Reflections on the Methodology of Science and Some Implications on the Field of Ayurvedic Knowledge
The philosophy of science is a broad topic that embraces discussions about modeling, theorizing, testing, verifying, and so on. Its jargon includes some other terms as well—axiom, assumption, proof, maxim, facts, data, and so on. And it has had a history as long as man can remember. Science is about how we think--the way we agree to think—in other words it’s an epistemology. Epistemology is about the nature of knowledge, its scope, methods, and limitations. Science exists within this field in a very special way. It affirms the supremacy of sensory data. It’s ontological stance derives from the notion that sensory data are the only basis of knowing. It’s the foundation of “evidence-based” medicine as opposed to “faith-based” medicine. Sensory-derived data may be limited—ask the yogi’s and psychics. Science is more than logical thinking, however, it’s guided or directional thinking. It may be compared to the term grammar—science is a set of rules applied to a class of data that govern the way the data shall be analyzed. We agree to be selectively attentive to data relating to the principles of the model and to ignore most else. We agree to consider first things first (dictated by the principles) and others later, or not at all. We agree to follow the conceptual / physical transformations according to the way the model guides--logically. Scientific thinking is disciplined thinking, orderly, consistent, and accurate. It is a system of reasoning. The syllogism is one form, among many, of logical devices (made popular by Aristotle).
One thing science is not-- intuition or inspiration, although, many scientists will say that they account for important leaps in understanding and in the theory, itself. This simply means that intuitive thinking is non-linear or non-inferential. One might say that epiphany arises not from deductive or inductive thinking but from somewhere or something that can’t be explained. It just happens.
In order to understand any science one has to have an idea of what a model, paradigm, doctrine, or theory is. One definition of these synonyms is that they are a representation of an idealized version of an imaginable universe—or a thought experiment. A theory will establish explicitly or implicitly a realm of relationships—things closely related (explicitly), things marginally related, things unrelated (implicitly by omission). The use of the term representation is important here because we do not want to convey the idea that a model is in any sense a description of reality. Representation means that it serves as a representative for but not as an exact replica—think of a map. Here replica and description convey that idea of exact reproduction, same in identity, etc.—think of the territory represented by the map. Thus we affirm that models give a sense of something (the mapping) but are not that “something” (the territory) actually. There are many kinds of maps—road, terrain, climate, wind speed, and so on. Each is suited to a specific purpose and can not convey all the data about the “terrain.” The 6 systems of Indian philosophy (upangas) are given as an example. Each has a limited view of reality and for its own purpose; each is a useful representation of reality. All taken together give a better view of the whole even though they hold contradictory positions on many details. Thus none is a description of reality but a partial representation of it.
Idealized means pure, simple, fundamental, abstract, ideal, etc. We are trying to convey the notion that underlying laws of Nature are being represented in abstract and fundamental ways. Mostly, models are intended to represent narrow perspectives, not broad, sweeping, generalizations of Nature. The theory of light can be represented by a particle model or a wave model. One is not trying to explain many features of Nature, just one, in this case--light. It just so happens, in this case, two models (wave and particle) are required at the same time to explain different phenomena of light. Taken together they explain all phenomena associated with light. The science of Ayurveda, however, is a very big model. It encompasses almost everything about life and living beings. It even connects the living and non-living in its gu¦a theory—rasapañckam.
Imaginable universe is a term that implies existence, if not only in one’s imagination. If one can think of something then it can be said to “exist” in this sense. For scientists, however, it’s not enough to have imaginings, one must have relevant imaginings—such thoughts are of real experiences or about real data. The term universe might be a very narrow concept or a very broad one--such as the field of experience around light (narrow) or about the cosmic universe on the other hand. The science of Ayurveda is a very broad field or notion, for example.
