Kruglyak M. I. Science and Nonscientific Cognition: the Issue of Interaction



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Kruglyak M. I.

Science and Nonscientific Cognition: the Issue of Interaction.

Scientific cognition has traditionally been the principal object of epistemological studies. As a rule it has been viewed as the most refined manifestation of cognition, while other methods are interpreted as less reliable, capable at the best case to serve as supplementary ones to scientific knowledge, and in many cases totally contradicting the scientific approach. The attempts to separate scientific knowledge from extra-scientific layers have found their realization in the task of demarcation. The issue of demarcation was one of the most essential for the positivism of the 20-30-ies of the XX century, however, in the middle of the XX century it became evident that a reliable criterion of demarcation could not be found. This came together with the fact that science was less and less regarded as a self-sustaining system, and the role of extra-scientific factors in its development was emphasized. A radical form of this approach was vividly represented by P. Feyerabend. However this was leading to the dilution of the borders of science, which suited neither the scientific community nor the society in general, for science is not only a cognitive activity, but also one of the most important ways of satisfying public needs. There emerged the need for new rethinking of the specifics of scientific cognition and correlation of science and extra-scientific forms.



It is necessary to note that there is no strict terminology in the classification of cognition forms existing beyond the borders of science. Thus A. А. Ivin1 defines parascience as teachings existing beyond science but are connected with it by means of certain commonness of subject matter or methodology. Parascience encompasses concepts lacking sufficient substantiation, popular generalizations, basing upon practical experience, parapsychology, vitalism, mechanical philosophy etc. Some of the parascientific teachings may later become a part of scientific knowledge. Furthermore, A. A. Ivin argues the concepts which are incompatible with science in principle, i.e. explicitly contradict the requirements of scientific methods, belong to pseudoscience. Typical example is the "occult sciences", such as alchemy, astrology, chiromancy etc. Though very often the notion of "parascience" is used in the broad sense, encompassing pseudoscience as well, they are worth discriminating, for parascience is in some ways similar while pseudoscience is contrary to science. In general, the relations between science, parascience and pseudoscience are characterized by O.A. Ivin in the following way: "Between science and pseudoscience there is a transitionary area – parascience".2 T. I. Oizerman adheres to a similar approach differentiating between extrascientific knowledge (as lying beyond science with prospects of entering the scientific realm) and nonscientific or antiscientfic one (contradicting the scientific)3. Though other terminology is used here, we shall preserve the differentiation between the cognition located beyond the borders of science and the cognition which confronts or explicitly contradicts the scientific. At the same time, the authors of the "Science and Quasi-Science" monograph4 use the notion of parascience, false science and pseudoscience as synonyms denoting activities pretending for the status of science and using scientific terminology, but, on the other hand, dismissing the norms and standards characteristic of science.5 The notion of quasi-science is somewhat broader, encompassing apart from the already mentioned parascience (pseudoscience, false science) also scientific hoaxes, and quasi-scientific mythology (beliefs in UFO, poltergeist etc.). But in general the authors of the above-mentioned monograph emphasize on the very fact of opposition between the scientific and quasi-scientific (para- false- pseudoscientific) cognition. However, alongside with the teachings imitating scientific cognition, being in their essence incompatible with the requirements to science or openly denying scientific approach, it is worth to separate also the cognition which does not contradict the scientific approach, though does not fully meet its requirements. Though it is not always possible to draw a clear line between these two types (thus, unlike the approach of A. A. Ivin, in the above-mentioned monograph "Science and Quasi-Science" Parapsychology is referred to as a pseudoscientific cognition), there is a rather essential difference between them, because in the first case the issue is the cognition, which is contrary in principle to the scientific procedures, while in the other case – it is the cognition which is not currently scientific one, but as a matter of fact, does not oppose it, and some of its elements may later become part of scientific knowledge.

