The Natural And Human Sciences

1839 words (7 pages) Essay

2nd May 2017 Philosophy Reference this

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Our knowledge in the natural and human sciences has evolved significantly over the past centuries. This can be primarily attributed to disagreement within these fields of science. Disagreement can be understood in different ways; it may be over the logic of the arguments or the value of evidence presented or it may also refer to differences among scientists or differences amongst scientists and society. The disagreements may be over in their views of scientific paradigms, assumptions or research methods. However, just because an individual’s idea may be rejected, or disagreed upon, in the marketplace of scientific ideas, it does not mean that one shies away utterly defeated. Instead, one can try to increase their efforts to uncover more evidence, or attempt to formulate an experiment that can provide a more rigorous test of the ideas, or try to make a slight modification to the discarded idea to provide an improved fit to the evidence. Through these methods of counteracting disagreements in science, new knowledge or evidence is likely to be discovered. Hence, the knowledge issue that will be focused on in this essay is as follows: To what extent are disagreements useful in the creation of knowledge in the natural and human sciences? [1] 

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The generation of new knowledge in the natural sciences can be notably credited to disagreement. For example, before the theories of plate tectonics and continental drift were proposed, geologists assumed that the Earth’s major features were fixed. Additionally, most Europeans thought that a Biblical Flood played a major role in shaping the Earth’s surface. [2] 

However, in the early 1900s, Alfred Wegener opposed the logic of these hypotheses and formulated his own hypothesis that a single landmass called Pangaea split up about 40 million years ago, and the resulting continents eventually drifted to their present locations. In contrast to the previous hypotheses mentioned, Wegener provided evidence to support his theory stating that fossils of the same species were found in two different continents, rock sequences were nearly the same on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and geological structures matched up with one another suggesting that Pangaea once existed. The opposition of Wegner’s views against the previous beliefs on why the Earth is shaped as it is has proved to be useful in generating new knowledge. His theory of Pangaea has acted as a root on which scientists have branched out to explore. It has revolutionized our understanding of Earth and has provided explanations to questions that scientists had speculated upon for centuries — such as why earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in very specific areas around the world, and how and why great mountain ranges formed. [3] 

In addition to Geology, another natural science where disagreement is beneficial in creating new knowledge is in Biology. For instance, in my IB Biology HL course, it is required to create and conduct your own independent research paper. In investigating the effects of different concentrations of coffee on heart rate, I recognized that I was not getting the desired results, as there was no effect on the subject’s heart rate a few minutes after they drank the diluted coffee. However, it has been scientifically proven that coffee, no matter what concentration, will ultimately have an effect on one’s heart rate. [4] The discrepancy between the data I collected and the already proven science allowed me to learn two things. Firstly, the reason I was not getting the desired results was because any liquid ingested within the body needs about 10-15 minutes to be absorbed by the respective organs hence why the heart rate had not increased. Finally, I was also able to create a new scientific method hence demonstrating the “new knowledge” I acquired through the disagreement of my initial data and previous scientific knowledge.

Despite these situations, having demonstrated that disagreement plays a strong role in the formation of knowledge in the natural sciences, this does not hold true for all circumstances. Take, for instance, Global Warming. For the past years, there has been an on-going debate about the causes of Global Warming and whether or not it is man-made. The small percentage of scientists who believe that man-made actions are not the sole cause for this epidemic have used logic to appeal to those who disagree. Their points include that there is measurement technology bias, meaning that improvements in our ability to accurately count or measure a phenomenon is mistaken for a real underlying change in the frequency of the phenomenon. This means that we cannot categorize weather patterns as “normal” or “abnormal” since we only have a short history of measurements to support these claims and finally climate is an extremely complex system with many variables changing simultaneously. Even with an appeal to logic, the majority of scientists still disagree with this theory. Therefore, this illustrates that although there was disagreement amongst the views of scientists, it was not useful in creating accepted knowledge as the majority refuted over these claims. [5] 

Similar to the natural sciences, disagreement plays an equally significant role in making new knowledge in the human sciences. Psychology, for example, is divided into many subfields like biological, cognitive and social psychology due disagreements on how to best explain human behaviour. Nevertheless, having these different explanations provides us with more of an understanding of the factors that influence behaviour and consequently aid the pursuit of knowledge regarding human behaviour. [6] 

Furthermore, in the human science of Economics, dispute in the explanation of how economies function led to the formation of two schools of economic thought, namely Keynesian economics and Laissez-faire economics. Keynesian economics holds the belief that in order for an economy to flourish and function, it is necessary that there be a combination of involvement from the government and the private sector. On the other hand, free-market economists believe in the “hands off” policy where there is no government intervention. [7] 

