Science and Reason–Gathering Evidence

. . . hypotheses are not summaries or categories for existing data and observations, but must pass the test of accounting for new data. If our current hypotheses are able to predict new events, they survive. If they fail, even once, they must be altered. If these alterations cause fundamental changes in the original generalizations, the hypotheses may have to be totally abandoned.   

Stephen Krashen, Principles and Practices in Second Language Acquisition

While these remarks are made by a linguist in his seminal work about how second languages are acquired by human beings, they belong to the larger world of science and reason.  I want to suggest that they also belong in the working spiritual lexicon of human beings who are on their search for truth and meaning in the world.

The ideas are simple, powerful and perhaps disturbing.  When we formulate an hypothesis about how anything works from how a certain recipe works in the kitchen to how a particular drug works in the human body to how a business plan works–from the daily, informal hypotheses of chopping wood and carrying water to the monumental formalized ones of research laboratories, we engage in predicting how things will turn out.

Preparing it this way will result in this kind of custard.  Taking this dosage of the medication will result in this physical/mental outcome for the patient.  A business plan prepared with these components will result in a growth of X percent.

Think about it.  If these hypotheses produced other than the expected custard, health outcome, or business growth, would we return to the kitchen, the doctor or the business for more of the same?  We would only if we cherished pain and suffering!

What if we took this approach to our search for truth and meaning?  What if we began to observe the things we do in our lives that bring us a sense of living a centered, meaningful life?  What if we took those growing observations and began to postulate out comes?  What if we created statements for ourselves (aka hypotheses)?  What if these statements focused on future outcomes–that if we practiced certain activities, attitudes and associations we could expect certain kinds of desirable outcomes?  What if we also committed ourselves to change or abandon the statements that failed to produce the outcomes we thought they predicted?  What if we were clear that preexisting beliefs could not trump this sort of process?

For example:  let ‘s say that we have been taught–all our lives–that each night we should “confess to God” all our wrongdoings and that this will make us better people.  Let’s say that in observing this practice, we find that doing so simply reinforces a solidly negative attitude towards our own life.  We want something more than a negative attitude towards ourselves, and so we begin to experiment and find that if we end each day with a list of things we found joyful or for which we are grateful, we begin to feel hopeful and positive about our lives.  The working hypothesis could be:  when I practice daily joy and gratitude, I feel more positive about my life.  My life feels more meaningful.  Then, we test the hypothesis.  Does it predict new events?  If so, it’s a keeper.  If not, it must be changed or abandoned.

The search for truth and meaning begins, I think, with good questions.  Those questions lead us to statements that we can live with, test, demonstrate, and enjoy.  What experiment do you have on your calendar?

Bob Patrick

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