The term principles generally includes those ideas within a theory or model or paradigm that constitute or define the causal entities—those things that interact and produce effects. Rudin (pp. 21-24) refers to such terms as belonging to the meta-analytical codomain. This means simply that principles are a codomain of objective things and are the product of analytical processes. They are not objective, necessarily, themselves. Principles are also those things referred to above as: “closely related.” For Ayurveda its principles are vata, pitta, and kapha. Each connotes force or ability to effect or to bring change and when they are seen together many effects can be explained—physiology and pathophysiology among the living and functioning of non-living entities. These principles may not have a real existence, but this is not a limitation of the model. They may have “unrealistic” attributes—means they are hypothesized to act in some way that may be unrealistic. But this is not a limitation of the model. We are only trying to explain and understand Nature; we are not trying to describe it.
Principles often need assumptions, which might help to set a context or framework for analysis to take place in. For example, a popular one is to hold all other things static while we mentally work through a reasoning process. When we ask a student to describe the effects of a cold drink, we are implicitly holding all other factors constant. This allows for one to work through the exact and exclusive effects of only the cold liquid. (There is also an analytic methodology that sounds similar, called static analysis, which introduces one change at a time, as contrasted with dynamic analysis, which allows many variables to change simultaneously.) Another example might be the classical explanation of jvara (fever), viz.—“a doÃa increased by diet, lifestyle, etc. upon entering the stomach, the seat of fire, mixes with rasa blocks rasa and medas srotamsi, affect agni and take it out of the stomach, spreading it throughout the body to produce fever.” The assumption is that doÃa behaves in this particular way and produces the observed effect. Another important one affects Ayurveda: Sa§khya and Vedanta are dualistic and monistic, respectively. Each holds a view (assumes) the fundamental reality to be radically different. Both can’t be right in a descriptive sense. But from the perspective of what each is trying to explain each assumption base is valid. Assumptions of a model might be descriptively unrealistic but this lack of realism does not invalidate the model itself. Only the ability of the model to explain is at stake here. Its assumptions are not at stake. Assumptions need never even approximate describing reality, they must just operate to give the model the right predictions.
Maxim (sometimes called axiom, postulate, or aphorism) is another interesting term. Sometimes it serves in the role of assumption by default but more often it is held, in declarative form, to be a truism. In Ayurveda one fundamental maxim of our science is the Law of Similarity and Dissimilarity (Samanya ViÂeÃa Siddhanta): It is always the case for all substances that similarity is the cause of increase and that dissimilarity is the cause of decrease. This statement is not subject to debate or verification. It is just purely and simply true-according to Caraka. This axiom plays such a pivotal role in Ayurveda that one might argue that its demise would be fatal for this paradigm. Another rather tacit assumption, not exclusive to Ayurveda by the way but certainly important because of its unchanging description of physiology, is the notion of nature’s enduring and unchanging functioning—human (or any other created entity’s) physiology works on the basis of permanent laws of nature. Life operates the same everywhere and will function and always has functioned the same. Without this assumption there would be no reason to try to learn about or understand Nature, period. Ayurveda asserts that the gu¦as are eternal, ubiquitous, and universal properties of substance. This statement sounds consistent with E = MC2 (law affirming the conservation of matter and energy) but how far are we willing to go? Can we really say that there are gu¦as of an electron or a photon? Another maxim of Ayurveda is the doctrine of three-fold cause (Trividha Siddhanta). Ayurveda holds that changes in substances must inhere in the substances involved; they can not manifest effects that are not (subtly) inherent (satkarya vada). Cold effects result from cold causes only, etc. At other times, Ayurveda will reject this particular doctrine of cause and effect in favor of another. When this happens it asserts prabhava (inexplicable reality) is the cause. On most occasions it will suit us to hold on to one view of cause and effect and on another it will suit us to assert another.