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These two ways of economic thought have allowed me, as an HL Economics student, to gain an understanding of economic concepts. For instance, I realize that although a laissez-faire economy may be beneficial in that it allows an economy to naturally reach equilibrium without interference, an economy with government intervention will ensure that the economy is stabilized with no hyperinflation and a relatively high employment rate thus, making Keynesian economics the more suitable economic choice. Hence, this shows that due to the disagreement between economists on the explanation of how economies function, I was able to create new knowledge as by analysing the pros and cons of each school of thought, I came to the decision that Keynesian economics is the more logical economic choice. [8] 

Although disagreement in the human sciences has illustrated to be useful in the generation of knowledge, there are also times where it has not. For example, in 1996, Mark Rosenweig conducted an experiment on rats to see the effects of enriched environments on rats’ brains. Despite there being disagreement on the ethical considerations of the use of rats in the experiment, it was conducted anyways. The results from this experiment showed that rats exposed to enriched environments had greater dendritic connections, meaning a greater formation of knowledge compared to the rats that were put in dim cages with no toys or enriching activities. However, despite showing that enriched environments could benefit knowledge acquisition, this experiment was conducted on rats. Therefore, it was not useful in that it could not be applied to humans as the physiology of humans and rats are completely different. Furthermore, this shows that while there was disagreement against the use of rats in Rosenweig’s experiment, it did not create useful knowledge, as the results from the actual experiment were hard to relate to the brains of humans. [9] 

Disagreement has aided the pursuit of knowledge in the natural and human sciences; however, many disagreements are based on ways of knowing like sense perception, reason, language and emotion. For example, even though Einstein and Bohr were able to perceive the data of the double slit experiment in the same way their interpretation of this perception was different due to fundamentally different assumptions regarding quantum physics. Consequently their explanations of the double slit experiment findings were different, even to the point that the terminology they used was different. At times the debate between the two physicists got quite emotional. Einstein’s view that “God does not play dice” annoyed Bohr to the point that he finally responded to Einstein asking him not to tell God what to do. Consequently, disagreements within areas of knowledge are often rooted in differences in ways of knowing. [10] 

While writing this essay I have become increasingly aware of the fallibility and limitations of human knowledge. Even theories that seem most unshakable are changed due to new discoveries. Sometimes these changes result paradigm shifts within an area of knowledge. Subsequently, to ensure progress in knowledge, one should, as a knower, remain both open minded and critical. By entertaining ideas that may initially seem impossible to accept, it is possible to push the limits of one’s understanding. Consequently, without disagreement in science, or any area of knowledge, progress would not be possible.

Our knowledge in the natural and human sciences has evolved significantly over the past centuries. This can be primarily attributed to disagreement within these fields of science. Disagreement can be understood in different ways; it may be over the logic of the arguments or the value of evidence presented or it may also refer to differences among scientists or differences amongst scientists and society. The disagreements may be over in their views of scientific paradigms, assumptions or research methods. However, just because an individual’s idea may be rejected, or disagreed upon, in the marketplace of scientific ideas, it does not mean that one shies away utterly defeated. Instead, one can try to increase their efforts to uncover more evidence, or attempt to formulate an experiment that can provide a more rigorous test of the ideas, or try to make a slight modification to the discarded idea to provide an improved fit to the evidence. Through these methods of counteracting disagreements in science, new knowledge or evidence is likely to be discovered. Hence, the knowledge issue that will be focused on in this essay is as follows: To what extent are disagreements useful in the creation of knowledge in the natural and human sciences? [1] 

The generation of new knowledge in the natural sciences can be notably credited to disagreement. For example, before the theories of plate tectonics and continental drift were proposed, geologists assumed that the Earth’s major features were fixed. Additionally, most Europeans thought that a Biblical Flood played a major role in shaping the Earth’s surface. [2] 

However, in the early 1900s, Alfred Wegener opposed the logic of these hypotheses and formulated his own hypothesis that a single landmass called Pangaea split up about 40 million years ago, and the resulting continents eventually drifted to their present locations. In contrast to the previous hypotheses mentioned, Wegener provided evidence to support his theory stating that fossils of the same species were found in two different continents, rock sequences were nearly the same on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and geological structures matched up with one another suggesting that Pangaea once existed. The opposition of Wegner’s views against the previous beliefs on why the Earth is shaped as it is has proved to be useful in generating new knowledge. His theory of Pangaea has acted as a root on which scientists have branched out to explore. It has revolutionized our understanding of Earth and has provided explanations to questions that scientists had speculated upon for centuries — such as why earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in very specific areas around the world, and how and why great mountain ranges formed. [3] 

In addition to Geology, another natural science where disagreement is beneficial in creating new knowledge is in Biology. For instance, in my IB Biology HL course, it is required to create and conduct your own independent research paper. In investigating the effects of different concentrations of coffee on heart rate, I recognized that I was not getting the desired results, as there was no effect on the subject’s heart rate a few minutes after they drank the diluted coffee. However, it has been scientifically proven that coffee, no matter what concentration, will ultimately have an effect on one’s heart rate. [4] The discrepancy between the data I collected and the already proven science allowed me to learn two things. Firstly, the reason I was not getting the desired results was because any liquid ingested within the body needs about 10-15 minutes to be absorbed by the respective organs hence why the heart rate had not increased. Finally, I was also able to create a new scientific method hence demonstrating the “new knowledge” I acquired through the disagreement of my initial data and previous scientific knowledge.

