Is Science the Ultimate Tool to Gain Knowledge? (Video)

Alan explains that even though science is a tool for explaining the world, it is neither the only nor the best tool.


Read more posts

Thinking that Science is the only tool for gaining knowledge about reality and our world is a misunderstanding. This has to do with epistemology. Epistemology is a fancy word for how we come to know certain things. Yes, science is an epistemological tool that helps us gain knowledge about our world. Science is not the only tool, nor is it the best tool for figuring out all kinds of things about our world. 

Again, science is a valuable tool. It does tell us about the natural world, so we can figure out the composition of certain rocks on our planet and all sorts of other things science can tell us. However, there are other tools we can use to gain knowledge about our world that are indeed more efficient, more accurate, and quicker at gaining that knowledge. Science is just one of them that happens to have been elevated above all other tools. I want to introduce you to some other ways we can come to gain knowledge about our world. 

In addition to science, we have another epistemological tool: reason or logical deduction. This can also help us to gain knowledge about our world. Imagine if I were to say to you that I am taller than my wife, and my wife is taller than my daughter. Then what if I asked you, “Am I taller than my daughter?” You could know that the answer is yes. You could figure that out by reason or logical deduction because it’s another way of figuring out our world. You simply use the process of reasoning to figure it out. You didn’t use science to figure it out, yet you could know with certainty that I am taller than my daughter.

Another epistemological tool that helps us gain knowledge about our world is called testimony. For example, if I wanted to know what the weather is like in San Diego right now, I could simply call my wife and ask her. She could tell me, and I would have immediate knowledge about the external world through the virtue of testimony. Testimony can tell us lots of things about the world. If you want to know about the results of a sports game or who a killer is, eyewitness testimony can tell you that information. 

A third epistemological tool is introspection. If you want to know about what’s going on in your internal state, or your mind, all you have to do is introspect. This will also give you knowledge about our reality and our world. For example if I wanted to know what I’m thinking about right now, all I’d have to do is introspect and attend to my inner feelings and thoughts. Then, I might realize I’m thinking about Haagen daz chocolate peanut butter ice cream, which is a thought I have quite often. Again, introspection is an epistemological tool that can tell us about reality, specifically about our inner states. 

What’s significant about this particular tool is that there’s no scientific experiment that you could perform that would tell me that information. You could hook up electrodes to my skull, or you could have a neurosurgeon cut open my brain and look inside it and never see any awareness of chocolate peanut butter ice cream. You would have no idea whether I’m sad or thinking about my mother wearing a red dress in the kitchen, because none of those are accessible by the tools of science. Science as an epistemological tool is limited in that sense. Whereas, if I wanted to know what’s going on in my internal state, all I have to do is introspect. 

Notice that knowledge gained through logical deduction, testimony, and introspection can have certain advantages that science can’t offer. Often, they can be quicker or more accurate. For example, if I were to introspect and think about my feelings, it’s hard to imagine being wrong about that, but it’s possible that a science experiment could be mistaken. When I introspect or ask a person their testimony in order to gain knowledge about something they know, I gain immediate knowledge whereas science sometimes takes weeks, months, or possibly even years. 

My point is not to denigrate science below other forms. I also don’t want to elevate science as if it’s the only or most perfect tool to gain knowledge about the external world. It turns out there are many epistemological tools to gain knowledge about the world. Science is just one of them.

Alan Shlemon