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Scientific Mindset 1 July 2007

Posted by Todd in American Pragmatism, Democratic Theory, Philosophy & Social Theory, Philosophy of Science, Reviews, Science.
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In reading Tim Adams’ review of Natalie Angier’s new book, The Canon: A Whirlygig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science, I came across this gem:

‘Science is rather a state of mind,’ Angier argues and, as such, it should inform everything. ‘It is a way of viewing the world, of facing reality square on but taking nothing for granted.’ It would be hard to argue that this state of mind was advancing across the globe. We no longer make and mend, so we no longer know how anything works.

This reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by John Dewey, from Freedom and Culture. Dewey had begun to integrate scientific thinking into his philosophy shortly after reading Darwin and coming to grips for the first time with evolution (see the Dewey quote to the right); eventually this led him to parallel thinking with William James and Charles Pierce on the nature of truth and the origins of human knowledge; and finally to a philosophical adaptation of G.H. Mead’s social behaviorism. In Freedom and Culture, Dewey is trying to convince readers that given the way our brains work, and given what the scientific method has taught us about how to gain reliable knowledge upon which to base social decisions, we should adopt a more generalized “scientific mindset.”

“This interest [in scientific inquiry] has developed a morale having its own distinctive features. Some of its obvious elements are [1] willingness to hold belief in suspense, ability to doubt until evidence is obtained; [2] willingness to go where evidence points instead of putting first a personally preferred conclusion; [3] ability to hold ideas in solution and use them as hypotheses to be tested instead of as dogmas to be asserted; and [4] (possibly the most distinctive of all) enjoyment of new fields for inquiry and of new problems.”

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