my relationship with science


Part 1: pre-university

In my teens I was an avid reader of popular science books. Topics such as evolution, psychology, or philosophy were fascinating to me. I thought they were so great that I considered the books to preach absolute truth. I has no idea how research was actually conducted, and I was clueless about what the academic world looked like. I assumed that if a study was carried out, the results were automatically true. It reflected reality perfectly, it was an absolute accurate representation of the real world. I spent hours online reading about all my favorite scientific topics. I could not wait to go to university.

Part 2: university, bachelor’s

But university completely shattered the picture-perfect image I had of science. I was suddenly confronted with terms as validity and reliability. Research was subject to quality. Research was messy. Sometimes people lied and manipulated their data. Sometimes there were flaws in people’s research designs. And sometimes certain results were just not replicable. We were taught to scrutinize every detail of articles published in scholarly journals. We were also encouraged to think about where knowledge comes from and what science is. Epistemology and philosophy of science. My world was turned upside down. The way we practice science is so flawed. But! They preached statistics to us. Statistics saved science. Numbers are truth. I had faith in science again. As long as the p-values were low enough, we were going to be alright.

Part 3: university, master’s

But then I wandered into a different realm of science. One without numbers. Everything became relative. There was not one reality. No absolute truths. I was stuck in a postmodern mess. Suddenly I was paying attention to the world around me, everything was … constructed. Nothing was real anymore. Everyone lives in a different reality. Because there were no hard truths, I found myself arguing for both sides of each issue. Sometimes there were a million different sides to a story. I realized that everything was made up of structures. Structures that reproduce themselves and at times seem so arbitrary and messy. What does any of it mean? What is its significance? I was lost. Nothing made sense … but at the same time, everything did.

Part 4: philosophy

I needed answers, so I frantically started to go through the history of all philosophical ideas. I was baffled. I found that I could relate to old men who lived before Christ was born. They also struggled with the construction of reality and the fallacies of the mind. But back to practicing science. How can we say anything about the world, using science, when we cannot observe reality? I found solace in intersubjectivity. Science is a system, with rules. And if we abide these rules, we might be able to say something about the world around us.

I no longer worship science. But I am still eager to learn new things and to understand everything around me – to my best ability in this context and in this zeitgeist!