Friday, November 25, 2005

Scientific Thinking in Everyday Life - Part 1: Chemistry

I'm often impressed by the ways in which certain elements of scientific thinking can be applied to "outside" subjects. Especially sociological / "current events and issues" discussions.

I'll start with one example, and move on to more as I think of them.

Chemical equations appear simple to the new initiate. They have the first part of the equation, and they figure out the second part, simply by seeing what is there and theoretically assuming what would be produced if these elements reacted. And, in this sense, it works both ways.

But in the "real world", there are many more elements to consider. From the electronegativity of the elements involved, to the activation energy or the sub-steps involved, or even the saturation or contents of the solution - the presence of inhibitors or facilitators or whatever.

When speaking about a certain subject, people sometimes tend to apply the initial chem-student approach to things. They have in mind certain "elements in the equation", and automatically assume that the result will be what logically follows from these elements alone. There are always other factors to consider, and the only way to be truly certain of a certain result is experimentation, yet they are content to draw results based on the facts they have in mind alone.

Personally, I prefer to speak about the future based on as many facts as I can gather, and still express my opinion as just that: an opinion - or a hope, a fear, an intention. I try to offer each partner in the discussion/debate as clear a view as possible of the factors I'm aware of, and try to learn as much as possible about the factors they, in turn, are aware of, in order to make my own prediction as close to the "absolute" truth as possible, yet still remaining aware that there may be factors that could contribute to a margin of experimental error. Still, I'm often misunderstood, just because of this way of thinking, and the fact that people prefer to prove (right now) that they are smarter, or "right", in a debate, than actually find out or approximate the truth. I at least try not to be caught in such traps - I hope to succeed in doing so more and more as I live my life.

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