The Scientific Method and Complexity

The scientific method's objective is about 'the correct way to seek knowledge .' When confronted with a phenomenon/problem, we carefully observe it. Then we search for rules or principles, which will explain or predict the way the phenomena operate or behaves.

Click the button below to see the distinction between science and pseudoscience.

There have been many turns and twists in seeking knowledge over time - starting with Aristotle to the present. Today, the distinction between scientific knowledge and other forms of knowledge, including the supernatural, is that scientific knowledge is acquired systematically and empirically by observation or experiment.

The history of science is, in itself, a fascinating read. An accessible book, mainly aimed at those new to the area, is the third edition of "Worldviews: An Introduction to the History and Philosophy of Science" by Richard DeWitt.

The scientific method is a logical and orderly step-by-step process for solving problems. We used inductive reasoning to create hypotheses and theories. Deductive reasoning applies the theories to specific situations.

The image summarises these steps. A word of caution - not all science strictly follows the scientific method.

Looking for information is one of the main strategies of modern science; it is the process of learning. This approach to solving problems has worked well for us in the natural world, but when dealing with social issues, there are limitations to the method. 

It does not deal well with uncertainty. It is relatively rigid and does not consider that reality is messy (dynamic). Many factors appear by surprise – emergence. It does not accommodate why questions. The issue of replicability (an essential aspect of the scientific method) is near impossible in a social system. 

Science seeks to know the truth – this suggests that alternative points of view are not possible. In social systems, each agent (individual) has his/her own opinion, point of view, and personal motivation – many truths is what reality is.

The interaction of these multiple perspectives leads the system (the group of people) in a journey of interactions that are not known in advance. The trajectory is impossible to know. 

Solving a problem that involves understanding - such a trajectory using the scientific method will not help us. 

A much better approach is to use abductive reasoning togetehr with bricolage. We will be able to solve some of the most challenging problems. Management as a process of discovery becomes a much more fruitful way to deal with humans.