Science is more than lab coats, test tubes and Einstein's bad hair day. It's a system of discovering truths, based on what we can measure. Science demands measurable observations of reality on which we scaffold our way to enlightenment. It stems from the Latin word scientia, which means knowledge.
"Wait a second," you say. "This already sounds terribly boring, just what kind of website is this?"
"Don't worry," I reply, patting you reassuringly on the head. Science comes to life when you apply this principle to the real world. Then you can make cool discoveries about it.
The past 500 years have seen humanity develop widescale industry, technology and medicine thanks to the scientific method.
Science is how we've invented warm houses and computers and birth control and brain surgery and self-driving cars. You have to agree all of these things make our existence a lot much more fun and considerably less deathy.
Imagine your day without the inventions of science. You wouldn't get very far at all. (Unless you currently thrive semi-naked in the wilderness; my congratulations if you do. For narrative purposes I'm assuming you don't.)
The Four Principles of Science
Principle #1. Empiricism - Scientific knowledge comes from direct observation.
There's no scientific validity to things we can't measure - like ghosts, telepathy and homeopathy. They might just as well be made up.
Principle #2. Testability - Scientific ideas must be falsifiable.
Hypotheses must be framed in such a way that other scientists can verify or disprove their claims. Religious claims lack testability and so fall outside the realm of science.
Principle #3. Parsimony - Science avoids making unfounded assumptions.
When you're confronted with two possible explanations, choose the simplest explanation that makes the fewest unproven assumptions. This is also known as Occam's Razor.
Principle #4. Determinism - Science says the universe is bound by cause and effect.
Your world is a complex web of interactions, each with a mathematically predictable outcome. Fate, karma and free will are rejected by science because they imply multiple causes for singular effects.
Science is Open Minded
It's a common and blinkered misconception among non-scientists that science is rigid and dogmatic.
In fact, the spirit of science is open-minded and eternally responsive to change. You can see this in action when scientists assimilate new evidence to expand (or overhaul) established theories.
This willingness to throw out old ideas and embrace the new is how science progresses, honing in on objective truths with increasing specificity.
This fluidity of thought contrasts against religions which, by their nature, are governed by ancient dogma and must strongly oppose change. For example, belief that the world is 6,000 years old blocks any scientific attempts to understand geology or evolution.
It's an important distinction to make. The modern world accelerates not by hanging on to religious dogma, but by pursing scientific findings and their applications. As a result, you endure considerably less suffering than the inhabitants of the pre-scientific world.
So start building up your own personal cache of scientific enlightenment. Go ahead and wrangle with science, pull it apart, try to prove it wrong.
See? You're already sciencing.
"Science is different to all the other systems of thought. You don't need faith in it, you can check that it works."
Brian Cox, author of Why Does E=MC2?
Why Fox Pokes Cats
My son, Fox, loves animals. He went through a phase of poking and pestering cats to see their reaction.
Psychologists call this bottom-up processing. In other words, you can't make any assumptions about cats; only scaffold your way up to new conclusions.
Eventually the cat would scratch Fox and run away. He learned that the cat had sharp claws and would not hesitate to use them.
Now when Fox meets a cat, he doesn't have to go through the whole experimental rigmarole of poking it senseless to see what will happen. Now he's top-down processing where you start with an already-established conclusion.
Children adopt this scientific framework naturally because it's simple and intuitive. It's very effective, too, since you learn about the world through direct observation and build up a catalogue of conclusions.
The problem is, after a while, you get cocky.
You begin to think you know everything already. You cut corners and start to top-down everything.
By the time you're an adult, you've probably stopped asking "why". You fail to gather basic data in the light of new situations, forgetting your open-minded schema of childhood which would have led you to empirical truth.
Science solves this problem by being course-correcting. Scientific training, at its foundation, teaches you how to go back to basics and build truth from the ground up.
So if you haven't already, put on your science filter and start making better decisions. Use the empirical lens of science to navigate the media minefield of pseudo-science and ideological indoctrination.
Make better decisions about education, medicine, climate change, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and any area of your life where evidence-based science can light your way.
Cast off your top-down assumptions, adopt a questioning approach, and play in ways you haven't done since you were five years old and poking cats.
"Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge."
Carl Sagan, author of Cosmos