In general, it is possible to offer the following terminological specification. In order to denote any cognition which differs from the scientific one, it is worth to use the term "nonscientific", as the "non-" prefix may mean that the cognition simply differs from the scientific one, or that the cognition contradicts to the scientific one. As for cognition which does not contradict the scientific one, though lies beyond its borders, maybe, it is the most appropriate to use the term "extra-scientific", for it refers to the cognition which, takes place beyond science, though not contradicting it. At the same time, the notion "anti-scientific" bears a vivid expression of being contrary to the scientific, and thus it is appropriate to use this notion to mark those concepts which are based on the norms and principles openly opposing the scientific ones. Along with this, a significant part of these concepts do not openly declare their fundamental difference from science, but rather try to imitate it. To denote these concepts it is appropriate to use such notions as "pseudoscience", "false science" and "quasi-science", for the corresponding prefixes denote the very fact of attempting to pass as science what is not science. While the notion of "parascience" is rather ambiguous, because the prefix "para-" may mean adjacency (in this meaning "parascience" is used by A.A. Ivin), as well as digression, deviation ("parascience" is rather often used particularly as a synonym of "false science" or "pseudoscience"), and thus, due to this ambiguity it is worth to avoid using it.

Having outlined different types of nonscientific cognition, we shall now turn to its further analysis.

One of the important forms of extra-scientific cognition is represented by common sense and related everyday knowledge. This knowledge is defined as "...everyday practical knowledge, which has not acquired a strict conceptual, systemic and logical appearance, which does not require special training and preparations for its acquisition and is a general non-professional heritage of all society members"6.

In the process of historical development ordinary knowledge preceded science. Before science emerged, rational cognition, collection of experience and its comprehension as well as formation of cognitive procedures occurred just within its borders. From the logical and epistemological point of view, in relation to modern science, ordinary knowledge may be viewed as imperfect scientific one. Those of its components which do not contradict science appear as knowledge existing in a popular form and its usage may be justified during activities of a common person. By and large these are practical knowledge and spontaneous generalization of experience which have not acquired a scientific appearance. Besides, some components of scientific knowledge may be part of ordinary one: a certain set of scientific knowledge which is contained in school program is acquired by every person and becomes a part of ordinary knowledge.

But ordinary knowledge may happen to contradict scientific data, and erroneous stereotypes, some of which are very widespread in the society, may serve as an example. Judging by the criterion of obviousness, scientific knowledge may even concede to ordinary understanding, which appears to common people as more comprehensible and thus more convenient, compared to complicated counterintuitive theories. This is where the danger lies, as sometimes common sense may be guiding by a wrong path. One of the reasons for this is a much higher tolerance of ordinary knowledge to fuzziness and contradictions. Let us say, in folklore, which is one of the most vivid expressions of common sense, one can find sayings contradicting each other (for example, "Too many cooks spoil the broth"/ "Two heads are better than one"), and because of this, in a particular situation, common sense may provide means supporting both contradicting alternatives7.

Ordinary knowledge usually has a prescriptive character, it uses substantiation far less compared to scientific knowledge, and this provides extensive possibilities for existence of irrational ways of acting (for examples superstitions or omens) alongside with rational ones.

However, ordinary knowledge contains an important practical component. Common sense rests upon emotional intelligence, practical experience, etcetera, which have essential importance for successful activities. Moreover, mastery, which is more than just intellectual and logical procedures, has great importance in science as well, which was especially highlighted by M. Polanyi. Implicit knowledge, "feeling" of a researcher plays an important role in the process of finding methods to resolve a problem, determination of ways to be followed and hypotheses worth attention. Such feeling of a scholar is based not only upon formal knowledge, but on common sense as well.

Logical and verbal factors dominate in practical activities during goal setting and summarizing, while in the process of performance one thinks in actions, and here unconscious processes play an important role. Moreover, reflection may be an obstacle in the process of practical activities, for example for circus performers8. Excessive concentration on analysis and comparison of alternatives may lead to indecisiveness and eventually even paralyze activities.

