SCIENCE AND FACTS

The universe of fact is a harmonious whole. All facts are consistent with one another with an astonishing organization and regularity. Therefore, any method of study, which does not bring the harmony and balance among facts into bold relief, cannot be valid. Emphasising this point, Mander observes:

The perceived facts are only isolated fragments of the universe of fact, only patches of fact. All that we know by sense perception is partial and patchy, meaningless when regarded by itself. It is only when we come to know more facts—many more than we can directly perceive— that we begin to discover among them the first signs or order, regularity and system.

He makes his point with a very simple example.

We may perceive a bird, after striking a telephone wire, fall dead to the earth. We perceive that some muscular effort is required to raise a stone form the ground. We perceive the moon passing across the sky. We perceive that it is more tiring to walk uphill than downhill. A thousand perceptions all probably unrelated. Then an inference is made—the law of gravitation. Immediately all these perceived facts, together with this inferred fact, fit together; and so we are able to recognize order, regularity, system, among them all. The perceived facts, regarded by themselves, are irregular, unrelated, and chaotic. But the perceived facts and the inferred facts together make up a definite pattern.

A fact is said to be ‘explained’ when we are able to show how it fits into a system of facts; when we are able to recognize it as part of a regular, orderly, inter-related whole (p. 51). Further to this he says:

Another way of saying that we have explained a fact is to say that we have discovered its meaning. Or we may say we explain it by discovering the cause and conditions of its existence. All this comes to the same thing: we have fitted that fact into a definite pattern of facts; we have recognized its necessary relationship to other facts; and we have ascertained that this particular fact is only an instance of some universal law, or part of the universal order (p. 52).

In the above examples, the law of gravitation, in spite of being an accepted scientific fact, is in no way observable. What scientists have observed with their own eyes, experienced as a matter of sensory perception or measured by scientific instruments is not gravity itself, but certain regularly occurring phenomena caused by gravity which compel them to believe that some force does exist which may be interpreted in terms of a law of gravitation. It was Newton who first deduced the law of gravitation, and today it is accepted as a scientific fact throughout the world. Newton, in a letter to Bentely, comments on its nature from a purely empirical point of view:

It is incomprehensible that inanimate and insensitive matter can exert a force of attraction on another without any (visible) contact, without any medium between them. Something which is incomprehensible, because it is invisible, is today accepted without question as a scientific fact. Why should this be so? The answer is simply that, if we accept it, we can explain some of our otherwise unfathomable observations. It follows that a fact may be accepted, as such without its actually having been subjected to observation and experiment. An invisible concept that co-ordinates various observations in our mind and throws further light on known facts is, itself a fact of the same degree and quality. Mander comments:

To say that we have discovered a fact is to say, in other words, that we have discovered its meaningfulness. Or to put it another way, we explain a thing by knowing the cause of its existence and its conditions. Most of our beliefs are of this nature. In fact they are statements of observation (p.53).

Mander then broaches the problem of observed facts.

When we speak of an observation, therefore, we always mean something more than pure sense perception. It is sense perception plus recognition and some degree of interpretation (p.56).

As John Stuart Mill says: ‘We may fancy that we see or hear what in reality we only infer. For instance there is nothing of which we feel more directly conscious than the fact of the distance of an object from us. Yet what is perceived by the eye is nothing more than an object of a certain size and a certain shade of colour.’

Mill further remarks, ‘It is too much even to say, “I saw my brother,” unless we recognize that such a statement, as statement of observation, includes something more than pure sense perception. For all that we perceive, strictly, is some object of a certain shape and colouring.

We compare this with memories of the appearance of our brother, then it is only by comparison and inference, that we interpret this new sense perception and judge that we are looking at our brother.

‘All reasoning is concerned with postulation and testing of theories. Every accepted theory is a statement of a fact about other facts. Whatever we arrive at, by inference, is a theory. If it can be shown to correspond with actual facts, it is true, and if not, it is false. The theory must fit all the known facts to which it refers, and only then can one proceed to deduce from it hitherto unknown facts’.

According to Mander, ‘We may say that finding a theory is like discovering the pattern into which a number of particular facts and the general laws which govern them will fit. It is like putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle from which one or more pieces are missing. When we have fitted together all the pieces available (the known facts), we can see what the missing pieces must be like to enable them to fit into the gaps’ (p.123).

On the basis of this very principle, scientists have agreed upon the truth of organic evolution. To Mander, this doctrine has so many arguments in its favour that it may be regarded as an ‘approximate certainty.’

(to be continued in the next note)

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