10 March 2005

The Science Behind Common Sense

Article at Tech Central Station about the value of 'Common Sense' vs. Scientific Reasoning vs. Appeal to Authority.

Most interesting part is about babies and colic...

...we should always have respect for propositions that prove true even though we aren't quite sure why.

Which brings us to a
fascinating article in the New York Times, on the matter of colic in infants. Colic is the prolonged, unexplained crying that some babies habitually do during the early months of their lives. Scientists, the article notes, are in great disagreement over the causes of colic, and equally discordant over what parents should best do about it.

What is particularly interesting about this as regards common sense is the solution suggested by a doctor who has studied the problem and come up with a five-step treatment that seems to do wonders in quelling infants' crying jags. It is an excellent case of human experience over the ages being codified into common-sense truths that are nonetheless true despite being difficult to prove in logical, scientific terms.

...but even beyond that single topic, this question is an important one to explore. Science too often turns into "X is true because Dr. Famous Scientist says so" or "Y is a fact; just look at this letter signed by 1,250 Famous Scientists".

On the other hand, Common Sense can be devastatingly wrong as well. Or maybe Common Sense is useful, but too few people actually possess it...