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Objectivity

One critical feature of science is objectivity. To be objective means to be free of personal biases, to evaluate an event without any prejudice one way or the other. We all have subjective, this is, internal, private feelings and desires. In many ways, our subjective selves are the true essence of life. But these are not in the realm of science, because ÷science can only deal with publicly observable˛ ÷events˛. True science is a public enterprise in which anyone else can repeat the same experiment and obtain the same results.

Hence in adopting a scientific attitude, you need to learn to be as objective as possible. I can recall when I was trying to justify my alcoholic behavior. I managed to convince myself that I could do almost everything better after having a few drinks than when I was sober. This was mostly wishful thinking. Although there really are a few things where the fear-reducing effects of alcohol can improve one's performance, in most cases, alcohol only makes one think s/he is doing better. That is why a scientist seeks objective measures, ones that are not influenced by subjective biases.

Now here's the twist: You can adopt the scientific attitude toward your own subjective experiences. Because no-one else can observe them, they are not a part of true science. But nevertheless, you can attempt to be objective about your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. For example, in the first chapter of this book, I urged you to make a commitment to learn these materials. Regardless of whether or not you sign a contract, you are the only one who knows just how committed to doing well in college you really are. Being objective in the context of your subjective feelings means not kidding yourself.

There is an important psychological reason to "know yourself." As first pointed out by Freud, unconscious desires, intentions, and opinions frequently surface as slips of the tongue, accidents, missed appointments, and forgotten information. The best way to avoid such embarrassing and potentially dangerous consequences is to understand your true inner self. As one example, a woman who realizes that she really hates her father is less likely to "lose" a watch that he gave her. More dramatically, a man who realizes that he is really down in the dumps over being jilted is less likely "accidentally" to fail to make a curve at high speed and end up a traffic fatality. Science as method has personal relevance for everyday life.


next up previous contents
Next: Correlational Evidence Up: Science and Behavior Previous: The Experimental Method
Derek Hamilton
2000-09-05