarding to LO a msg which appeared on the
TRDEV-L list. It is part of a thread on MBTI, but focuses on "how do we
know what we think we know." In the middle of the message is some
discussion about the scientific method that I hope we can expand upon here
in the Learning-org list. ...Rick]

Forwarded message:
From: (Roy Rajsic)
Sender: TRDEV-L@PSUVM.PSU.EDU (Training and Development List)
Reply-to: (Roy Rajsic)
To: TRDEV-L@PSUVM.PSU.EDU (Multiple recipients of list TRDEV-L)
Date: 96-03-27 21:44:29 EST

Although I have only a small interest in MBTI per se I have been intrigued
to watch the discussion of validity expand until it has touched on most of
the basic issues of science, philosophy and day to day pragmatic action. I
am impressed with the range of issues and ideas that have been touched on
and I offer the following as a summary of the basic dichotomies that the
discussion has raised.

The issues raised capture the basic subject matter and dialogue within the
Philosophy of Science and the Philosophy of Social Science. This dialogue
stems from two competing modes of thought and understanding that have marked
Western philosophy and knowledge from the time of the Greeks. In philosophy
these two modes came to be characterized as Metaphysics - concerning itself
with the study of what really exists- and Hermeneutics - concerning itself
with the study of what that existence really means.

Metaphysics was originally based on knowledge derived purely from rational
argument. The influence of Kant, and after him the logical postivists
(Carnap and the others of the Vienna School) with their emphasis on
verification and empiricism discredited the a priori (i.e. unprovable,
unverifiable) assumptions of metaphysics and it was replaced by "the
scientific method" as the primary means of understanding the physical world.

The adoption of logical postivism and empiricism became so vastly
predominant in philosophy, science and the social sciences in North American
institutions that Hermeneutics has come to be neglected and hence the
difference that has been noted as a European emphasis on theory and a North
American emphasis on exhaustive proof. (This is not to say that the
Europeans have not followed these same trends but they seem to have
maintained a better balance of interest in both modes of thought and

>From my own reading in science, philosophy and communication I would compare
and contrast the characteristics underlying these two ways of thought as
shown below.

Metaphysics Hermeneutics
Predictability Chance
Logical Positivism/Empiricism Rationalism
Deductive Reasoning Inductive Reasoning
Brain Mind
Science Art, Philosophy, Mathematics, Logic
Observation Intuition
Description, Verification Understanding, Interpretation
Research Action
Theory Practice
Quatitative Qualitative
Information Meaning
Digital Analog

It is interesting to note that science is itself confronted with this same
dichotomy in that the formulation of theory, a key component of the
scientific method, is now seen to be a purely inductive, hermeneutic
process. This implies that all scientific theories are essentially a priori
by nature and that none are amenable to proof or verification by the
scientific method.

For example the work of Carl Popper and Imre Lakatos, among others, argues
that scientific theories cannot be proven by observation and research but
can only be disproven. In other words, no matter how many times a
particular observation or proposition is verified nothing is added that is
capable of confirming the truth of the original observation. From this
Popper concluded that the essence of the scientific method is not
verification but falsification. In his most extensive discussion of the
principal of falsification Popper concluded that neither Psychology or
Marxism were amenable to falsification - that is to say that the basic
propositions presented by these notions are such that they cannot be
disproven - and thus could claim no real scientific basis regardless of the
empirical trappings they may present.

Thomas Kuhn is brilliant in both The Copernican Revolution and The Structure
of Scientific Revolution in describing how science and the evolution of
scientific thought advance through the interaction of theory and
observation. In the "hardest" of the hard sciences particle physicists have
seen that chance does indeed play a role at the sub-atomic level in that
events, or effects, may occur without any prior cause and that the usual
relationshiop of cause and effect - a vital assumption of empirical
observation- is sometimes reversed in the real world of subatomic particles.
In this view chance may be an inherent part of the very structure of
empirical objects and truth and predicability become, at best, probability.

In other words, there is in the literature every indication that the
empiricists are manifestly wrongheaded in thinking that the sheer weight of
accumulated observation and verification can achieve one whit of knowledge
beyond the descriptive and that the anti-empiricists are equally wrong in
thinking that the world can be understood without reference to and
accounting for observable, empirical reality.

For me the real issue is not in the dichotomy of thought but in the danger
that arises when one mode become so dominant as to exclude the other. We
have seen this for example, in the recent histories of Russia and China
(despite Marxism's claim to be "scientific") where science was subject to
ideology run rampant. We have also seen the opposite where empiricism has
become so dominant in the university that even the humanities have become
the "social sciences" and description and validation in the most agonizing
detail is only occasionally illuminated by a work that reflects meaning and

If scientific theory is unprovable and observation and verification, being
deductive by nature, provide information but are powerless to provide
meaning and explanation where does that leave us?. How do we answer the
questions: What is truth? What is reality? What is correct action?

Ultimately these questions are answered in science - as they are in our
everyday life - purely on the basis of pragmatism or what works. In the end
pragmatism and the need to act in spite of imperfect information and
understanding forces us, in all of our endeavours, scientific or otherwise,
to combine what we can learn from both modes of thinking in ordering our

I am sure that many people have observed that the dichotomy in these modes
of thought closely mirror what we have come to know about left and right
brain activity. In my view this dichotomy of thought, and the split brain
from which it may stem, may form the parts of an incredibly productive
dialectic that provides the source of growth not just for science and for
society but also for each one of us in our own personal development. I
believe that these two modes of thought, as a part of an intellectual
dialectical process, are more productively seen to be in dialogue than in
debate. I also believe that one has to conclude that even if the issues of
truth and reality are simply not amenable to proof that the continuing
dialogue is not only worthwhile but is essential for the pragmatic
improvement of both action and research - because truth, progress and the
guide to action is not found in one camp or the other but only in the
combination of the two.

So, lets hear the dialogue continue - but let's not believe the hard core
proponents of either camp who claim moral authority for their particular
stance -for in the end this is the only authority that can be claimed when
proof is not possible - or who make claims of truth, on the basis of
verification, that are simply not supportable in logic or in science. For
the people who do so may be, in effect, thinking with half a brain.

Thanks to all of you who have contributed to this discussion with a special
tip of the hat to Terry Deems, Frank Bell and Stephen Prendergast. As you
can see from the length of this I've certainly found the discussion to be
stimulating and thought provoking.

Regards to all factions, and all schools of thought on the issue.

Roy Rajsic
ARCANA Training Systems
Ottawa, ON
K1R 6N9
Tel.: (Canada) 613 236 8518
Fax: (Canada) 613 236 4496

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