Data and facts are the raw stuff of any science. Rudin (pp. 21-24) states these terms relate to the object domain—things that exist. One type of fact is that which is measured—it’s 750 F outside right now according to my thermometer, for example. A collection of facts, or data, might tell us the high tide schedule for Boston during the last decade. Discoveries are also facts—olive oil never existed in India and so it was never described in the classical literature but now that it’s known a description has been given. Other kinds of data might be inferential—either deduced or induced. Light energy is converted to biological energy in plants via photosynthesis is a deductive fact. The principles of a science are examples of inductive facts—vata, pitta, and kapha are inferential facts of Ayurveda, for example. She is feeling cold, dry and nervous—the conclusion that vata must be the cause is an induced fact (See Marino for more detail on this discussion). We must be clear what is fact and what is not. Often conclusions are facts but not meaningful data. That fact that everyone felt the world was flat does not grant this fact of consensus the status of truth.
We build data banks and particularly we build categories of data. Friedman (p. 26) states this codification serves as a filing system for organizing experiences and meets certain criteria, viz. categories are clearly and precisely defined, exhaustive, unambiguous, searchable, unique, and practically useful. Principles are part of the codification that is inherent to science. In this sense Friedman places them in codex of the science as part of the language of the science. Principles are the tautologies of the science that constitute the language of the science. The way they interact is the grammar—set of rules of analysis, etc. When one discusses vata, e.g., one understands this category of structure and function as unambiguously different from the categories of pitta or kapha things and actions. There is little doubt about Parkinson’s disease being a vata disorder, for example, because all of its symptoms are traceable to the nature and function of the class of things called vata. This confirms that the scheme of classifying is unambiguous, precisely defined, etc. Further, Friedman notes that this system of codex guides one to perform an important initial, if not obvious step in the analysis—to file the relevant factors into their respective categories. As a first step of analysis it performs the function of helping us to declare the things that we know about an event or problem. Once this has been done confusion is prevented. From this first step causal interactions or relationships may be inferred.
Rudin (pp. 21-24) brings to our attention that the terms: truth, true, and valid (validity) bear on this matter, too. For example, truth is a condition of statements about the objective domain or facts. Whether one can know the truth is independent of the fact that the statement is true or not. Statements about the facts are true or not, which truth may be subject to verification by examination. Further, when we are examining our theory it is better to use the term “valid” when relating to the various propositions concerning statements about facts; e.g. vata contains substances that are cold, dry, light, rough, etc. is a valid statement, not a true statement, according to proper scientific grammar. “Ayurveda is a science” is a valid statement. However, Caraka said that vata is cold, dry, light, rough, subtle, etc. is a true statement because the text affirms it. Whether there’s validity to this statement we shall have to find out. The truth is we believe that Caraka said it but we are not sure it’s valid.
The search for truth is really the search for things and knowledge (their relations) that are eternal, ubiquitous, universal, and unchanging—in other words it is the search for that which exists and for the laws of functioning and causation. Truth can be regarded as the body of knowledge called the laws of nature, for example. A law is a notion expressing a universal truth and is characterized by a lack of exceptions—e.g., we only and always see terrestrial or celestial objects fall down, according to the law of gravity. As intellectual constructs, laws are opposed to chance or random happenings. They yield determinism, understanding, predictability, and certainty. Rudin indicates that the universe is a lawful domain—it can be understood. Even the concept of atom implies as much for Rudin—it means that at the very minimum of existence there is still something that can not be fragmented, can not be infinitely variable. The concept of atom suggests determinism, that there is a limit to the variation in creation. Thus the search for truth can be seen to have a natural limit and be feasible, in principle. Since the field of action is the field of temporality it is not the case that one can know all actions in the creation, but one can know all the players and the results of their interactions. This statement is suggested in the term—evolution. It implies a deterministic process. While advocates for this notion are divided among the gradualists and the catastrophists and centrists of both extremes, nonetheless, causation is still at the root of the matter, not chance. In the field of biology the terms of interest the express this idea of evolution are: genetic variation and natural selection (survival of the fittest). Among Ayurvedists evolution is more narrowly viewed as expressed in the philosophical system of Sa¦khya. The law of similarity (Samanya Siddhanta) is an example of an important statement of relationships between interacting fields, e.g., in Ayurveda.
