Uncontrollably, Emotionally, Human

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“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious – the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.”

― Albert Einstein

There is a emotion center labelled in the brain. According to science, all emotion originates or is processed in the amygdala. Though thinking back, I have no idea whether the emotions are caused by the amygdala or affect it. Which roots back to the whole idea of perceptions – are they created by the brain or do they create brain activity by stimulating specific neural pathways. This depends on your philosophical viewpoint in a sense. On one hand you could believe that we should doubt our very existence, in which case, perceptual experiences are the result of our brain activity – our brain creates our experiences. Of course you could take it a step further and say we don’t even have a brain and we cannot know we exist in any form. Which quite frankly has always struck me as senseless. On the other hand, you could argue that we developed sophisticated sensory systems to be able to detect stimuli, we have studied these stimuli extensively, and the brain react to the stimuli. Which fits more with my practical side, but leave me with the problem of how does the brain construct the mental  images? I am still working on that one, hopefully I will have an answer to that, and in general the brain question (i.e. What does the brain do?) next week. For now, I shall return to the concept of emotions.

Emotions are a pretty busy and varied area of psychology so allow me to boil down the key issues with emotions as I see them:

  1. Science has located the biological center but cannot explain the mechanism
  2. Science tries to remove emotions from science, but this is essentially impossible – emotions are a part of us. I can’t stop my emotions any more effectively that I can stop breathing.
  3. Emotions impact everything we do – have you ever heard noticed how your emotions colour EVERYTHING! The same event, missing the bus is a totally different thing if you’re upset because you failed a midterm versus if you got a good night’s rest and are looking forward to a date.
  4. We are not always experts at emotions, they’re not always apparent.
  5. Emotions are either part of consciousness or born out of consciousness.

Sitting on the bus Tuesday night, I looked around and realized everyone was likely thinking something. Or so my female mind tells me (according to comedians it is actually possible for men to not be thinking ANYTHING). So everyone on the bus was thinking something. In my experience, everything to some degree has an evaluative component.

In mediating on emotions I came to a slow and peaceful realization of the distinction between the public and private emotions. We have the expression “wearing your heart on your sleeve.” Meaning you make no attempt or are unable to conceal your emotions. I argue this is part of a more general expressiveness. People show the really powerful emotions, or they usually do – and which we see them naming them, we have no difficulty naming them. But what about mixed emotions? We do not always feel one thing.

Thankfully there was no one this tired. I am alarmingly close.

Thankfully there was no one this tired. I am alarmingly close.

Sitting on the bus, I can see people who are tired, but that, beyond, the concept of psychache,  is not really an emotion. I am sure they were thinking about things, feeling things under the surface, but superficially all I could see was the tiredness. Humans are capable of an unimaginable array of emotions, science has attempted to find a set of “core” emotions, basic things like anger, sadness, happiness, surprise. But we don’t always have these simple emotions that can be neatly packaged up. Sometimes our “head and our heart disagree” (i.e. our logical and rational thought system, wherever that is, and our emotions are telling us to do different things). And then things get messy. This is essentially why science tries to eliminate these things. Ironically, at least here in North America, we talk about how couples (particularly actors) “have great chemistry.” Somewhere Neils Bohr just turned over in his grave.

It’s the emotions that complicate the science of psychology. This boils down to an overarching experience or issue of things being made more complicated than they need to be and more simple than they can be. We can’t remove emotions from our experiences, they’re the very thing that taint our perception. So we try to remove emotions, be completely unbiased, my psych profs have repeatedly told me that we try to be interested in the results either way, out of scientific curiosity. Really, I don’t think that’s possible, yes some experiments may actually be interesting for interest sake, but we develop hypothesis – mini-theories of sorts that state what we are expecting to happen. To have those expectations invalidated is useful in allowing us to grow and learn, but at the same token, it sucks. It sucks to be wrong. And we get sad, or frustrated, disappointed, maybe even angry. Our hope that we are right, may guide our interpretations, our desire to avoid the negative emotions could affect how we interpret things. At the same time, we do not live in a vacuum – in the background, beyond the experiment is our lives. The things that really matter to us as individuals. We may be sad because of a break-up or dreading a visit from the in-laws (for the record, I have never had an awful boyfriend’s family experience, I’m starting to wonder why everyone dreads the in-laws) – and that affects how they carry out the experiment or interpret the results. It’s the same in daily life – like I mentioned before – say you just failed a midterm, and someone steps on your foot on the bus, you are going to react differently than if you just found out you aced the midterm.

