Figuring \w+ out

Science is peculiar in decision-making


The prompt #

I struggle to make decisions and therefore whenever coming across material on the topic I take note. Recently I was listening to the Language of God podcast with Bill Newsome. in which they discussed a paper he wrote in 2010, Life of science, life of faith. Both the podcast and the paper are interesting and so worth the listen and read.

Science is peculiar #

There were two points in particular which stood out to me while listening to the podcast which motivated me to read the paper. The first addresses a question he often receives from his colleague concerning the apparent inconsistent approach between the way he approaches his scientific work and his religious life. In the paper he writes:

Both my colleague and my postdoc were struck by the apparent inconsistency in my adoption of religious beliefs without similarly rigorous standards of proof.

My reply is that, yes, the modes of thought in the two domains can be quite different. This is one of the genuine points of tension between science and religion. Importantly, however, the mode that predominates in religious life is the normal mode of evaluation and decision-making in the overall context of human experience. The scientific mode, in contrast, is quite peculiar: it is applicable to a rather narrow range of experience and is generally practiced by a rather small community of professionals.

For me this was a moment of enlightenment. I attempt to bring a scientific approach to everything in my life but I struggle greatly to do so. I do not trust my intuition. I do not trust my emotions. I often sink lots of time trying to understand what to think, feel, or do in all areas of my life. I become frustrated and stall out leading to inaction. Looking back on my life this accurately explains how I've arrived at my current spot in life.

The human condition #

While still dazed by his first point he continued his case by showing how the scentific mode is not the mode we commonly use, or can use, in life.

Simply put, this is the human condition. It is life, and our most consequential decisions in life have little or nothing to do with science. This does not mean that we cannot bring rational analysis to bear on the issues. Thoughtful people reflect carefully on important decisions and try to take into account as much evidence as is reasonably available at all times. Nevertheless, rational analysis rarely compels a particular choice and certainly does not guarantee any particular result.

He had me after describing the problem because it so accurately describes my struggle in life. I was ready to hear how he instead approaches choices during the "normal mode" of life, the vast majority of life. His proposal is that decisions in life are composed of three sources.

These kinds of questions, which we all face routinely, simply do not submit to scientific solutions. We cannot make one choice and see how the experiment comes out, then rewind the tape and make the other choice to determine the outcome in the alternative scenario. Rather, we have a one-time shot at our most important decisions. We are forced to rely on intuition, on experience, on the advice of friends, on precarious projections into the future, and, in the end, on our gut feelings about what is likely to prove "right" in a given situation.

He later sums it up nicely stating "normal mode" choices are:

the blend of intuition, analysis, and hopeful commitment

Conclusion #

I've heard about the head, heart, and gut triad before and an aim in life is being able to listen to each. To have the three be able to communicate with each other. I like the manner in which Bill Newsome describes this. I need this lesson repeated often. I found his approach refreshing. It has given me renewed motivation to step into this "human condition", although I still find I am hesitant to say embrace this "human condition".