How Science Works According to Lowi

I regard science as the human search for order in the surrounding world that includes other humans. Thus, the first and most indispensable premise of science is that there IS order in the universe. The second premise is that every human is equipped for the search and capable of making sense of the natural order. Notice I do not rely on the terms "postulate" and "absolute."

I never objected to Galambos' use of these terms in serious discussion because I knew what he meant. However, I note with concern that others less cognizant of the demands of epistemology and formal logic, having been exposed to his teachings only in his public lectures, have been seriously misled into rigid orthodoxy by these terms.

I also think Galambos over-idealized the idea of the scientific method thereby misleading those innocent of the challenging formalities involved. As a result, many came away with the belief that science was merely a matter of a properly prepared genius equipped with the right hypothesis taking a turn at the crank and presto!--knowledge. Galambos certainly knew better but he indulged the adulation of those who had convinced themselves from poetic testimony that he was one of those rare historical specimens to have succeeded in mastering the scientific procedure and corroborating his hypotheses thereby. An unfortunate outcome of his romantic treatment was that science is an aristocratic endeavor in which few participate and most are mere spectators. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, it was Galambos himself who made the astute observation that market phenomena evidence the democratic and universal practice of scientific method.

True to Eddington, I consider one's knowledge to be his subjective surrogate for nature. He alone constructs it, albeit possibly aided in the process by a good teacher or two and the school of hard knocks. The idea that one can acquire such a surrogate by anything analogous to intravenous injection or mere irradiation from some genius is preposterous. Knowledge is earned, not handed out by one who knows better.

Galambos' bombshell question "how do you know you're right?" got him a lot of good quality attention and he sobered up a lot of people with it. However, after reflecting on my own experience attempting to duplicate his success, I realized that when he proceeded to provide his answer to that question in public, he often lost his balance and became excessively authoritative. Then he was unable to achieve his best in teaching what the scientific method is really like. It seemed to me that he should have followed up that question immediately with something like the following: Actually, science answers the question "how do you know you're wrong?" and then proceeds to answer the affirmative only by a process of elimination that goes on ad infinitum.

This observation was Popper's contribution to my thinking. Galambos never read Popper that I know of. Nevertheless, Galambos' message was clear that a hypothesis is not a fit subject for science if it cannot be tested by observation with the senses. To paraphrase Popper, a hypothesis must be falsifiable to be worthy of scientific attention. This is where Bridgman's operationalism comes in, which I did hear first from Galambos. But I never saw him come to grips with Bridgman's advice in devising and presenting his definitions with regard for how someone else goes about looking at what he is seeing. Thus, he allowed his students to come away thinking abstract precision is the only criterion for defining critical terms of discourse. This was highly misleading inasmuch as devising operational definitions is one of the most challenging aspects of science. Inquiry and testing by others was also frustrated to the extent his hypotheses (postulates, etc.) were not stated in operational terms whereby falsification could be facilitated.

As you know, I coined the phrase "One, two, three, four; this is the way to know more" to introduce Galambos' simplified four-step treatment of scientific method when I was doing "Course 100." Even though I was then and still am a professional practitioner of formal science, it has taken me years of study and introspection to develop a comfortable handle on the subject. While the simple "1, 2, 3, 4..." recipe still works for me, and is remarkably consistent with the views of our venerable ancestors Aristotle and Spinoza, I found I could not do justice to even the fourth step in three pages of single-space small print, and then with numerous citations of several ponderous studies like those of Popper, Bridgman, Korzibski, Eddington, Planck, Aristotle, Spinoza, Bacon, Reichenbach, Cohen, Nagel and others.

I notice, however, that almost everybody has a modicum of success with this recipe without ever having been exposed to any scholarship in the matter. This is in spite of the fact that what passes for scholarship in the public media on the question of knowledge acquisition is mute or worse. The worst is that "public schools" actually contradict the recipe. That more non-stupid people are not dying of their own stupid acts in mimicry of the educational system suggests to me that the recipe is possibly "instinctual," whatever that may mean, and is not merely unlearned by formal instruction. Competence in the practice grows (evolves) in each individual as long as he manages to survive his daily encounters with nature. I am intrigued with the "Darwin Awards" phenomenon on the internet because it makes a more global point of this observation and applies it to the species as a whole (among several web pages).

Note I describe the scientific method as a recipe for learning. As such, it calls for appropriate tools to be used at appropriate stages in the process of using the recipe. The basic tools involved are the ordinary human faculties of perception, conception and reason. This might be a good place to mention that epistemology has more to do with the tools than the recipe. Thus, epistemology is intimately concerned with the psycho-biological properties of the human individual as he has evolved. "Property" in the socio-economic or ethical sense (commonly referred to by the redundant term "private property") as used by Galambos, Heath and others is considered to be one among many such properties, albeit a supremely important one.

Deming's idea of "evolutionary epistemology" is a worthy notion that deserves development. My lack of preparation in the psycho-biology studies leaves me unsure of his full meaning but it is at least consistent with my idea that science can do no more than to build subjective confidence in hypotheses regarding specific aspects of the presumed natural order. So knowledge is evolutionary but never absolutely certain because the process can never be completed on any proposition.

Because I was uncomfortable with Galambos' usage of the word "absolute" when attached to subjective conclusions, I recommended to my students that they develop an intellectual posture regarding scientific results which I called "egocentric humility." Egocentric because one has no alternative but to use his own faculties and to trust that they are sufficiently potent and reliable to deal with nature as it presents itself. Humility because the more you know, the more you know you don't know.

Prior to giving priority to his ideological program, Galambos easily assumed a posture of egocentric humility in private. Afterward, I doubt that he ever allowed himself to do so in public--he condemned the word "humility." But he never objected to my disclaimer because he knew it was consistent with the meaning of science. He did complain that this bit of reserve on my part muffled considerably my ability to make an adequately emphatic statement of the ideology he was so determined to promote, and that I was somewhat less successful than he in creating a strength of belief in my students than he in his. In fact, it was my temperate approach to presenting HIS ideology and my solicitation of questions, discussion and inquiry after class that led him to terminate me from the staff of the Free Enterprise Institute. I felt like Br'er Rabbit in the Brierpatch after being relieved of the commitment to give priority to ideological cultivation regardless of the maturity of the underlying science and technology. (AL)