So to say that science can remove emotions is laughable – you can’t – it is part of our consciousness. Are they consciousness? Well I guess that requires an understanding of consciousness, which could be an entire post on it’s own – but let’s do the SparkNotes version.

Consciousness=awareness of your existence
Unconsciousness=existing without awareness

People sometimes have talked about unconscious emotions – and I’ve read studies that demonstrate implicit feelings that individuals are unaware they’re feeling – racist reactions are a big one – i.e. science has supposedly proven that even if explicitly you state you are not racist, and your general behaviour agrees with that, there are subtle indicators of your us-them bias. Which is interesting, though at this point we may be stretching too far in our generalizations.

To what degree is the unconscious a valid indicator of someone’s emotions? To what degree do those “unconscious motives/emotions” guide our behaviour? This is the bedrock of the problem of whether emotions are consciousness or merely a part of consciousness. If they are our consciousness then should we not be able to label them all the time? Should emotions not guide everything? In class I argued, almost on a whim, on the basis that emotions affect everything, that emotions are consciousness. Sitting back and thinking about it though, emotions don’t necessarily affect everything. Motivation plays a huge part. Some may argue that this is just another more complex emotion, but I don’t think so. Emotions impact motivation potentially. But I don’t think that emotions are necessarily a part of everything, at least not on a conscious level. When I wait to cross the street, it is not because I fear getting hit by a car (which is technically valid), it is because that is social norm. When I climb the stairs (I might wish I had taken the elevator),  I am not feeling any emotion generally, at least not related to climbing the stairs.

After writing this, on a later bus ride I realized – was I perhaps unable to read the emotions of people on the bus because there were none? Is that possible? If emotions are to be consciousness, then they must always be present, we must be unable to evaluate or think without an associated emotion. But is exhaustion an emotion or a state of physical or mental existence?

I vacuumed Saturday morning, I was distracted thinking about other things I was going to do, but did I have an emotion or some sort of appraisal of vacuuming? No. I was simply doing something, yet I was conscious of that. Neutrality isn’t really an emotion. At the same background thoughts of future plans or past events may also be generating emotions that are completely unrelated. What is interesting and forms a sticking point for me, is how I may be unaware of emotions, I may even not be feeling anything – but when someone asks me how I am feeling, I can tell them…usually. Does this mean that emotions are part of the unconscious, the background noise of our lives that can be brought forward into consciousness? Or do we actually include emotions in all areas of our lives, we just don’t think of them as emotions because we do not have the language to articulate the emotions? Are thoughts as I watch people on the bus emotions, appraisals, or simply thoughts?

So emotions aren’t everything, motivations and social norms also play a role (though they too may be considered variations of emotional states), but emotions have the potential to impact everything.

In meditating on science and emotions and decision making an interesting concept became clear. We try to remove emotions when we make decisions or guide our behaviour because they can be rash, they are volatile and out of our control (much like our own consciousness – we can choose to ignore things, but this requires some degree of consciousness). Jury, business, and medical decisions are all supposed to be based on fact. Psychologists are expected to be completely unbiased, empathic, but not emotionally involved. We pretend that this is the way things actually are because if we accept that emotions can be illogical, AND we accept that they CANNOT be eliminated  from decisions, then our reasoning is not actually logical, and we are no longer wise and rational beings. We become a slave to the illogical, to the chaos of our minds. And yet when an individual completely lacks emotions, or the ability to show/react to emotions, like Dexter, we pathologize it. Something just isn’t right.

Basically? We want to have our cake and eat it too.

What is interesting to me is how different cultures deal with emotions and show them, and how that affects our understanding. For example, the Japanese are known for their lack of emotional expression (or at least traditionally). To say you’re depressed or display anger publicly is disapproved. I’ve been doing a lot of research lately on eating disorders for various papers and proposals, and what strikes me is how the Japanese have been found to display a non-fat-phobic version of anorexia nervosa. I reference this to EDs in children, a growing area of research, as children are largely considered to be unable to articulate and understand their own emotional experiences, which could explain the atypical presentation in Japanese individuals – if emotional displays are not appropriate, like children, they may lack the fat phobic trait either because the expression may be foreign to them, or because culturally expression of such individual desires may be inappropriate.

