Matt Perryman

How to make sense of goofy behavior

By Matt Perryman

The Science has found itself in an interesting bind over the last decade.

Exhibit A, we have the well-named replication crisis, which has cut the bottom out of almost every popular-science discovery you ever heard of.

The human sciences, which include psychology and social science, were hardest hit. Most any “big idea” that came out of a TED Talk and popular airport books is less than voodoo hokum.

But even the diamond hard sciences are having their own problems. Physics is stagnant, facing its own existential and methodological crises, and finding itself turned into more bureaucracy than scientific practice.

Don’t get me started on the stuff in nutrition and exercise.

The ideal of science is more or less intact. The real-life activities of doing science look more and more like boring office work, complete with the boring office politics, the useless HR Karens, and the careerist strivers looking to move up the ladder at any cost.

In its purest form science is meant to expand the horizons of ignorance. It doesn’t answer questions and settle the TRUTH. That’s for metaphysics. Scientific discovery is meant to expand the range of questions that need answers.

You wouldn’t know this from talking to the I <3 Science people, those who need a peer-reviewed study to support breathing oxygen.

Science, and really it’s the totems of science like said research papers, fill a psychological need for certainty.

What do you do when you don’t have any idea what to do or even where you are?

You grab on to the nearest solid object and hang on for dear life.

I kinda get it. But it is endlessly frustrating to deal with these types who are paralyzed without a Pubmed URL to tell them what to think.

Psychological neediness even infects science itself. The human sciences, mentioned above, work best when they aren’t beholden to the mathematical tools of physics.

The attempt to understand people using hard numbers, and only numbers, is one reason that they’ve crashed and burned so hard.

I got to reading a few books lately about using methods from philosophy to feed into the scientific study of culture.

You can’t study culture with numbers because people, like you and me, aren’t collections of statistics and demographic data.

We act for purposes. We see reasons that give meaning to our choices and actions. We value some things highly and other things not at all.

Good luck wrapping that up in an equation.

Not to get too esoteric, but even the logic of human sciences isn’t quite the same as the logic you’d expect in math or physics.

Stories operate according to a logic of narrative, which is about how events connect in ways that make sense.

Instead of asking “is this statement correct?”, as you would in a logical proof, the logic of narrative asks “what does this mean?”

Statements aren’t true or false all by themselves. In a story, a statement is an answer offered to a question.

The lack of universal proof doesn’t make stories irrational or illogical.

In fact, it’s the other way around. Stories make sense — and they’re how we make sense of everything.

Matt Perryman

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