Sunday, November 30, 2008

Human Sciences and Natural Sciences

Let me hit you with a little something I wrote way back when, either for Theory of Knowledge or Philosophy.

In answering the question of whether or not Human Sciences and Natural Sciences are fundamentally different, one must explore the methods used in either category and the applications of each category’s results. The first view would be that Human Sciences and Natural Sciences are fundamentally the same. The basis for this view lies in the methods used for collecting data in both the Human Sciences and the Natural Sciences. The foundation of knowledge in both groups of sciences is the theory. Both Human Scientists and Natural Scientists start their quest for knowledge with a theory, and then experiments are used in an attempt to either prove or disprove that theory. Consider B.F. Skinner and Gregor Mendel: B.F. Skinner theorized that behavior could be controlled and then used operant conditioning on pigeons placed in the “Skinner Box” to control their actions, and Mendel theorized that selective breeding would produce desired results and selectively cross-bred certain species of peas to get breeds with specific attributes. Skinner was a Human Scientist (a psychologist) and Mendel was a Natural Scientist (an early geneticist). Though they worked in completely different fields, they both used the same methods to gather information. Repeated experimentation leads to the “facts” in both Human Sciences and Natural Sciences.

There is also the view that the Human Sciences and the Natural Sciences are fundamentally different from one another. This view is based on the difference between the applications of the results reached in either type of Science. The results reached by Natural Sciences have various applications in fields such as biology, chemistry, and physics, which apply to medicine, technology, and transportation, all important aspects of the material world. The results reached by Human Sciences have various applications in fields such as psychology, philosophy, and anthropology, which apply to relationships, culture, and mental activity, important aspects but not in an overtly tangible sense. Many Human Scientists biasedly believe that the subjects of psychology, philosophy, and anthropology are more important because they directly relate to people. However, many Natural Scientists believe that the subjects of medicine, technology, and transportation are more important because there are practical facts in Natural Sciences whereas there is too much uncertainty in the Human Sciences. The uncertainty of the Human Sciences lies in the differentiation in personalities (psychology) and unanswerable questions (philosophy). Those who believe the Sciences are different also feel that the applications of each are severely limited; Natural Sciences do not expand beyond cold, hard facts and Human Sciences do not contribute to the material world.

The only conclusion that can be reached is that Human and Natural Sciences are not wholly the same, but are indeed fundamentally the same. Both rely on the “scientific method” to gain knowledge (consider the questions of philosophy to be its “theories” and the meticulous assessment of supplied answers to be its “experiments”). They differ, however, in the fact that their results are not applied to the same fields. Since the basis of all science is the method(s) by which knowledge is acquired, and the Human Sciences use the same method(s) as the Natural Sciences, the two are, therefore, fundamentally the same.

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