How we experience and display emotions are partially culturally derived, but also inherently variant and potentially contradictory. For example, outside of NY, even if you are experiencing heart-wrenching pain, crying on public transit is generally bizarre. So maybe you put on a mask of calm, maybe even try some good ol’ fashioned opposite action and smile. Either way, public transportation is a no-cry zone. So emotions, in my opinion, are somewhat inevitable, displaying them is optional.

So scientists pretend to be unbiased, I don’t think that’s really possible. What is possible, is controlling your actions, somewhat. So science is essentially alogical because of the inductive reasoning, and illogical because it is tainted by emotions, and essentially science then becomes an exercise is how convincing you are. Not truly on how convincing the evidence is. I have read articles where the author talks up the results and then you examine yourself, and they’re significant, but only statistically so, in real life it is hardly worth any pomp and circumstance.

What about the really powerful emotions? Sometimes, you just feel too much – they become uncontrollable.

So what does this say about emotions?

As I’ve said before, emotions cannot be explained by the brain’s activities, I refuse to accept that emotions can truly be simply a neurochemical cocktail. I see emotions as both uncontrollable – you can’t control love, you can’t help but feel sad when someone you love dies – and at the same time incredibly malleable – which is the very principle behind cognitive behavioural therapies. But then what are emotions, scientists really hate the intangible, so I feel like I should come up with some sort of hypothesis that will eventually be proven wrong. I propose that this is essentially no different that perception to a degree. 

There is a chicken and the egg debate in both, and neither can pinpoint exactly how those neural signals are converted back into mental images of the sensory world. Maybe the difference with emotions is the evaluative component but also the fact that emotions are percepts of the unobservable.

I still have a long way to go in understanding emotions, a prelude to understanding my own emotions I suppose, but what is incredibly fascinating to me is that they are always changing. I think our emotions hold the power to alter the connections in our brains, to bias our perceptions and interpretations – a sort of stimulus acting on the brain from within whatever source of being defines that which science has yet to explain.

The science kids are confident that we only say science can’t explain things because it  hasn’t developed the technology to do so – but how can you boil something so potentially irrational and volatile down to a complex, but logically organized sequence of firing neurons and neurotransmitter releases? I don’t think science can or should explain emotions, but I still don’t agree that the reactions can be so instantaneous that we can experience the flashes of emotion. Science has done some pretty cool stuff, but please science – don’t take away the magic of love.

What do you think? Has science already explained the emotions? Will it? Should it?

Also, not a huge fan of making emotions a scientific theory – but this is pretty cool (don’t ask me why happiness is completely isolated)

emotions web

“I think there is something beautiful in reveling in sadness. The proof is how beautiful sad songs can be. So I don’t think being sad is to be avoided. It’s apathy and boredom you want to avoid. But feeling anything is good, I think. Maybe that’s sadistic of me.”

― Joseph Gordon-Levitt

The Terror of Oneness

“All you really need to know for the moment is that the universe is a lot more complicated than you might think, even if you start from a position of thinking it’s pretty damn complicated in the first place.”

― Douglas Adams

This I think was the aha moment Claude was pushing me towards. It was almost painful in a sense, some of the things I have come to realize in the last few days, and yet it was incredibly exciting.

Ernest BeckerAfter watching videos from Shots of Awe and noticing Ernest Becker was repeatedly referenced I decided to pick up two of his books, I am choosing to start with The Birth and Death of Meaning, while I’m insanely busy the next two weeks I will let you know how the book goes. I’m almost afraid to start it, afraid that like the explosion of awareness that started Tuesday night, Becker’s words will consume my mind.

What struck me as I thought about the human aim, the singulars and the generalities, expectations, and the reasoning of science was the idea of oneness.

We believe in our oneness, we believe that our uniqueness is something to be applauded and recognized but on what grounds? Why, when you consider the number of homo sapiens that have existed, that continue to exist , would our existence matter? Throw in all the other carbon form forms, living and non, and the planets, starts, and galaxies, known and unknown, and it becomes terrifying how little we matter. How insignificant our existence becomes.

