Solving the Demarcation Problem
On Determining Where Science Ends and Spirituality Begins
Among philosophers, there is what has come to be known as the demarcation problem. This is a part of epistemology that is specifically concerned with making a distinction between that which is science and that which is non-science, such as that of anthropology (evolution) versus theology (creation). However, even after more than two millennia of dialogue, the debates continue. This is what is known as boundary-work, and it comprises instances in which the divisions between fields of knowledge are created, advocated, attacked, or reinforced. This also deals with the concepts of correspondence and coherence theories, which differ with respect to their truthmakers. In other words, does something just have to be proven or does it also need to make sense in terms of other things as well? In line with this, Karl Popper famously used falsification as a criterion of demarcation to draw a sharp line between those theories that are scientific and those that are unscientific. Again, the issue is where does science end and something else begin? Think about string theory in physics, which is currently unprovable. That technically makes it unscientific, but scientists study the mathematics of strings all the time. Plus, bias, unfortunately, works both ways, so it’s easy to find confirmation to either “prove” or “disprove” any theory that one might have about anything.
There’s a fuzzy sort of Venn diagram that quickly forms from attempting to classify everything into these two sets, but not all non-science is pseudoscience. So, the question is, where do things like mysticism and metaphysics fit into this, and why? I’ve been asking myself this very question for decades now, and I will likely continue to do so for the rest of my life. There’s a reason that the debate has raged on for more than a hundred generations. This is very difficult to explain, especially in a manner that everyone, or even just anyone can really agree on. Many have tried, but no one has ever come close to solving the problem. Back in the 1960s, even Aldous Huxley had something to say on the matter. Literature and Science is a book about the relations between science and art, in which he attempted to discern the similarities and differences implicit in scientific and literary language. Again, the issue is where and how do physicians relate to psychiatrists, or priests, or poets? Better yet, why is psychology considered to be a science and parapsychology considered a pseudoscience? This is where the “hard problem” of explaining what consciousness is comes into this.
This gets us to the “science delusion” which is an assumption that the academic community has all the answers. They don’t! Anyone who claims to have everything figured out is just lying to themselves and everyone else. Scientists haven’t even successfully explained what’s going on with things like dark energy and dark matter, let alone entheogenic experiences or past life memories. There is still much more about the cosmos that is unknown, but many people act as though everything can be known. Instead, many things get explained away, which is to say dismissed. The peer-review system is a double-edged sword that is used to attack as well as defend. Most modern scientists want to reduce everything to material aspects, so they dismiss and ignore anything that doesn’t cohere with their model, in spite of things that correspond with other kinds of evidence. Thus, to most scientists, the mind can only be discussed in terms of the brain, never the soul. So, all of the philosophy of mind from great thinkers like Plato and Descartes has just been abandoned. Thus, everything about the reincarnation of immortal souls giving rise to instincts, and everything of the sort, is relegated to the domain of so-called “pseudoscience”.
Meanwhile, I just go wherever the evidence leads me. So, for instance, I am able to see what about the life of Jesus is history, or mythology, or genuine theology. If I begin any research with an assumption that he really did or did not live, then I have already limited the kinds of answers that I might find. For instance, I initially assumed that the Shroud of Turin was a proto-photo from the Italian Renaissance. However, I quickly came to realize that the 3D encrypted holographic negative is cellulose damage. More importantly, it couldn’t have been made by natural light, only supernatural “radiance”, whatever that is. This is why I try to approach everything from a fresh perspective, merely keeping in mind what I assume to be true. After all, if I don’t thoroughly explore every possibility then I’m not necessarily going to come to the right conclusion. This whole business of science versus pseudoscience just leads to a bunch of generalizations, which can and occasionally do result in faulty assumptions. That’s not good, especially since I want to know everything about as much as possible, so the scientific method is just one of many epistemic tools in my philosophical toolkit. The six-step algorithm of scientists is great, but there are so many other ways of knowing. We can also think heuristically, or apply various different forms of logic to a specific topic. Science is not the be-all-end-all go-to thing that many people seem to think that it is. It’s just a simple step-by-step process that only applies to the physical properties of protons, planets, and people.
To really understand what I mean it’s necessary to evaluate the actual process of doing science itself. As I said, this consists of six steps:
- Make observations and note the relevant facts regarding the natural world.
- Answer any questions and solve any problems raised by these observations.
- Formulate a hypothesis that is consistent with the evidence.
- Design one or more experiments to test the hypothesis.
- Derive principles and/or develop a theory that models the phenomena by explaining how and why it happens.
- Continuously and consistently apply provisional measures to revise theories based on any new evidence that is discovered.
So, when I’m trying to understand something that can’t be explained in this way, I don’t just immediately ignore what I’m studying. Instead, I begin to apply other algorithms to the concept, like this five-step process:
- Formulate a viable question.
It’s of the utmost importance for me to ask the right question when I want to figure something out. I have come to learn the hard way that an improperly phrased inquiry will not yield the right solution.
2. Gather all the relevant data.
In knowing what I need to determine, I research extensively to find out absolutely everything there is to know about what I want to understand.
3. Apply the obtained information.
Then, I interpret all the concepts and assumptions in a logically sound manner to deduce a conclusion, or more likely a set thereof.
4. Consider all the implications.
Next, I determine what all this really means when taken in the context of the bigger picture, particularly in light of new evidence.
5. Reconsider the alternative views.
Having developed a reasonably good understanding of the subject matter, I go back and reevaluate all the various assumptions of the argument.
So, with this different epistemic approach, things don’t have to be either just science or pseudoscience. There is more than one way to find the truth, whatever it may be. The world is just not as simple as everything being falsifiable through science, so it requires far more complex reasoning than the scientific method could ever accomplish by itself. The thing to remember is that the scientific method is not the only method by which to establish certainty. Critical thought is the key to understanding our place in existence, and frankly, this requires far more philosophy than science. The bottom line is that there are many different ways to learn, so you should never limit yourself to just one of them. Ultimately, I don’t want to live in a world that lacks either science or spirituality, that’s why I’m very careful about where I draw the line, otherwise demarcation can become a serious problem.