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Conclusions

Some people characterize science as a kind of game. To play the game, one begins with the assumption that nature is lawful, that some elegant set of principles "makes the world go round." The object of the game is to discover those laws so we can better understand the things that happen. Thus, early humans naturally believed that the earth was stationary and the sun moved around it. What could be more intuitively obvious than that? The first scientists met with great opposition to their evidence that days and nights were caused by a spinning earth.

Much of the opposition, then and now, comes from the mistaken belief that science is incompatible with religion. Science can never answer, even in principle, ultimate questions about the meaning and purpose of life. Science does not resolve moral and ethical issues. Specifically, if your religion condemns eating certain foods, working on Sunday, masturbating, or dancing, your beliefs override scientific knowledge about the natural effects of such behaviors. Science sometimes steps on the toes of certain religious beliefs, but it poses no threat to the essence of religion.

For example, the scientific theory of evolution is incompatible with the Biblical story of creation. However, evolution doesn't explain creation. Scientists may believe that the human species did not result from a separate act of creation, but the material of life and the process of evolution had to be created somehow. Science can relieve religion of having to ascribe natural events to miracles.

The quest for scientific knowledge is the search for ÷causality˛, for cause and effect. A scientific hypothesis is a guess that some event of interest (the dependent variable) is caused, at least in part, by some other event (the independent variable). If conditions can be arranged to observe the dependent variable both with and without the independent variable, the hypothesis can be tested. If there is a causal relationship, the outcome will show a difference.

You can use this method in order better to understand your own behavior. In doing so, you need to learn to be ÷objective˛ with regard to your subjective experiences as well as your actual performance in any task of interest to you. In order to get some practice, you may wish to do the experiment described in the boxes 8.10.9 and 8.10.10. You need to try to control everything except the time of day (and the things normally associated with time of day, such as hunger, fatigue, drowsiness). If you normally lead a fairly regular life, it is quite probable that you will discover a stable, cyclical biorhythm that identifies you as a "morning person" or an "evening person."

You do not have to be a scientist to notice ÷correlations˛. When you are performing well (poorly), you naturally look for things that could account for it. . .your mood, the presence of others, whether you have been "good," the weather, and perhaps even your horoscope. A scientist starts with the same observations, but then tries to find out whether there really is a causal relationship. As a result, many popular misconceptions, adages, and superstitions are proven false.


next up previous contents
Next: On Self-Control Up: Science and Behavior Previous: Correlational Evidence
Derek Hamilton
2000-09-05