Science, perhaps rightly so, occasionally allows error, ignores the exceptions to the rule because even 5% is so insignificant when you consider the proportion relative to all the other ones in the universe. Yet, science usually says no – any error is too much, it is after all the reason the science kids scorn the psych kids. Perhaps this is because they realize the terror of the infinite – the idea that as time goes one we are essentially becoming less and less significant. Maybe I’m giving them too much credit, but it would explain their massive egos. If they make a massive contribution, they figure they count for more ones?

We realize that the human imagination is capable of infinite possibilities. Possibilities beyond reality, that we may never live to see come to see to fruition. And yet our significance, our life is incredibly, painfully, tragically, finite. Our existence is limited in many ways, even if our mind is not.

If we ignore the exceptions, discount them as too insignificant in the grand scheme of things – then we too, do not matter.

We work from generalities because the ones are too much to know. It is information overload. Perhaps psychology accepts this more because it see the vastness of the ones. Psychology is okay with being proven wrong, because the uniqueness of man, and the sheer number of people who have existed and continue to exist, means that it is incredibly likely that eventually an exception will be found.

Yet we have this need to understand, to grasp the infinite possibilities, the infinite nature of everything that is, has been, and will be and make it finite. Which is almost beyond our processing abilities – perhaps why people become experts and we all hate a know-it-all. To know everything, to know anything with absolute certainty is impossible. It may also be the reason we developed technology. Both to pull our ideas and conceptions into existence, and to remove some of the processing demands from our own minds; to free them up for bigger thoughts and allow us to see the infinite connections. To expand awareness beyond the limits of our biology. To create something less finite than our own existence. To go beyond our mortal flesh, beyond our impending loss of everything.

This has been an earth shattering realization for me – I am one in a sea of unknowable size, becoming less and less significant by the day. I have this finite existence, despite the infinite capacity of my mind. It has been suggested that the brain’s capacity for storage and processing is virtually limitless, but perhaps it is just that we have not the time to test it long enough to find the limits. If we are finite beings is our mind not something finite or does our mind go beyond our pitiful, insignificant existence? Do we suppose our minds are infinite and that we simply have not had the time to find it, to avoid the terror of the fact that our own lives are so finite? To avoid our own mortality? Is this an attempt by science to extend the human life, to conquer death, to make our bodies as infinite as our imaginations?

We have always grappled with this – it’s why the question of “Why am I here?” has plagued the minds of homo sapiens since we first developed the ability to think at such a level.

Is psychology then the study of the oneness? The careful studying of what makes us more than hydrogen atoms (not even water molecules) in an ocean? The attempt to find the things that bind us together to at least form a puddle. The drive to be a part of something that makes our own lives connected to something bigger so that we are no longer, the insignificant being that we fear we may be.

Feel small yet?

Feel small yet?

How about now?  For the record - one drop of water contains 1.39 time ten to the 21st (that's 21 zeros) molecules. Have I oversold this? Maybe, probably not when you consider EVERYTHING that has a will be. PS Catch the joke? ;)

How about now?
For the record – one drop of water contains 1.39 time ten to the 21st (that’s 21 zeros) molecules. Have I oversold this? Maybe, probably not when you consider EVERYTHING that has a will be.
PS Catch the joke? 😉

Maybe that’s why adolescence is so tough – the stereotypical cry of “You don’t understand! No one understands what I am going through!” (which I admit, I was not immune to, I was a teenager not so long ago, in fact I think I used the big kid variation last week.) is evidence perhaps that in adolescence, the whole spotlight effect is because we feel our oneness more deeply as we try to separate from our parents, the whole autonomy struggle psychology is always talking about. We try to become this one and it terrifies us, so in adulthood we seek out this understanding of a connectedness, the patterns and generalities that make us less alone.

Beyond the oneness, I see psychology as the study of thought, behaviour, emotion, and neurological functioning. Of existence, humanity, culture and uniqueness.

The study of the ties that bind, and the threads of the rope.

It seeks to expand our awareness of existence in ways technology has perhaps not expanded enough to grasp. Existence beyond the limits of ourselves, yet flowing back on the oneness at the same time. A perpetual cycle to understand humanity in an attempt to understand ourselves, which we use to understand humanity.

A cycle not unlike that of knowledge acquisition.

Wow. Just wow. What a week.

What do you think? Does the idea of oneness and complete insignificance terrify you? Do you think it somewhat explains mental illness? Perhaps is mental illness simply a reaction to this realization in some way? At least some of them?

