1.5 An Examination of Our Equipment for Knowing: Rational, Empirical, and Emotional Tests of Truth


A new angle must be explored in our purpose of scrutinizing the nature and validity of the three major institutions religion, science, and the liberal arts by which men have sought to put together their world views. It is necessary now to look at the very instruments of knowing our senses, our reasoning, our emotions and to travel over that domain which philosophers call epistemology, before the judgment bench of which science also has to be brought to trial. One must ask about the legitimacy and potency of intuition, logic, empirical evidence, and "revealed" truth. This chapter initially set out to examine the religious, aesthetic, and scientific paths to truth, as ongoing social institutions, whereas now (before turning to the arts and science itself) we are pausing to examine instruments and methods that might be used in varying degrees by each of these intitutions. Such an analysis leads to abstract and difficult branches of philosophy and psychology. But we must, at least, state a position before proceeding.

The difference between science, on the one hand, and religion and the arts, on the other, is obvious in general terms to everyone. Science applies empirical search, as in experiment and discovery, along with explicit logical reasoning, whereas leaders of religion have applied intuition, and have made claims also to a direct, divine revelation. Incidentally, if we define intuition as reaching a conclusion without specific awareness of (not without resort to), all the logical steps and factual supports taken into the final judgment, then both the bulk of everyday reasoning and some of the finest first steps in science itself must also be recognized as the product of intuition. Here the only difference of science and religion is that in the former the intuition is subsequently checked by logic and experiment. Parenthetically, there are steps in religious creativity, notably among the medieval Scholastics, which have used explicit logic as definitely as in science; and there have been what amount virtually to experimental tests as with the priests of Baal but they have been founded upon a priori premises which a scientist would regard as too elaborate for reduction to scientific postulates.

A source of confusion about the role and meaning of intuition is that it is almost always except in the realm of scientific theory and detection secondarily contaminated by an appeal to "emotional truth." That is to say, the path to the conclusion is affected both by the desire to reach a conclusion that is sound in the sense of corresponding to external realities, and also in the sense of being emotionally satisfying. The resulting compromise, if it is not explicitly examined, is apt to sacrifice the first goal to the second. For example, Copernicus's appeals to scientific truth were powerless for fifty years against an intuitive conclusion by his opponents based on the greater emotional appeal of the earth being the center of the universe.

Reasoning about reasoning is full of semantic pitfalls. When we are told, in that appealing French aphorism, that "There are truths of the heart which the head cannot recognize," it looks as if we are speaking of emotional truths but actually it may be dealing with a powerful intuitive experiential process which is as free of secondary "emotional truth" beguilements as is any scientific intuition. The "truth of the heart" may simply be an unconscious but realistic and logical analysis of a long collation of life experiences. The explicit logical process cannot reach these same conclusions because it has no way of recognizing coding and putting into syllogistic form the complex experiences which actually occurred to the given individual. And logic, without a computer, may be incabable of explicitly handling in any practicable time such a multiplicity of facts. This I believe, is the defensible sense in which so fine a thinker as Dean Inge (1926) continues to assert that religion embraces truths unknown to science. Indeed, the chief fault of logic in practice (especially in that journalistic and conversational use of "logic" which I have below called "tea table intellectualism") is that it sets up too few and too simple stereotyped concepts and premises for logic to operate upon relative to the real facts in a complex reality. There is usually nothing wrong with the logic per se.

Thus, in contrasting science with religion and the arts, one may, by a rough use of the word intuition, say that science proceeds by logic and experiment, while religion, literature, and the arts rest on intuition. But this misses the more vital part of the distinction that we are seeking, for there are two kinds of intuition, one shared by all these approaches, and one claimed by religion and aesthetics, but denied by science. Let us call these cognitive intuition, as so far described above, and emotional intuition, a new concept to be described in the following section, on art and literature.

Whenever a scientist asserts that, through adherence to logic and experiment (and an initial approach through cognitive intuition), science aspires to an objective truth, to be contrasted with other alleged paths to truth, some sophisticated philosopher is sure to make the counter assertion that even scientific truth is inadequate and relative. Respectable schools of philosophy claim other avenues to truth. Since the whole argument in this book for a morality based on science stands or falls by the capacity of science to approach a true picture of our world, such attacks must be dealt with.

