Essence of Science, Essence of Common Sense

Essence of Science, Essence of Common Sense


Science in a Nutshell

Funny how everybody tends to automatically equate science with physical data and physical theories.  Partly a function of the enormous success of the physical sciences, of course.

This is a reminder I circulated to some parapsychologist colleagues who seemed to be falling into that common trap.

I’m calling it “common sense” as well as science since so many people have an aversion to “science” as something that denigrates their spiritual aspirations….

Long, long ago (well 1972 actually) I got a feature article published in
Science in which I proposed the creation of state-specific sciences, i.e., complementary views of reality by practicing the basic procedures of science in various (altered) states of consciousness, ASCs.
There was then enormous fuss over whether anyone could do anything scientific and rational in ASCs.  The young folks thought so, the old folks yelled that only ordinary consciousness was suitable for science, all other states were inferior and crazy.  Funny thing, looking back almost 40 years, though, with that huge readership of high-class scientists, nobody has ever written that I didn’t understand the basic
process of science.  Makes me think I got it down pretty well.
Real short.
–    Distinguish the
corpus, the body, the particular popular data and theories of science at any given time, from the method of doing science.
–    Start with Observation, of whatever you’re interested in – which includes human experience, not just external meter readings.  (And meter readings are, of course, experiences of people…) Keep striving to improve the scope and accuracy of your observations.
–    Make sense of your observations, Theorize.  Be rational about the outcome, the theory (even if you got it by “intuition” or whatever.  Feel smart!
–    Remember that we humans are really fantastic
rationalizers, so we can come up with plausible sounding explanations of anything in retrospect, so make Predictions from the logic of your theory.
–    Go out and test the Predictions.  If they work, fine.  If they almost work, maybe adjust your theory a little.  If they don’t work,
reject your theory, no matter how “intuitively obvious,” sensible, elegant, mathematical, used all the currently fashionable concepts, etc. it is.  Back to the drawing board.
–    Keep cycling the above process, so you go from crude observations and ideas to theories that give better and better, wider and wider accounts of what you can observe.
–    Remember you may be weird, biased in certain ways, so openly and honestly Share, Communicate all the above steps with peers.  If they say they can’t replicate something, you have to specify conditions better.  Or they contribute observations that extend your theory.  They may find reasoning flaws in your theory and/or extend it in useful ways.  They think of Predictions and test them, etc.  The single-person cyclical knowledge refinement process gets better and better as it becomes a cooperative social activity.
Notice I haven’t said a single thing about the observations must only be of the nature X. Meter readings, inner images, whatever.  If you can observe them better and better and come up with Theories, conceptual frameworks that make more and more sense of them and extend them through validated predictions, you’re doing science.

Oh, the reference.  Tart, C. (1972). States of consciousness and state-specific sciences. Science, 176, 1203-1210. It’s available on my web archive,


  1. Dr Tart,

    Are you suggesting that even someone with anomalous perceptions can contribute to a scientific study of such experiences as a scientist and not simply as a “lab rat” to be studied?

    I worry about being able to be a scientist because of the way I see the world. If I’m not experiencing the same stuff that everyone else does, doesn’t that bring my ability to percieve things correctly into question? I’ve recently been asked to participate in a study of unusual experiences, and have even been given the option of co-authorship in whatever paper is published on this work. There is a part of me that thinks I should just sit back and be a good lab rat for the nice scientists, because I do question my own perceptions and worry that these experiences make me a “bad scientist”. On the other hand, I would really like to contribute fully as both a subject and a scientist.

    Do you think such a thing is possible to do within a proper scientific framework?

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