Scientific thinking is my topic today. I have wanted to write this article for a long time. Scientific thinking is not just the exclusive domain of academia, research or education – it is something of huge benefit to all of us.
“The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.”- Christopher Hitchens.
We all encounter numerous problems in our everyday life which affect our hopes and dreams for ourselves, our family, and other aspects of our lives. Our lives are full of decisions, from the small and mundane, such as what to wear or eat, to the life-changing, such as whether to get married and to whom, what career path to follow and how to raise our children.
Life can present us with tough questions and choices, and the way we think and respond will influence our life greatly. Our thinking approach, if we want the best outcomes, is the same way we’d want our government to approach the problems facing our nation today. It’s also, at a fundamental level, the same way scientists approach many problems they face. It’s a way each of us not only applies science to our everyday lives, but should demand that those making decisions on our behalf think scientifically as well. We rely on science for so much of our lives, the findings that scientific thinking has led to, yet few people seem to know how to actually think scientifically or apply such a mindset as a means of advancing their everyday experience of life.
“An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t.” – Anatole France.
So, What Is Scientific Thinking?
Scientific thinking is not necessarily about being correct or having concrete irrefutable, immoveable evidence, instead we apply what current scientific understanding we have to determine, and to predict and to reproduce the behaviour of many things. We’ll always yield when updated scientific understanding comes along.
Scientific thinking skills are very important for getting along in life. They allow you to analyse problems or situations you find yourself involved in that don’t always have an easy or obvious answer. We all run into problems in relationships, at work, when learning new things, when seeking to advance our lives etc. Wouldn’t it be easier if we could understand why things were happening around us and more easily see what we could do about them? That’s what scientific and critical thinking is all about. It’s not just for winning arguments (though will certainly equip you to be effective at dealing with arguments).
The scientific method offers a structure and provides us with the steps that any scientist can take to solve problems, to research or discover new things. It’s not just for scientists though. Also, just because it has the word “scientific” in it, doesn’t mean that it’s hard to understand or use, quite the contrary in my experience. You most likely already use the scientific method often. Just like any skill, it is something that can be greatly improved through conscientious practice and application.
Research by Holmes, Wieman and Bonn (2015) showed that critical thinking comes with major benefits for all areas of reasoning. Exercises in critical thinking are not only helpful for your career (e.g. tasks like conducting meetings and giving presentations). They also promote better relationships, enabling you to work through conflict in a faster, more self-aware way.
“What we hope ever to do with ease, we must learn first to do with diligence.” – Samuel Johnson.
Whenever you are trying to figure out something in your daily life, apply these principles to your reasoning process and you’ll be thinking like a scientist in no time:
1. Identify meaningful questions and state them in a way that is conceivably possible to answer them.
“The purpose of critical thinking is rethinking: that is, reviewing, evaluating, and revising thought.” – Jon Stratton.
It is important to recognise that there are two completely distinct types of questions: the questions that take a piece of knowledge as an answer, and those that can only take an opinion as an answer.
For instance, questions like: “How does the flu attack the human immune system?”, “What is the distance between the Earth and the Sun” belong to the first type. Questions like: “Why is there suffering in the world?”, “Why are we here?”, or “Is God real?” can only be answered with an opinion.
Meaningful questions in science are typically those of the first type. And being scientifically minded means you don’t perplex your opinions with knowledge of some truth.
2. Ask yourself if a claim is falsifiable. If it is not, it cannot be thought of in scientific terms.
“It is especially important to encourage unorthodox thinking when the situation is critical.” – Boris Yeltsin.
Falsifiability is the capacity for
some proposition, statement, theory or hypothesis to be proven wrong. That
capacity is essential in the scientific method and in scientific thinking.
Thus, the inherent incapability of disproving a particular claim, does not render it true.
For instance, you cannot disprove
that “A giant white gorilla lives in the Himalayan mountains, but it always
avoids humans and covers up any kind of trace it leaves behind”, but there is
no reason to have any grain of confidence about this claim’s validity.
You might like to read this article I wrote a while back about Bertrand Russell’s teapot theory for more on this:
More Tea Vicar? Bertrand Russell’s Teapot Theory & That Big Hypnosis Field Discussion. https://www.adam-eason.com/tea-vicar-bertrand-russells-teapot-theory-big-hypnosis-field-discussion/
3. Accept a hypothesis only on the basis of adequate evidence and only if there are sufficient grounds to rule out rival hypotheses.
“Accept” not as the ultimate truth, but it’s “the best approximation of truth”.
“Evidence” not through personal experiences or plausible hearsay stories, but information gained through methodologically sound experimentation and statistics.
Remember to use your Occam’s Razor for the ruling out process (Occam’s razor is a principle drawn from philosophy. Let’s say that there are two possible explanations for an occurrence. This principle suggests that the one requiring the least speculation is usually correct. Another way of saying it is that the more assumptions you have to make, the more unlikely an explanation).
Here is a great video explaining how to use Occam’s Razor:
4. Cultivate the virtue of intellectual humility.
“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it.” – Henry Ford.
Be aware of the fact that the device
you use to derive conclusions and generate explanations – your brain – is often
a poor data gathering machine (there will always be that study or source you
are missing), full of cognitive biases and prone to psychological distortions.
Learn about your mind’s innate limitations, continuously remind yourself of
their existence and try to recognise and reverse, to the degree possible, their
effects on your reasoning process.