Accordingly, let us turn to epistemology, the branch of our philosophy which deals with the nature of our knowing (and the related ontology, which deals with the nature of being). Here the first Rubicon to be crossed is that of Solipsism, which developed from Berkeley. If waking experience and dream cannot be distinguished, the whole universe could be a dream by one man (an extremely ingenious man). There is no logical way of crossing the obstacle of Solipsism; and it must surely be set aside, ultimately, by probability, and the privileged position reasoning has always given to the simplest explanation. After absolute Solipsism, we meet the objection which Hume developed that we can never "know" the external world directly: that our sensations are different from what causes them. This does not bother the scientist, who is happy to manipulate the external world by a model of well-fitting referents or symbols. Our experinces of, say, red and green, are different from the vibrations which cause them; but from indirect evidence we know there is a constancy of reference. What may temporarily worry the scientist or, at least, slow him up is that the range of our senses obviously does not correspond to the range of possible incoming information. The dog has no color perceptions differentiating the red and green wave lengths; and until a generation ago, we had no perception of radio waves. But in time there is no reason why those sources of information should not be translated into our sensory range. Thirdly, we have to consider possible limitations in our symbol system for representing what we meet. If language were our only system (and, unfortunately for us, at the hands of those who demand only "freedom of speech," it is often the only syntax and basis of logic), we should be in trouble. But science has developed many flexible symbol and syntax systems, largely as new branches of mathematics.

Actually, two objections can be raised to the adequacy of science, first, that its "senses" are not complete enough; and, second, that what we know as logic, on which the "syntax" of theories rests, is not good enough. The answer to the first has been given, that our avenues of sensing are initially inadequate, but that indirect ways, "translating" into the avenues we have, can apparently be found, provided all incoming information interacts in one "universe." The second doubt is both alarming and fascinating. The restriction of the domain the earth's surface in which we, as biological organisms, have grown up and learnt our adaptations may well mean that not only our sensorium but also our logical expectation are impoverished. The philosophers here seem to have been less aware of the danger than the scientists, and have confidently supposed that the logic developed in our small corner of the universe must "fit" everywhere. Perhaps scientists have become more thoughtful since such experiences as Planck's discontinuity, Einstein's bent space, and the recent disconcerting plurality of certain incomprehensible physical particles. Perhaps it is possible, in new domains for which our nervous system was not evolved, for an object to be in two places at once, for influences to be exerted without intervening media, for two and two to exceed four, or for time to stand still. The answer to this problem is surely the same as that concerning the sensorium: that we must be prepared to build up the new logical rules as our experience broadens. Meanwhile, faith in the integrated homogeneous quality of the universe may perhaps justify our expecting that even when our experience is restricted to one small corner most of the workings of the universe will be demonstrated, though caution now dictates that our "laws" be commonly considered only probabilities.

The only essential and stable meaning we can give to the statement "This is true" is that there is a parallelism an "isomorphism" between some symbolical statement "the theoretical model" and external facts, processes, and predictions. Conflicts over the capacity of science to deliver truth concern mainly three sources of error, all of which can be diminished. The first is an undue dependence on the soundness of existing forms of a priori logic, as just discussed. Actually, scientists are aware that they carry as a legacy from their historical origin as participants in "rational, philosophic" activities, (e.g., the philosophy of Aristitle and, still more, Plato, which obstructed scientific empiricism in the early Renaissance) an undue emphasis on the sacred completeness of logic. Even modern philosophers, including Russell, have a penchant for basic postulates and logical steps which are self-evident, while others seem to think that logic and even knowledge can be developed out of language. Our position here (consistent, incidentally, with Chomsky's (1957); that language is partly innate in form) is that genetic selection has shaped our nervous system so that certain repeating relations in our environment are felt to be "self-evident". By the same argument we must be prepared to agree that the restrictedness of our past environment means that our logic is incompletely evolved for the larger universe. Science has to be empirical not only about "facts" but also about "reasoning." When Adams and Leverrier predicted that a planet would appear at a certain place and verified it, they applied a typical empirical check on scientific calculation and logic. When the transit of Mercury later failed to fit precisely the same intermediate reasoning, and required Einstein's re-formulation of what had been a kind of logic, an empirical check was being made on the mode of reasoning itself. As we shall see, it is in the field of social science that the psychologist has the greatest right to object to faith in rational, a priori, (especially purely verbal) "logic" unchecked by exact measurement.

The second weakness of science is that it is initially as subject to the emotional biases of the participants as any other method, as witness the medical profession's treatment of Harvey and Pasteur, the denial by the scholars of the Catholic Church of the arguments of Copernicus and Galileo, or Soviet Russia's denial of the genetics of individual and racial differences (Lysenkoism).

The third weakness of scientific truth is that (as the pessimist sees it) it is forever changing, or (as the constructive scientist sees it) it is always in process of growth by successive approximations. The first and second weaknesses above can, by discipline, be reduced. Doubts about scientific truth because of this third characteristic only require the doubter to become educated about the process of creative, exploratory thinking, as analyzed psychologically by Johnson (1968), Taylor and Barron (1963), Vidal (1971), and many others. It is formalized in what the present writer (1966) has analyzed as the inductive-hypothetico-deductive (IHS) spiral. Our social applications of science simply have to take account of this.















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