The Years of Introspection: Part 2 of 2

As a different concern it seems dear that science needs some way of testing its assertions, of confirming or disconcerting its claims. Hand in hand with this. science needs some way of resolving disagreements: If you claim that there are ten planets in our solar system. and I insist that there are nines we need some way of determining who is right. Otherwise we have no way of locating the fact of the matter. and so our “science” will become a matter of opinion, not fact.

With introspection, though, this ”testability” of claims is often unattainable. Let’s imagine that you insist that your headaches are worse than mine. How could we ever test your claim? It might be true that you describe your headaches in extreme terms-you talk about your “unbelievable, agonizing, excruciating” headaches. But that might simply mean that you are inclined toward extravagant descriptions-it might reflect your verbal style, not your headaches. Similarly, it might be true that you need bed-rest whenever one of your headaches strikes. Does that mean your headaches are truly intolerable? It might mean instead that you are self-indulgent and rest even in the face of mild pain. Perhaps our headaches are identical but I’m stoic about mine, while you’re not.

In fact, there’s only one my to test your claim about your headaches: We’d need some way of comparing your headaches to mine. That would require that we somehow “place” the headaches side-by-side so that we can compare them. Then we could separate the facts from the reporter and get some objective assessment of the headaches. But there is obviously no way to do this, leaving us with no way to determine if your reports of your headaches are exaggerated or not, distorted or accurate.

For purposes of science, this is just not good enough. For science, we need objective observations observations that we can count on We need observations that aren’t dependent on a particular point of view, or a particular descriptive style. It is not enough to consider “the world as one person sees it.” Instead we want to consider the world as it objectively is. In scientific discourse, we usually achieve this objectivity by making sure all the facts are out in plain view, so that you can inspect my evidence. and I yours. In that my, we can be certain that neither of us is distorting, or misreporting, or exaggerating, the facts. And that is precisely what we cannot do with introspection.

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