The chief weakness of the scientific method

I’m reposting this from last year, but adding a very similar quote from Tolkien.

From Taliesan,

Uncertainty Principal

There is an ancient distinction between the synthetic and analytic operations of the intellect.   The synthetic operation builds parts into wholes, the analytic operation breaks wholes into parts.   The distinction seems to have lost its usefulness among sophisticated people, as thought becomes a mess of mush.  But reductionisms flourish from this amnesia, as minds forget that one mind cannot do both operations at the same time on the same object.

So synthetic assertions always melt away under analytic scrutiny.  This is normal; it says nothing about the synthetic assertion itself.   You can’t see wholes with a parts-instrument; likewise, you can’t see parts with a wholes-instrument.   That wholes are more than the sum of parts is not a confirmable proposition, because you can’t validate decibel measurements with a spectroscope.

You get that? It’s normal for “big picture” ideas to fall apart under an analysis of the pieces. But that analysis may in fact be illegitimate because of this divide in how our minds work. A large idea can still be true, even if some of the pieces are found faulty. Likewise, a bunch of true pieces cannot necessarily be assembled together into a working big idea. To the logician shaking his head right about now – the only thing I can say to you is that even now, you’ve already reduced things down too far and thrown out important information. We are sloppy with this all the time.

Tolkien echo’s a similar sentiment with regards to literary criticism, or even just simply trying to figure out what a piece of story is about:

It is indeed easier to unravel a single thread – an incident, a name, a motive – than to trace the history of any picture defined by many threads. For with the picture in the tapestry a new element has come in: the picture is greater than, and not explained by, the sum of the component threads. Therein lies the inherent weakness of the analytic (or ‘scientific’) method: it finds out much about the things that occur in stories, but little or nothing about their effect in any given story.

-J.R.R. Tolkien, Footnote from On Fairy Stories

I think this puts the finger right on the chief weakness of the scientific method. By it’s very nature, it aims to isolate facts and ideas. But by doing so, it destroys or guts the whole of the thing being studies. You may then have gained new knowledge that may pertain to the whole, but might not. The real world is way more complicated. Science proper cannot, at least honestly, claim to be able to reveal all of these connections and take the whole picture genuinely into account.