Thus, learning of intellectual and logical procedures and extensive erudition in itself do not guarantee rational activities, as awareness of rational rules alone is not enough, skills of their use are also necessary. In this connection it is important to remind of difference between wisdom and intellect. As a characteristic feature of a personality, intellect is associated with merely theoretical sphere, with logic and erudition, while wisdom may be defined as "manifestation of intellectual abilities adequate to conditions and tasks of particular activities"9. Such adequacy does not seem to be just erudition or logical rules. Though wisdom often relies upon intellect, it cannot be narrowed down to the latter – mere intellectual training is not enough to form wisdom, one also needs "feeling" which is often based on experience acquired in everyday life. Moreover, despite the fact that theoretical thinking is believed to be the most refined with its precision, strictness and consistency, from the psychological point of view it is simpler compared to practical one. "Psychological studies show that practical thinking (and everyday thinking is a non-specialized subtype of the latter) often turns out to be more complex by its psychological mechanisms compared to theoretical one"10.

It is also worth to note that different sciences lie at different distance from ordinary knowledge. Social sciences and humanities are closer to it than natural sciences. This raises the issue of comprehension of the border between scientific research and dilettantism. An ordinary person is not always able to see the difference between scientific and nonscientific works. Some evidently dilettante works on history or philology are accepted by many nonspecialist readers as scientific and containing reliable knowledge. In the same way sociological polls are often carried out by amateurs who do not even realize the inadequacy of their approach11. "Research works" of this kind often appeal to reader's common sense and everyday experience creating an illusion of authenticity, though, as it has already been mentioned, common sense does not always protect one from making mistakes.

Another issue emerges in correlation of ordinary knowledge and natural sciences – deeply specialized knowledge in these spheres is usually difficult to understand for amateurs, so sometimes charlatans take advantage of the ambiguity and create terminology which is similar in its form to the scientific one while in fact has nothing to do with science (here Scientology may serve as an example). The remoteness from everyday experience leads to the situation when common sense cannot provide reliable landmarks to determine which concept is based on scientific knowledge too complicated for expression in ordinary terms, and which – on sheer nonsense.

At the same time, common sense is not fully independent from achievements of science, as it can evolve under the influence of scientific knowledge. "There exist certain reasons to believe that the evident character of Newton's mechanics for common sense is rather a result of psychological habit connected with its inclusion in the school education programs"12.

Scientific concepts often enter the sphere of ordinary life, though acquiring meaning which may be rather different from the original one. For example, such notions as "stress", "energy", "ecology" and etcetera have entered the everyday usage, though their understanding in the ordinary life differs from the meaning of corresponding scientific terms. This may also become the source of confusion and lead to a distorted comprehension of the subject matter of scientific knowledge by ordinary people. Thus in the process of explanation of scientific results in simplified terms, scholars have to bear in mind the possibility of misunderstanding and ensure that simplification should not turn into distortion.

In general, ordinary and scientific knowledge more often demonstrate complementarity rather than conflict. This fact was aptly noted by D. Campbell: "Science in the final run contradicts some provisions of common sense, but it does so only believing in the large part of other ordinary knowledge"13. However, there are differences between them as well: sometimes common sense can be misleading, in this case scientific knowledge allows to find flaws in the ordinary; and sometimes excessive theorizing paralyzes practical activities, in which case it is common sense that can preserve rationality.

We are getting a much more problematic picture when analyzing correlation of science and pseudoscientific or anti-scientific teachings. An essential part of such teachings in one way or another touches upon the issues of occultism and supernatural phenomena. Іn relation of occult teachings to science different tendencies can be traced.

