Introduction to Human Science


Astounding technological advances have led humanity to embrace science as the ultimate remedy for all human ills. This attitude is dominant in spite of the fact that science has also been a source of our greatest failures and calamities, most notably those arising out of an inadequate understanding of human behavior. Objectivity is the essence of science in the sense that knowledge must be impersonal, impartial and unbiased. But the double-meaning of the word ‘objective' has led some to conclude that science can only study external ‘objects' and external manifestations of behavior which can be perceived with the physical senses. The methods of empirical science are insufficient for the study of human phenomena precisely because empirical science insists on studying only the objective externalities, while human experience is determined laws and processes that do not readily lend themselves to physical observation and statistical measurement. Intangible 'objects' such as ideas, aspirations, attitudes and feelings determine the patterns of our external behavior -- political, economic, social, psychological. Human Science is the study of these laws and processes based on impartial and rational methods that encompass both objective and subjective phenomena.

Achievements and Limitations of Modern Science

For the past century, Science has been humanity's guiding light and its hope for the future. Our knowledge of the physical world and our capacity to control material processes have been expanding by leaps and bounds. The power of science has been harnessed to prolong the human life span, save millions of lives, produce sufficient food to feed a population that has multiplied 12-fold since 1800, provide us with innumerable comforts and conveniences, abridge space and time almost to the vanishing point for travel and communication, enhance human productivity and fill our leisure hours with endless wonders of entertainment and recreation.

Yet these prodigious achievements have been accompanied by some equally notable failures. Scientific knowledge has generated weapons of incomparable destructive power that are a real and present danger to all humanity. Pollution generated by the machinery of science threatens to catastrophically alter earth's environment. The disastrous consequences of war may lessen the likelihood of conflicts between nations, but science has been of little help in reducing violence and conflicts between groups and individuals, e.g. crime and terrorism. Nor has it provided us with sufficient knowledge to generate employment opportunities and equitable incomes for everyone or to make our longer lives happier, more harmonious and more fulfilling. Some may argue that these later objectives are not even within the purview of science as we know it, and they would be right. But they must fall within the purview of a true science of humanity that seeks to better all aspects of our individual and social life.

The word ‘science' comes from the Latin scientia (knowledge). Knowledge is a power of consciousness and consciousness includes both the capacity to understand and the will to express that understanding in action. Knowledge in medicine means not only the understanding of illnesses, but also the power to cure and prevent disease. Knowledge in chemistry means the capacity not only to understand the composition of substances, but also the power to harness and control material reactions for productive purposes. Knowledge in engineering means the capacity to design structures that are stable and enduring. True knowledge has the power to realize what it perceives to be true. Humanity seeks knowledge to make life more comfortable, secure and enjoyable, not to arm present generations for mutual destruction or threaten future ones with total annihilation. True knowledge must carry with it the power to achieve the results it aims for while preventing realization of that which it seeks to avoid. For all the good it has given us, the knowledge of science as we know it today is not even sufficient to ensure humanity's future survival, let alone its social and psychological fulfillment.

Many are under the mistaken belief that the limitations of modern science arise only because our knowledge is not yet complete and that by further advances they too will be addressed. But the limitations of modern science are not practical, they are conceptual. They arise directly from several fundamental misconceptions. We can only overcome those limitations by identifying and addressing the issue at the conceptual level.

Science vs. Empirical Science

The first of these misconceptions is the confusion between science and empirical science. Empirical science has come to be regarded by many as synonymous with all science or all knowledge, but that is a misconception. Empirical knowledge is derived by testing working hypotheses by the observation of the physical senses and experimentation applying. The term was originally applied to knowledge of the natural world around us in fields such as physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology and physiology.

The methods of empirical science are extremely powerful for uncovering the mechanisms of physical nature, but not suitable for the study of phenomena that are not entirely physical in nature. This limitation applies to the mental or formal sciences as they are called -- mathematics, computer science, information theory and statistics - which form the basis for so many of the wonders of the computer age. These fields readily lend themselves to rational, systematic and impartial analysis. But they do not lend themselves to physical observation or measurement, since their subject matter is concepts, not physical objects.

Application to Social Sciences

The methods of empirical science have also proven inadequate for the study of human life and society. The effort to rationally, systematically and impartially analyze human behavior is essential, though more difficult than in the case of the formal science where rational rules are actually defined by the scientist. Understanding the rationale for individual and collective human behavior requires deeper insight into processes that do not readily lend themselves to physical observation and statistical measurement. It is the capacity for conscious thought, feeling, beliefs and values that distinguish human beings from other animals. None of them can be directly observed by the physical senses or measured by physical instruments. They can be known directly to the subject who experiences them, but only be inferred by others from our external behavior, which is very often at variance with our inner sentiments and intentions.

The success and prestige accorded to the empirical sciences and the apparent ease of applying it has resulted in the near total adoption of empirical methods by the social sciences as well. It has prompted the social sciences to apply methods best suited for the study of inanimate objects and unconscious organisms to the field of conscious humanity. The social sciences have attempted unsuccessfully to model themselves after the physical sciences, narrowing the focus on study to the external observable aspects of human behavior -- especially those that lend themselves to statistical analysis -- and ignoring the inner factors that determine external behavior. This approach has produced little real insight into the laws governing human behavior, which accounts for the fact that our power over material processes is not matched by an equal or proportionate power over social processes involved in the political, economic, social and psychological spheres. Science can predict the movement of heavenly bodies millions of years in the future, but could not anticipate the fall of the Berlin Wall or the economic collapse that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union, even a few years before they happened.

The tendency to apply the methods of empirical science in fields where they are inappropriate has been aggravated by the mistaken notion that knowledge, science and empirical science are synonymous. The tremendous achievements of the empirical sciences led some scientists to proclaim not only that empirical science is the only legitimate form of science but that it is the only legitimate form of knowledge. Great scientists of the past knew very well the limits of empirical science and insisted on the legitimacy of other ways of knowing, including philosophy and metaphysics. As religion proclaimed a monopoly on truth during the Middle Ages and rejected all other knowledge as false or irrelevant, the rise of the empirical sciences has led to maligning and rejecting other forms of knowledge as either inferior or even ‘non-sense'. This error of generalization has created a powerful bias against any type of knowledge which has not been derived empirically by the scientific method. In spite of its obvious limitations and numerous failures, many still proclaim that empirical science is the only real form of knowledge. Human Science is intended to overcome this error of arrogance by evolving scientific theories and methodologies more appropriate for the study of conscious human beings. One essential step is to clearly define and distinguish knowledge and science from empirical science.

Science of Objective and Subjective Reality

The confusion between science and empirical science has been compounded by confusion regarding the meaning of the words ‘objective' and ‘subjective'. Everyone will agree that science must be objective in the sense that it should seek to be impartial, logical and rational. Knowledge cannot be held hostage to the subjective whims and fancies of personal beliefs, prejudices and experience.

The problem arises because the words objective and subjective each have two distinctly different but related meanings which are easily confused with one another. The word ‘objective' was originally used to refer to things that can be observed as ‘objects' by means of the senses. The word ‘subjective' was originally used to refers to things that exist psychologically in the mind, but cannot be observed physically.

In the 15th century, modern empirical science began to develop in Europe as an organized body of knowledge and social activity . These early scientists asserted the tangible evidence of the physical senses to counter the insistence of the church on blind acceptance of religious doctrine and social superstition. It was only natural that their study should focus on objects that could be observed by means of the physical senses, i.e. on objective phenomena, rather than trying to study phenomena that could be perceived only by the mind, not the senses. The enormous benefits of modern science and technology can be traced back to this crucial juncture.

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