Happiness: A Theory — The Beauty (and Problems) of Science

What we think will make us happy is not what will actually make us happy.  So goes a key revelation of the brain science renaissance.  As higher-order mammals, we not only develop ideas about what to do, we also carry within us a meta-notion that these ideas are good ones.

The problem, however, is that our perception that we are on the right path lends nothing to the integrity of our view.  To the contrary, human history is replete with the poisonous residue of proclivity.  Like King Procrustes, when it comes to a treasured idea, we often prefer to cut off the feet of our guest than to acquire a larger bed.

The beauty of science is that it incorporates an algorithm of self-doubt.  No sooner does a hypothesis arise than, under the scientific method, it is subjected to testing.  The testing process, if done with quality and integrity, attempts to disprove the hypothesis.  Whatever emerges from this treatment may legitimately be termed a going hypothesis – i.e., something we do not know, but that we have not yet shown to be false.  Such is the pinnacle of human “knowing”.

The problem of science is that it is conducted by humans, who often think they are right when they are wrong, so that their foibles contaminate their conclusions.   Properly pursued, however, the scientific method seems to be the best means we have to discern what is, as opposed to what we think should be.

A second problem of science is that, like so many other facets of our lives, we tend to ascribe to it a magical significance, as part of neuronal circuitry that chirps, open-beaked and red-throated, for a cosmological parent.  It seems, nonetheless, to be the best game in town, as we (most of us) happily concede when we are truly ill.  We go, with misgivings perhaps, but we go, to that repository of the scientific method’s achievements, the hospital.


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