The Looking Glass

The Looking Glass

The Department of Psychology


Tanya Madden

Science can be defined in one of two ways: as a concept or by its methods. If defined as the former, science becomes an abstraction subject to the whims of innumerable academics who seek individually to define and claim it as their own possession. If defined by the latter, science becomes a tangible reality whose substance lies in the universality of its methods, though its conclusions may be disputable. In practical terms, science is "systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, etc." (Webster, 1990). Thus, science is a field defined by its methods not its subject matter.

With this definition of science in mind, it behooves us, as present and future scholars, to recognize that some researchers still believe that the subject matter of science should be restricted to "universal" or "highly generalizable" subject matter. Certainly, these researchers are entitled to their opinions. However, the reader will note that their opinions do not logically follow from the aforementioned definition of science. Therefore, as intellectually discriminating students and professors, it is necessary to question the validity of opinions and arguments posited in the name of science that are predicated on something tantamount to the, uh, "warm fuzzy wuzzies" (i.e., raw emotion).

The Foundations of Emotion to which I specifically refer are the seemingly arbitrary and quite subjective classifications of "important" and "unimportant" areas of scientific inquiry made by researchers with universalist inclinations. For example, the argument that the law of gravity, because of its greater generality, is necessarily more important than human gender or cultural differences is an argument ad absurdum. It has no more of a claim on Absolute Empirical Truth than the opposite position. To illustrate what I mean, suppose, for example, Scholar A says to Scholar B, "Your studies on sight are unimportant because they only generalize to people who can see and not to blind people or other species. Besides, human beings aren't really that important in the vast picture of the universe!" Scholar B could then reply, "Well, your studies certainly aren't any more generalizable than mine." Then Scholar C approaches A and B and says with unbridled enthusiasm, "Hey! I just discovered thinking life forms on Mars and I'm studying them. Did you know that there are many different types of Martians and there are many similarities within these groups that are worth studying? I am hoping to gain some valuable insights into Martian behaviors with my research." Unfortunately, since A and B are universalists, C's discoveries probably would be of minimal importance to them. If this sounds ridiculous then I am making my point.

At the heart of the subject matter of science debate is not the question of "real" versus "pseudo" science, it is the question of whose "warm fuzzy wuzzy" opinion you accept. However, if you subscribe to the universalist view you must accept that any empirical universality is, by definition, a limited construct and any subsequent classifications of "important" and "unimportant" scientific discoveries are purely subjective. If you believe instead that all scientific discoveries bear potential importance then you have opened your mind to illimitable possibilities for acquiring knowledge and wisdom. You choose.

See Dr. Perrott's article.
See Michelle Butler's article

Prepared -- This edition update by

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