Dewey

Nov 4, 2011 by Jessica

Reading Mark Brown’s chapter on John Dewey in Science in Democracy helped me to understand some of my own problems with the idea that scientists are objective observers taking notes and discovering immutable truths about the world. Of course this paints a picture that is not quite accurate.  The immutable truths are immutable for awhile, and then they change, and we accept this change as final—at least until they are proven wrong.  Still, while the theory lasts, it most likely will be considered as a fact.

What I found in chapter six, were Dewey’s arguments that while the scientist participates in observation(156), the world around the scientist participates too.  Experimentation and generation of knowledge, described as an interaction with the world, not only presents the world around us as an agent in our knowledge, but also allows for more dynamism.

Science, as stated above, is already dynamic.  As we studied in Douglas, this helps to give science not only its authority, but also its pure effectiveness.  Scientists ask questions continually, but the idea that the formation of knowledge is a creative endeavor and not simply a search for ossified facts that hover out there like asteroids in space seems somewhat novel.  The universe may not be static.  This thought allows the scientist to be more objective simply because they allow its truth.  Acknowledging a mutable environment that participates would be a cognitive correction.  It could possibly lead to further discoveries which would not be hindered by the limitations imposed by scientific instruments, but informed by them.  Limitations have the potential to become scaffoldings to build understanding.

Scientists might become more objective because the scientist who recognizes the elements with which he is working (and that includes himself) will be more able to respond readily to the various phenomena of the world.  It is because he will recognize the “laws” he discovers  are neither passive nor set in stone. This in turn will lead to more hesitation in observation.  Hesitation here is not negative, it signifies a willingness to take time with a matter—to look at it from all angles and see how it fits together.  In other words, scientists’ hubris could be getting in the way. And that, in fact, is the hubris of the whole population.  With blinders on, working with inert facts, how can scientists create an accurate map of the world?  We have removed the earth from the center of the universe; the next step would be to remove human kind from that very place.

Note: I apologize if the scientific community, or large elements in it, already operate in this way.  My impressions of science were largely formed in high school, where we usually took simple multiple choice tests (I wasn’t in honors) on complicated things concerning such subjects as biology and physics.