Is that what psychology is?

Tell me down below what you think.

“The only thing that scares me more than space aliens is the idea that there aren’t any space aliens. We can’t be the best that creation has to offer. I pray we’re not all there is. If so, we’re in big trouble.”

― Ellen DeGeneres

When You Assume, You Make an Ass out of You and Me.

“Absence of proof is not proof of absence.”

Michael Crichton, The Lost World

I got a little chuckle out of this...

I got a little chuckle out of this…

We are individual. My experience growing up has always taught me this. Which boils down to the sarcastic joke “you’re unique, just like everyone else.” And the internet is full of these quotes, you know the “it is better to be a first rate version of yourself than a second rate version of someone else,” or “be yourself, everyone else is taken.” Which are rosy and wonderful thoughts and I raise them not to mock them or question their validity – but because it raises an issue with humanity and psychology. If we are all unique, and completely different from others, how do we develop theories about people? How do we communicate? How do we have anything that ties us together?

that's a face only a mother could love. Or maybe not. Etiology of psychopaths suggests that attachment style may explain this...

that’s a face only a mother could love. Or maybe not. Etiology of psychopaths suggests that attachment style may explain this…

Yes I hear you, “But City Villager, really you’re just being hyperbolic! Of course we are similar in some ways.” But what ways? Yes, groups of people may be similar, but there are few universals, if any, in humans. Even things like the ability to love are debatable as psychopaths are apparently incapable of love. And yet I have seen numerous headlines and the point has been raised that these folks make great CEOs. This isn’t a one off case, but does that mean that the likes of Henry Lee Lucas are not human? Despite the fact that perhaps by all other criteria they are human. This is exactly like the point of triangles tonight. The idea that if you found a triangle that when you added up the interior angles was 175 degrees, not 180, and you took it to a mathematician what would they say? First they would argue that your measuring procedure was flawed, they would then measure it with the most accurate tool available, and the sum of the interior angles was still 175 degrees, at which point the mathematician would declare that it is not a triangle. It is in fact still a triangle, you just don’t want it to be. Like we don’t want psychopaths to be classed as humans because we are human, which means that we are theoretically capable of such atrocities.

hehehe  Taken from: http://xkcd.com/435/

hehehe
Taken from: http://xkcd.com/435/

At this point Dr Lamontagne is pushing us towards the great insight that there is no truth, and we cannot know the true state of the world – we have only our theories, which can never be proven true, only failed to be disproved, and eventually disproved. Thus truth lies in being refutable and the accepted reality is based on who had the better argument. Which I think even psychology acknowledges – we won’t believe a theory if it is not theoretically possible to disprove. In truth, I feel like I’ve touched on ideas of truth and objectivity and my apparent distrust in the whole thing, but I am still trying to figure out a theory of humanity, and understand how psychology can exist if by the inherent nature of people’s uniqueness, their theories can be disproved at any moment.

A few weeks ago I raised the point about the arbitrary nature of language, and I won’t drag through it again – except to raise the point that somewhere, somehow, we evolved to be able to communicate. I can’t think without language anymore, but what about before language? It is a miracle that somewhere, two homo sapiens managed to converge on a system of grunts that led to mutual understanding. Their two unique minds and unique perceptions converged on a single understanding. Language is a legacy passed between generations – I shudder for the next generation at this point. We are passing on such a lazy language, I feel like we may be going in reverse now and 200 years from now language will have returned to a system of monosyllabic noises, the only words that will survive will be hashtag and yolo. Great.

Moving away from the depressing future of language back to the idea of how we learn language. We are taught words for concrete objects – that pretty straightforward – assuming another person speaks your language, pointing to a mug and saying “pass me the mug” will get you the mug. Except we have entire books listing multiple words for the same thing – trash, garbage, rubbish, refuse. And yet we still assume that the other person understands us. Which is fine when we’re referring to concrete objects, usually this is not a big issue – if we say put this in the garbage can and we are met with confused looks we can clarify. Usually within general areas the same words are used for objects so this is a fairly infrequent experience. What about the abstract concepts? Or the words that don’t actually refer to anything, words like “or,” “and” or the numbers (I dare you to try and tell me what 3 means on it’s own). We assume that others understand the complexities of our thoughts and get frustrated when they fail to do so. We assume our understanding of the world to be the true state of things. Which at any moment could theoretically be destroyed.

