In "A Different Way to Heal?" experts use
science to put alternative therapies to the test. Chiropractic
and therapeutic touch don't fare so well. Acupuncture yields
some interesting results, while herbal remedies prove extremely
difficult to even test. Many people try alternative therapies
and claim great success. Why isn't this proof enough of their
effectiveness? In science, obtaining evidence is a rigorous,
sometimes lengthy process. What does that process entail?
And how did it come about?
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Origins of Science
with many other aspects of Western culture, the scientific
method dates back to ancient Greece. From Greek philosophers,
we have inherited the idea that rational underlying principals
govern the natural world and that human beings themselves
are capable of rational thought.
Many people try alternative therapies and claim
great success. Why isn't this proof enough of their effectiveness?
assumptions are not really anything that you can prove within
science," says Sandra Luft, a philosopher and historian of
ideas at San Francisco State University. "They're the assumptions
you have to have to even do science."
on this set of assumptions - that the natural world is knowable
by humans - Greek philosophers adopted the notion that one
could obtain knowledge via a set of methods.
was the big leap," says Luft. "The methods changed, but modern
science is just a variant of that fundamental assumption that
knowledge is a function of method."
of science debated the methods for centuries to come. Aristotle
came to believe that one could obtain knowledge through careful
observation, an important tenet of the scientific method.
But, from the Aristotelian perspective, feeling better after
using a natural remedy is proof that it works. The problem
is that our senses are unreliable, not testable and often
sense perception," says Luft, "it's obvious that the earth
does not move, that heavenly bodies revolve around it - the
geocentric world view."
philosopher Pythagoras maintained one could use math to
model the natural world.
It was the philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras and later
Plato who rejected reliance on sense perception as a route
to knowledge. Pythagoras and Plato maintained that one could
use mathematics to analyze the natural world. Though Aristotle's
emphasis on pure observation dominated science through the
Middle Ages, quantitative, mathematical methods gained ground
during the Renaissance.
Aristotle came to believe that one could obtain knowledge
through careful observation, an important tenet of the
important step toward the modern scientific method was the
marriage of observation and empirical evidence represented
by the telescope Galileo built in 1609. Galileo was not the
first to build a telescope, but with the relatively new device,
he quickly revealed the presence of the moons of Jupiter,
sunspots and other formerly unobservable phenomena. These
discoveries viscerally demonstrated how unreliable human sense
perception could be. Scientists now saw the need to have objective
instruments verify what their senses told them.
to Luft, the Renaissance - with its preoccupation with aesthetics
and representation of reality - provided the perfect backdrop
for this cultural revolution.
architect Brunelleschi used perspective to create this
realistic painting of "The Baptistry of San Giovanni"
"Aesthetic ideas were very important. Renaissance art has
a great deal to do with the nature of space," says Luft. "With
a grounding in mathematics, Renaissance artists were beginning
to achieve three dimensionality in space using the art of
realistic art of the Renaissance helped mainstream the notion
that mathematics could represent reality. By the end of the
Renaissance, the modern scientific method was in place.
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