There are schools of thought or doctrines in this regard and an important modern one that comes to mind is the logical positivist school. This is the main school of thinking in modern science throughout the world. Webster, p. 1330, defines it as “a movement holding that meaningful statements are either a priori and analytic or a posteriori and synthetic and that metaphysical theories are strictly meaningless and have strictly emotive force.” Further Webster defines positivism (p. 1770) as “a system of philosophy holding that theology and metaphysics belong to earlier or imperfect modes of knowledge whereas positive knowledge is based on natural phenomena and their spatiotemporal properties and invariant relations or upon facts as elaborated and verified by the methods of the empirical sciences.” One modern theorist in this school characterizes it in the following way: logical reasoning is its method and “all our knowledge is of invariant relations between given phenomena on whose nature or causation there is no sense in speculating.” (See Schumpeter, p. 54) “A priori is marked by reasoning or deducing consequences from definitions formed or principles assumed (Webster, p. 107);” in other words it’s deductive reasoning and it starts with general propositions and attempt to arrive at particular examples. “A posteriori is of or relating to the kind of reasoning that derives propositions from the observation of facts or that by generalizations from facts arrives at principles (Webster, p. 102);” in other words it is inductive thinking and starts with special cases and attempts to arrive at general propositions. Another writer (Marino, p22) adds abductive reasoning. Notably, abductive thinking actually is not a form of correct reasoning at all but serves as a descriptor of how reasoning (of scientists or of non-scientists) can fall victim to believing before proving and is characterized by the use of the term “suggests” in a concluding statement—well we haven’t proved how such and such came to be but it’s very existence is evidence of a causal relation and because we have seen it arise before with regard to something we already understand this is enough to suggest that we know how to explain it, even though we haven’t shown it in our experiments. Marino adds that this kind of reasoning is the norm for the biological sciences—we rarely observe chemical laws playing out in an exact way, and we are careless about making generalizations from research data involving them in living systems. Those who take solace from “empirical data” in animal or in vitro studies should keep this statement in mind before acceding to the conclusions the status of fact or truth.
The method of modern science has a long tradition and includes one notable modification of its epistemology: disbelief, disregard, and contempt for certain kinds of authority. The process of constructing new authoritative statements or theories—the scientific method-- has evolved slowly. The way we hold these statements has changed from descriptions of reality to representations of reality. And our conclusions now never convey the status of truth but of provisional acceptance. This change in the way we think about our experiences and resulting models is important. We have discarded descriptive realism for the more practical—correct predictions. The facets of our epistemology have seen the erosion of an important source of knowing, stability, and wisdom—authoritative knowledge has been redefined to fit into the new empirical method of science. Those who are the authorities now are those who protect the status quo and its methodology. This fact limits, not enhances, our understanding of reality. Ayurvedic science holds fast to it traditional knowledge (epistemology). For this we Ayurvedists are confident that we can answer deeper mysteries of Nature.
Friedman, Milton, PhD, “The Methodology of Positive Economics,” Macmillen & Co., 1941, pp. 23-47
Marino, Andrew A. PhD, “In the Eye of the Beholder: The Role of Style of Thought in the Determination of Health Risks from Electromagnetic Fields,” in Frontier Perspectives, Fall 2000, pp. 22-27
Rudin, Donald, “The Nature of Truth,” in The Destiny of Man, Core Books, Annapolis, Md., 2003
Schumpeter, Joseph, PhD, History of Economic Analysis, Oxford University Press, NY, 1954
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, Gove, Philio Babcock, PhD editor in chief, G & C Merriam Company, Springfield, Mass, 1971
Site Map (Table of Contents of Entire Ayurveda Website)
(C) Copyright 1994 - 2015 Michael Dick All Rights Reserved www.ayurveda-florida.com Dhanvantari Ayurveda Center / Ayurveda Education Programs