Growth, I’ve been told, lies in being proven wrong. So we should be moving towards a progressively more refined understanding of the world. Do I understand more than I did when I was a child? Yes, but no. I understand a lot of what I didn’t understand as a child, but the more I learn, the more I figure out that I still don’t understand a lot of things.

So psychology is the science (?) of understanding the human mind. Yet half the time I barely understand my own mind- I won’t lie, there have been times I have been crying without having any understanding of why I was crying. So if I don’t understand my mind, an entity which I am intimately connected to, how can a psychologist presume to understand that which they can only observe via proxies, inferences, and assumptions that I can and will reveal my true inner states.

There are things though, that I am not sure science could or should explain. Take for example, love – I have raised this point before but I raise it again – can we explain loving? Should science try to explain it? It is almost inherently alogical, characteristically it does not make sense, many love songs suggest that it’s not supposed to. This is just one area, but the idea of the abstract presents a problem. And a problem that is heavily prevalent in psychology. We rely on proxies for concepts that each researcher defines very carefully, but if you look across studies, psychologists carefully define their constructs and criterion because many of the terms are not commonly defined. And to be clear by not commonly defined, I mean terms that people have multiple and varied definitions for, and thus in order to avoid miscommunication the researcher makes it as clear as possible what they mean. We then assume that since we clearly defined all the aspects of our definition of a construct, that the individual reading our research understands what we mean – what if we used words that are not generally understood or that have multiple meanings that could be confused? I’ll admit – on this one I got nothing. So let’s leave that for now and return to how we use the evidence we gather from research.

This week there was a lot of talk of generalities and specificity, which is the basis of all theories. Evidence-based practice means a whole host of specific instances, a collection of data points, was collapsed into one understanding. So is reality the instance or the general? Maybe a bit of both? We rely on the generalizations because the ones are too numerous for them to be of any use to us, but each one adds to or takes away from the theory.  We presume that your sensory experiences are the true state of things, but what if they’re not?

What we judge to be fact is no different than what science considers fact. it is our understanding of reality and the state of things to the best of our knowledge. New technology allows us to access more information – consider our primitive understandings of how the human mind worked – now with the advent of modern technologies such as the MRI, PET Scanner, and EEGS, we can peer into the human mind and watch it as it works. Thus new technology exposes us to the contradictions necessary for our knowledge and understanding to grow.  This does not preclude the so called free will – the ability to accept or reject information and evidence. We can choose to incorporate the information, to accept it but refuse to adjust our understandings, or to refuse the information all together assuming the basis of the information is false or otherwise invalid. This is the reason we have controversies.

Just because science presents evidence does not mean we accept it. Especially since science has been known to present contradictory findings, supposedly all based on valid research and irrefutable evidence. Look at how many things science has presented as both causing and preventing cancer. Cancer is incredibly complex, we know that a multitude of factors – from biological to environmental  to lifestyle factors. Given the number of risk factors each individual meets in their lifetime, it is no wonder science cannot tease apart which factors we experience or are endowed with lead to cancer and which are simply coincidence. It’s sort of a miracle science attempts to predict it at all, but I guess their egos tell them they have to try – because science is the all powerful warlock – the deity with all the answers.

Occasionally even in cases of overwhelming evidence, people will refuse to accept what is readily accepted by the rest of their society. How do we know who is right and who is wrong? I mean in some cases the evidence is clear, and it’s pretty hard to deny it – like gravity – you may not like the name but it’s pretty hard to deny that it doesn’t exist. Though is it not possible that they are simply holding out for the one instance that disproves it all?

Was the general population wrong for accepting that the Sun revolved around the Earth? No, they simply lacked the information that would lead them to believe otherwise – they lacked the tools that would provide the evidence. In that case Galileo et al were right. And it appears that I am backing myself into a philosophical corner. If evidence can prove a theory wrong, what proves that evidence right? If all knowledge and reality is in a sense only true because it has yet to be proven false, then this has some serious implications for science of any kind. If everything is waiting to be disproved and some evidence “disproves” that theory, on what grounds can we say that the evidence is true? What if that evidence is eventually disproved? Does this mean the theory is once again valid? In this light, I argue that perhaps “fact” does not exist, only what seems the most cogent at the time. In which case we can have neither theories, nor prove them false.