Despite these situations, having demonstrated that disagreement plays a strong role in the formation of knowledge in the natural sciences, this does not hold true for all circumstances. Take, for instance, Global Warming. For the past years, there has been an on-going debate about the causes of Global Warming and whether or not it is man-made. The small percentage of scientists who believe that man-made actions are not the sole cause for this epidemic have used logic to appeal to those who disagree. Their points include that there is measurement technology bias, meaning that improvements in our ability to accurately count or measure a phenomenon is mistaken for a real underlying change in the frequency of the phenomenon. This means that we cannot categorize weather patterns as “normal” or “abnormal” since we only have a short history of measurements to support these claims and finally climate is an extremely complex system with many variables changing simultaneously. Even with an appeal to logic, the majority of scientists still disagree with this theory. Therefore, this illustrates that although there was disagreement amongst the views of scientists, it was not useful in creating accepted knowledge as the majority refuted over these claims. [5] 

Similar to the natural sciences, disagreement plays an equally significant role in making new knowledge in the human sciences. Psychology, for example, is divided into many subfields like biological, cognitive and social psychology due disagreements on how to best explain human behaviour. Nevertheless, having these different explanations provides us with more of an understanding of the factors that influence behaviour and consequently aid the pursuit of knowledge regarding human behaviour. [6] 

Furthermore, in the human science of Economics, dispute in the explanation of how economies function led to the formation of two schools of economic thought, namely Keynesian economics and Laissez-faire economics. Keynesian economics holds the belief that in order for an economy to flourish and function, it is necessary that there be a combination of involvement from the government and the private sector. On the other hand, free-market economists believe in the “hands off” policy where there is no government intervention. [7] 

These two ways of economic thought have allowed me, as an HL Economics student, to gain an understanding of economic concepts. For instance, I realize that although a laissez-faire economy may be beneficial in that it allows an economy to naturally reach equilibrium without interference, an economy with government intervention will ensure that the economy is stabilized with no hyperinflation and a relatively high employment rate thus, making Keynesian economics the more suitable economic choice. Hence, this shows that due to the disagreement between economists on the explanation of how economies function, I was able to create new knowledge as by analysing the pros and cons of each school of thought, I came to the decision that Keynesian economics is the more logical economic choice. [8] 

Although disagreement in the human sciences has illustrated to be useful in the generation of knowledge, there are also times where it has not. For example, in 1996, Mark Rosenweig conducted an experiment on rats to see the effects of enriched environments on rats’ brains. Despite there being disagreement on the ethical considerations of the use of rats in the experiment, it was conducted anyways. The results from this experiment showed that rats exposed to enriched environments had greater dendritic connections, meaning a greater formation of knowledge compared to the rats that were put in dim cages with no toys or enriching activities. However, despite showing that enriched environments could benefit knowledge acquisition, this experiment was conducted on rats. Therefore, it was not useful in that it could not be applied to humans as the physiology of humans and rats are completely different. Furthermore, this shows that while there was disagreement against the use of rats in Rosenweig’s experiment, it did not create useful knowledge, as the results from the actual experiment were hard to relate to the brains of humans. [9] 

Disagreement has aided the pursuit of knowledge in the natural and human sciences; however, many disagreements are based on ways of knowing like sense perception, reason, language and emotion. For example, even though Einstein and Bohr were able to perceive the data of the double slit experiment in the same way their interpretation of this perception was different due to fundamentally different assumptions regarding quantum physics. Consequently their explanations of the double slit experiment findings were different, even to the point that the terminology they used was different. At times the debate between the two physicists got quite emotional. Einstein’s view that “God does not play dice” annoyed Bohr to the point that he finally responded to Einstein asking him not to tell God what to do. Consequently, disagreements within areas of knowledge are often rooted in differences in ways of knowing. [10] 

While writing this essay I have become increasingly aware of the fallibility and limitations of human knowledge. Even theories that seem most unshakable are changed due to new discoveries. Sometimes these changes result paradigm shifts within an area of knowledge. Subsequently, to ensure progress in knowledge, one should, as a knower, remain both open minded and critical. By entertaining ideas that may initially seem impossible to accept, it is possible to push the limits of one’s understanding. Consequently, without disagreement in science, or any area of knowledge, progress would not be possible.

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