One of them assumes that occult knowledge has a principal difference from scientific one, and scientific methods are impossible to use towards objects of the former. Such break from science allows to create a niche free from scientific criticism. At the same time, as a rule scientific achievements are not denied, however they are regarded as insufficient: representatives of occult knowledge touch upon issues which remain beyond scientific research (for example, afterlife), or pretend to resolve issues which are impossible to be resolved by science (healing from diseases that currently cannot be cured by official medicine). Such knowledge is often haloed by mystery arousing interest, for it promises to open the world completely different from the rationality and routine of everyday life. The world-view principles of consumers of this type of occult knowledge complicate its rational criticism. "Scholars of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century were exercising many efforts to disprove spiritualism, though with the help of scientific notions, which was not convincing for those believing in spiritualism"14. If people are predetermined to search for the irrational they will largely remain deaf to any rational arguments.

At the same time some of the occult teachings seek to imitate science – they create resemblance of usage of scientific procedures, use terminology similar to the scientific one in its form. This strategy allows to capitalize on the authority of science in the society and common people's loyalty to scientific knowledge. "As a rule, the farther particular forms of knowledge are from standard (i.e. officially acknowledged) science on the scale of knowledge generally accepted in the modern society, the more advocates of such specific alternative knowledge would like it to be officially recognized by the society as science and scientific knowledge (such activities are favored by the deepening of democratic processes in the modern global community and in our country as well)"15. Common people who come upon such teachings usually find it difficult to discover their pseudoscientific character, for this group of teachings is trying to imitate scientific knowledge. Representatives of pseudoscience are not denying modern science, but use its terminology, though the terms lose certain meaning and become symbols16.

However these two types of occult teachings have one common trait – they appeal to subject's interests and desires and not to studying the objective state of things. This trait can be traced back as far as to early beliefs, in particular, magic. Primitive people resorted to acts of magic when they faced a problem they could not resolve in a natural way. In the conditions of danger, magic offered a quasi-solution which could not resolve the problem, however it encouraged unity of a tribe and at least created an illusion of possibility to influence jeopardizing circumstances. Therefore, magical activities were not aimed at the problem itself, but at satisfying social needs "...shamans use collective participation and see their real goal not in healing a particular ill person, but in satisfying emotional and intellectual needs of a group"17. Orientation to satisfaction of psychological needs is one of the main reasons of longevity of teachings based on faith. For a long period of time, an opinion among scientists prevailed that religious faiths would gradually die out – their rational elements would be explained from scientific positions and would become part of scientific knowledge, while others would be discarded as mistakes and superstitions. However, this optimism turned out to be ungrounded – in spite of colossal scientific progress, religious faiths have not disappeared, and we can even witness their revival, though in somewhat varied forms (the New Age movement may serve as an example). The reason for this is the following: until there remain certain spheres of human activities without a reliable scientific explanation, there will always be room for magical beliefs. "The essence of magic turned out to be in its principal adjacency with science and practice: where practice has not reached certain regularity and science does not provide convincing explanations, there is always room for magic. And as the nature is inexhaustible, and science and practice are always essentially limited, the fate of magic is to live forever"18. However, it should be borne in mind that this refers only to quasi-resolution of problems. Especially vivid examples can be traced with alternative medicine – turning to extrasensory perception experts or folk healers people often lose not only money but time as well, while their diseases may be progressing.

Though pseudoscientific teachings are often regarded as an expression of inadequate cognition determined by ignorance, it is worth noting that some pseudosciences, in particular, astrology, envisage acquisition of a rather large volume of information, and therefore it is inappropriate to regard pseudosciences as a result of ignorance only., Differences between scientific and pseudoscientific knowledge lie not so much in the volume of information, as in the very cognitive approach.