I suppose it is simply that we accept our knowledge as best case scenario. We have to have some sense of how the world is – we need something to exist that will allow us to believe we can in some way predict the world. To be completely powerless is almost paralyzing. So we evaluate based on our existing generalities that serve as criteria for the sources from which we accept evidence, on what topics, and under what conditions. If based on our experience and knowledge the evidence is deemed logical, coming from a credible source, we incorporate it. If we know less, we are more easily led to believe things that are more likely to be false, but when they are proven false, we become wiser, because we have improved our understanding. Like when you tell a child something wildly inaccurate like Jimmy Kimmel had parents do last Halloween:

Funny Jimmy Kimmel videos aside, we appear to be pretty gullible in our childhood. Perhaps because we have not accumulated the necessary experience and knowledge? But what about when people refuse to believe the evidence coming from credible sources with a logical basis? Perhaps the answer is that they simply use different criteria?

Scientific communities set parameters, acceptable error rates, reasonable measurement procedures, number of necessary trials, etc. for evidence to be acceptable and worth adding to the bounty of scientific knowledge. Do these careful procedures and parameters make the results less vulnerable to logical fallacies and errors? Maybe? We as a society seem to view it that way – if a scientist told you something about say, what works with weight loss (even if it’s coming from someone who isn’t actually a doctor/dietician… I’m looking at you Dr Oz.) you would probably be a heck of a lot more likely to believe it than if a priest told you (although weight loss is a funny one – people will believe and try anything). But what makes them more believable? What makes science so infallible in our minds? The fact that they use such complex language that we don’t understand them and are essentially powerless to refute them because we don’t actually know what it is we’re refuting half the time?

It seems I am at a crossroads in this course, this experience. I have come to doubt virtually everything I know, I seem to be doubting that there is ever a way to know anything, but at the same time I argue that we have to have some belief systems – some way of understanding the way the world is and works, to be able to function effectively. I can’t walk around doubting that when I open the door the floor will not be there – that is much too time consuming. So I have to believe certain generalities, especially what is pertinent to my survival.

So science violates logic because of the way is inductive in its reasoning – it moves from the general to specific and we have no clue how, but as long as its methods are deemed reasonable, we’ll accept it anyways. Something that just struck me though – go back to the idea that technology allows us to know and see more. In certain instances this has allowed us to improve survival – such as the medical advances resulting in an increased lifespan. I mean I think back in the 1800’s to live to 50 was a minor miracle – now in Canada the average life expectancy is somewhere in the 80’s. So technology is fairly certain to have improved our lives and our knowledge, and the range of things we can “know” at least until a new technology comes along and shows us that what we knew wasn’t the whole picture…

Defintion of Discover

Does this mean that our previous understanding was useless, that without the new knowledge we were incapable of survival. Medical advances have allowed us to live longer, that is undeniable. But what about non-medical sciences – did Galileo actually improve our lives by naming what I am guessing every individual over the age of 3 months already knew? Not really. Then what is the point of science? Not knowing certain ‘facts’ was not an impediment to life – having false theories of things like what made the tides go in and out hardly seems life threatening.

Preparing for grad school has really shown me – the entire scientific field almost seems to be dedicated to proving some gap in our knowledge still exists – exploiting the doubt. I can’t even count the number of papers I have read that have argued that the other guys who did the research before missed out on a factor in their study, or who argue that their research was good, but there’s still more to know – they didn’t expose the whole truth. Funny thing is that those same articles always end in a discussion of the limitations of the existing study and areas for future research. So basically – they didn’t get the whole picture but neither did we. Greeeeaaaattttt.

Returning to my point – I am at a real crossroads – I can see that the grounds of many of my beliefs may be unwarranted, but I still choose to believe them. Will I no longer do research because I see its inherent flaws? No. Because I can see that through those errors, just like in any form of learning or knowledge accumulation – it is our mistakes that show us how to improve. Yes, the explanations new studies come out with may still be false, and are vulnerable to the sociopolitical climate of the time, but at least they are presumably better than the theories that they defeated – otherwise they would not have defeated the theories in the first place. Their evidence had to be better, has to have exposed some flaw in the previous theory.

In short – Practice makes perfect? #YOLO?

“A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it.”

Rabindranath Tagore

Also – Quicky update – this will no be posted on Thursdays – I need more time to mull over things as we get into these messy areas.