To delve into this further, in this article I have explained a number of common cognitive biases:
Another Scientific Reason For Hypnotherapists to Abandon the Myth of the Unconscious Mind – Cognitive Bias. https://www.adam-eason.com/another-scientific-reason-for-hypnotherapists-to-abandon-the-myth-of-the-unconscious-mind-cognitive-bias/
5. Be ready to revise or abandon previously held beliefs on the light of new evidence.
“Most people do not have a problem with you thinking for yourself, as long as your conclusions are the same as or at least compatible with their beliefs.” – Mokokoma Mokhonoana.
The more you resist, the further away you drift from the realm of scientific thinking and the more you approach the confines of dogmatic belief. Here are a couple of articles to help you with this one:
6. Don’t be too ready to abandon previously held beliefs on the light of new evidence.
“Believe what you like, but don’t believe everything you read without questioning it.” – Pauline Baynes.
Don’t let your excitement blur your
rationality. Critically think about novel claims. Sieve them through the
skeptical filter, especially if they are particularly surprising, and therefore
interesting. Remember that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
Apply this same mode of though while scrolling through your news feeds and when people in your professional field make claims (this is particularly necessary when you work in the hypnotherapy field as I do!).
7. Be statistically minded.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle.
A single study or a single case not does suffice to explain or prove the existence of a phenomenon. One-off case studies or anecdotes are interesting and can be useful (especially in the cases of rare diseases for example) but may not offer much more than that initial interest going forward. An effect has to be reproducible, before it can be considered reliable evidence. Also even if an effect is well-replicated, this does not make it automatically generalisable to a category other than the one used to produce the evidence.
8. Expose your mind to all kinds of information and to all opposing perspectives around each subject.
“It’s sort of a mental attitude about critical thinking and curiosity. It’s about mindset of looking at the world in a playful and curious and creative way.” – Adam Savage.
Your thought requires food. Your
reasoning process requires knowledge, ideas and novel modes of thinking. A
great faculty of scientific thinking is creativity, which requires a
cross-pollination of ideas from a wealth of different disciplines.
The peer-review process I have encountered when submitting my academic papers to quality scientific and psychological journal publications has been something I have written about often – because whilst it can be challenging to have your work scrutinized by leading academic peers, it is also incredibly fertile and illuminating and enriches what one does by drawing upon a wide range of other evidence, studies and areas of thought.
9. Develop a curious mindset and attitude.
“You have a brain and mind of your own. Use it, and reach your own decisions.” – Napoleon Hill.
Developing scientific attitude or
way of thinking can be quite a difficult thing to start, and it is not always as
easy or simple as it seems to be, and the first thing needed to be developed is
the ability to get confused, and keep the confusion for a while, and to keep
thinking about the confusing thing for while. It may be 1 hour to 1 year or
One classic human trait is that we seek to know things. We want answers and to understand something. We struggle with a sense of not knowing. Yet, it is an incredibly valuable place to be! (…and I tend to get particularly ‘curious’ about those things that people seem absolutely certain about, especially in my professional field).
Physicists at Stanford and the University of British Columbia have found that encouraging students to repeatedly make decisions about data collected improves their critical thinking skills. This is the most bewildering kind of attitude that needed to be developed, because generally most people struggle to maintain a feeling of confusion for a second or two, and take the comfortable stance on anything as soon as possible. Most people get horrified even if they sense that confusion is about to enter their mind and shake the equilibrium of mind, so they take any comfortable stance before confusion will enter. This is not how the scientific attitude can be developed and can lead to lazy thinking.
10. Never stop trying new things.
“Instead of complaining, discover ways, tactics and tricks on how to reach out to people.” – Sunday Adelaja.
You perhaps need to develop the attitude of thinking about the unknown, which does not have any evidence, but may be possible, and we don’t know. In order to develop, we need to experiment and explore.
For now then, these are a few things you can engage in to develop a scientific attitude or way of thinking in every day life. It’s not the only way of thinking, but is certainly a very valuable and useful way of thinking to apply in life.
For those of you that read my blog who also work in the hypnotherapy field, you’ll perhaps find these articles useful and stimulating too:
– Why We Need Much More Science and Scientific Thinking in the Hypnotherapy Field.
– Anecdotal Hogwash From Hypnotherapists and Why Hypnotherapists Need Critical thinking Skills.
Go and enjoy thinking like a scientist in your everyday life.
Have some of these themes here resonated with you? Then have a read of these pages:
1. Do you need help or support in a particular area of your life?
Coaching with Adam Eason Or Hypnotherapy with Adam Eason
2. Would you like a satisfying and meaningful career as a hypnotherapist helping others? Are you a hypnotherapist looking for stimulating and career enhancing continued professional development and advanced studies?
Adam Eason’s Anglo European training college.
3. Are you a hypnotherapist who is looking to fulfil your ambitions or advance your career?
Hypnotherapist Mentoring with Adam Eason.
Likewise, if you’d like to learn more about self-hypnosis, understand the evidence based principles of it from a scientific perspective and learn how to apply it to many areas of your life while having fun and in a safe environment and have the opportunity to test everything you learn, then come and join me for my one day seminar which does all that and more, have a read here: The Science of Self-Hypnosis Seminar. Alternatively, go grab a copy of my Science of self-hypnosis book, it’ll help you live with integrity!