Scientific knowledge is aimed at resolution of technical issues, pseudoscientific – at existential ones19. Science is seeking to discover the objective state of affairs, and though scientific cognition is not completely free from subjective factors, scholars try to control their own subjective influence and as far as possible to avoid distortions it creates. At the same time pseudoscientific cognition departs from subject's world-view, desires and aspirations, thus creating a picture of reality that would be framed up to meet subject's expectations and wishes. Here lies the psychological attractiveness of pseudoscientific teachings aimed at people with insufficiently developed reflection – the world-view offered by these teachings is often regarded as more comprehensible and is subjectively more plausible compared to the scientific one. Also one of the popular tricks of pseudoscientific works is the appeal "to the majority".

The appeal "to the majority" has been widely used, for example, by advocates of ufology, who speculate on the mysterious character of the phenomena and on distrust in scholars and state authorities they represent, and eventually on the complexity of scientific theories impossible to grasp for amateurs20. Speculation of quasi-scientific teachings on public desires is especially spectacular in the works of pseudo-historians – as a rule, these works serve a certain mythological world-view, facts are provided selectively, and eventually argumentation is built up on axiological basis: in the works of quasi-historians "... pieces of evidence openly or implicitly address axiological characteristics of reconstruction of the past, and eventually lead to revival of archaic (mythological) view of social world: "We are good", "They are bad"21. At the same time, attempts to show groundlessness of pseudo-historians' constructions are not always successful, for they try to lead discussions into axiological and ideological plane, depicting their opponents as representatives of "hostile" ideology, substituting the issue of factual analysis with the question "Cui prodest?".

Attempts to adjust to demands of public opinion are also characteristic of paramedics – higher mobility and lower bureaucracy favor a more flexible adjustment to social sentiments22. Paramedics are trying to get published in popular press with high circulation, at the same time avoiding discussions with professionals.

If science deals with the search for general regularities which are open for inter-subject checks, many anti-scientific teachings are characterized by an emphasis on the exclusively individual character of experience of bearers of occult knowledge – thus, an extrasensory perception expert claims to possess abilities which remain inaccessible to other people. On the contrary to the open and public character of scientific knowledge, mystical knowledge is haloed with mystery, and the way to become familiar with it is not through argument of verification, but initiation, which presupposes acceptance of things in good faith and complicates manifestations of critical approach. Moreover, such mystery is another reason of psychological attractiveness of a number of pseudoscientific teachings – their esoteric character creates the effect of elitism, flattering vanity of those who possess a sense of having been chosen and have access to knowledge restricted for a narrow circle of people. Thus adepts of such teachings may have a hostile attitude towards public discussion of "secret" knowledge.

One of the most essential differences between scientific and pseudoscientific approaches lies in existence of self-reflection in science. Scientists are conscious of the limited character of acquired knowledge, and indicate the measure of its reliability. On the other hand pseudoscientists lack this intellectual honesty – they eagerly get down to work with issues they are unable to resolve, at the same time usually avoiding questions about reliability and foundations of their methods. One of the characteristic features of pseudoscientific literature – avoiding discussion of challenging points, failures of their own approach. At the same time, alongside with advantages, scientific works usually state drawbacks of concepts they offer, while conscious avoidance of "inconvenient" facts is regarded as a violation of requirements to scientific research.

Out of this also emerges the difference in ways of argumentation in scientific and pseudoscientific discourses. Science is inclined to the principle of falsification, forming conditions in which theory can be overturned. In scientific works, not only advantages, but also challenging points of a particular theory are revealed, there is no avoidance of phenomena a certain theory is unable to explain. At the same time, pseudoscientific teachings often fail to envisage possibilities of their invalidation, their argumentation is built just upon the principle of verification, when only those cases are selected in which the use of the teachings was successful. Moreover, pseudoscientific teachings are characterized by fuzziness and ambiguity – for example, astrological predictions are usually so generalized, that they can be applied to the prevailing majority of people, regardless of their star sign. One more reason of difficulties in examination is the fact that pseudosciences sometimes deal with under-investigated phenomena, with related statements that are difficult to check (and thus refute) using available experience.



