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Objectivity in Science

Objectivity in Science

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Published by Tyler Gould
An essay discussing the (lack of) objectivity in Science and even analyzing the theoretical presnece of such objectivity in a subjectivity-based reality.
An essay discussing the (lack of) objectivity in Science and even analyzing the theoretical presnece of such objectivity in a subjectivity-based reality.

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Published by: Tyler Gould on May 30, 2007
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01/01/2013

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Impossible by NatureObjectivity in science is a fallacy. It is simply impossible both by definition and by practice. In fact, objectivity as a whole is a relative farce when viewed as anything buttheoretical. Examine the definition of subjectivity:(1) Proceeding from or taking place in a person's mind rather than the external world: asubjective decision.(2) Particular to a given person; personal: subjective experience.Subjectivity describes what we, as humans or as a collective whole (i.e. the human race),feel and believe. It describes things within us (in our world) rather than externally (i.e.within the entire existence of…well…everything). Human objectivity, and necessarily,objectivity within the human race, is impossible. Thus, it follows that because science isa construct of humans – that is to say, it is created, practiced, and interpreted by us – science is also subjective: it cannot be objective.Science is a human construct. The only universal thing about it is its subject matter (which actually seems to be consistently non-universal), which is only theoreticallyuniversal at best. Science was created to give humans a sense of understanding, a feelingof progress and even a goal to strive for (enlightenment, the attainment of truth, etc.), afoundation to extract knowledge. Science was created to figure things out. This view of the reason for science is my opinion and it could very well be wrong. The point that Ihope is clear and I think anyone would find hard to argue with is that science was created by humanity. If humanity didn’t exist, science wouldn’t exist. That doesn’t mean that theworld would cease to operate the way it does, it simply means that there would be nohuman understanding of it. No humans, no human understanding: relatively clear andlogical. Science describes the practices humans undertake to better understand the world,to create “useful models of reality” (Wikipedia definition of the goal of science). Finally,science is interpreted solely by humans. Herein lies the biggest problem for objectivity.Interpreting science, both observations and the drawing of inferences, is a thought process undertaken by humans.Human conscious and subconscious is affected by everything we do: what we drink to the path we walk through life. The human race is built on subjectivity. The experience,knowledge, and attitudes of individuals, in addition to specific contexts, all affect their  perceptions and decisions; these things affect the basic thought processes of individuals.When the individual is placed within a group (a culture, an organization, “society”), theeffects are magnified and others – peer pressure, norms, etc. – are created and added tothe sum. Subjectivity is essentially ingrained in human nature.Hanson agrees with me on this (or better put, I agree with Hanson on his beliefs).Arguments by Hanson state that observations themselves are formed dependant uponexperience and comprehension. To Hanson, no two observations by different people can be exactly alike. In fact, because of the experience and understanding gained by an
 
observation, whether inferred or obvious, no two observations can ever be the same, evenif observed by the same person. The first observation will undoubtedly cause theobserver to expect the same thing the second time around. This (noticeably short)explanation of Hanson can be extrapolated beyond science and onto humanity as a whole,having the effect that barrier to objectivity exist almost everywhere and in almosteverything.Obviously, such barriers affect all areas of human thought and action, not just science.The barriers can be classified into three groups, or levels. The first level barriers areideals held by humans that actually caused them to create the “thing” in the first place.The first level barriers are usually not that difficult to identify and there are usually only afew of them. The first level barriers to science are exactly the reasons humans doscience. These first level barriers are things such as the need to understand one’senvironment, or the quest for truth; broad, general ideals that guide action and decision.But therein lies the problem: the ideals that created science are also those that guide it.First level barriers inherently “subjectify” science (and everything else). First level barriers are impossible to nullify. Even if the only effect of such barriers is the “relentlesssearch for truth” or some similar cliché, there I still an effect. Even though the barrier itself can be obvious, its effects are sometimes very difficult to notice since they seemlike they belong – who would even assume that searching for the truth compromisesone’s objectivity?Second level barriers affect perceptions and decisions in an unconscious way, usually dueto a gained level of comprehension or knowledge. They are not specific to a thought likefirst level barriers; they can universally – and even retroactively – affect all thoughts.Second level barriers are usually in the form of education and understanding, but caninclude anything that alters perceptions in an unnoticeable way (think social norms,gender, etc.). For example, a watchmaker perceives watches very differently than I dueto the knowledge and understanding he has gained throughout his life. At the same time,the watchmaker and I may share a very similar perception of, say, water. Now consider a physicist: the way he perceives a watch will be somewhere between the watchmaker andme, while his perception of water will (probably) be completely different from the both of us. Obviously, unlike first level barriers, there are an infinite number of second level barriers. Second level barriers are also much harder to identify as they stem from the vastknowledge and understanding that each of us possesses. Although you cannot negatesecond level barriers, they can be “adjusted” for in some cases, unlike first level barriers.Humans have naturally done this by segregating the different types of science. By placing biologists within the area of biology, it is assumed they are aware of their naturalsecond-level bias (although this is not always the case) and can partially adjust for this.When scientists are not aware of this, however, such segregation can cause a form of centrism that negatively influences the relative objectivity of their practice (more onrelative objectivity later).The third level barriers are the only barriers that can be effectively nullified. Thisnullification is possible because third level barriers are those that we realize affect our  perceptions and (more often) our decisions. The third level of barriers includes things

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