At the same time, it is worth to mention that the contrasting features of science and pseudoscience are not absolute, the situation is complicated with the fact that real practice of scientific research does not always correspond to the scientific ideal, and arguments like the one "to the majority" or "ad hominem" are sometimes present in scientific works as well – a sharp picture of which was drawn by P. Feyerabend. However, scientific research is at least required to be guided by example which protects from explicit digressions, while pseudoscientific teachings either fail to clearly declare their ideal wholly depending on conjuncture, or imitate other ideals.


1 Ivin A. A. The Modern Philosophy of Science - Moscow: Higher School, 2005 - p.12-13

2 Ivin A. A. The Modern Philosophy of Science - Moscow: Higher School, 2005 - p.13

3 Oizerman T.I. Philosophy as Unity of Scientific and Extra-Scientific Cognition // Mind and Existence: Analysis of Scientific and Extra-Scientific Forms of Thinking - Saint Petersburg: Russian Christian Humanitarian Institute, 1999 - p. 41.

4 Science and Quasi-Science / Naydush V. M., Gnatik E. N., Danilov V. N. and others / Under edition of V. M. Naidysh - Moscow: Alpha-M, 2008 - 320 p.

5 Ibid, p.8, 113.

6 Pukshanskiy B. Ya. Ordinary knowledge: The Experience of Philosophical Comprehension. - Leningrad: Leningrad State University Publishing House, 1987, - p.24.

7 Myers D. Social Psychology / Translated from English - Saint Petersburg: Piter, 1996. - p.43-44.

8 Schavlev S.P. Practical Cognition: Philosophical and Methodological Essays. - Voronezh: Publishing house of the Voronezh University, 1994 - 232p.

9 Schavlev S.P. Practical Cognition: Philosophical and Methodological Essays. - Voronezh: Publishing house of the Voronezh University, 1994 - p.124

10 Pukshanskiy B. Ya. Ordinary knowledge: The Experience of Philosophical Comprehension. - Leningrad: Leningrad State University Publishing House, 1987, - p.95.

11 Panina N.V. Technology of Social Research: Series of Lectures / 2-nd edition, extended - Kyiv, 2007 - p.12-13.

12 Pukshanskiy B. Ya. Ordinary knowledge: The Experience of Philosophical Comprehension. - Leningrad: Leningrad State University Publishing House, 1987, - p.123.

13 Campbell D.T. Models of Experiments in Social Psychology and Applied Research - Moscow: Progress, 1980, - p.245.

14 Chornomordenko I.V. The Issue of Existence of Knowledge Beyond Science: Monograph. - Kyiv: Kyiv National University of Construction and Architecture, 2005, - p.109.

15 Chornomordenko I.V. The Issue of Existence of Knowledge Beyond Science: Monograph. - Kyiv: Kyiv National University of Construction and Architecture, 2005, - p.44.

16 Myakishev G.Ya. Science and Para-Science // The Issue of Axiological Status of Science at the Turn of XXI Century. - Saint Petersburg: Russian Christian Humanitarian Institute, 1999 - p. 223-242.

17 Kasavin I.T. Magic: its Imaginary Inventions and True Mysteries // Critical Analysis of Nonscientific Knowledge - Moscow, 1989 - p.41.

18 Kasavin I.T. Magic and Creativity: Epistemological Campaign // Mind and Existence: Analysis of Scientific and Extra-Scientific Forms of Thinking - Saint Petersburg: Russian Christian Humanitarian Institute, 1999 - p. 178.

19 Chornomordenko I.V. Extra-Scientific Knowledge and Process of Culture Creation: Monograph. - Kyiv: Kyiv National University of Construction and Architecture, 2010, - p.266.

20 Science and Quasi-Science / Naidysh V.M., Gnatik Ye.N., Danilov V.N. and others / Under edition of V.M. Naidysh - Moscow: Alpha-M, 2008 - p.179.

21 Ibid, p.255.

22 Ibid, p.200-201.


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