Are You an Honest Observer?

You see but you do not observe.” Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson in “A Scandal in Bohemia”

Science (n.)

  1. The observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.
  2. Such activities restricted to a class of natural phenomena.
  3. Such activities applied to an object of inquiry or study.

Observe (v.)

To notice or perceive something and register it as being significant.

Perceive (v.)

Become aware of (something) by the use of one of the senses, esp. that of sight.

Honest (adj.)

Free of deceit and untruthfulness; sincere, morally correct or virtuous; blameless or well intentioned even if unsuccessful or misguided.

It is not a far reach to conclude that as humans, and all that entails, we comprehend the vast majority of the things we think of as true or factual about our external world from what we receive from the sense organs; eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin. Any understanding of our reality, and even language, imagination, and thoughts, derives from the things we observe through our senses. Reflecting on the definitions posited previously it is clear that there are inherent relationships between what we call science and the ability to observe, and that the ability to observe is a function of perceiving significance, which is dependent on the ability to sense.

Scientific theories are primarily tested against observation and accepted, rejected, or modified mainly because of observational data. Observation is thus generally considered to be the touchstone of objectivity in science; it seems to be primarily observation that provides an independent standard for the evaluation of theories and hypotheses. If it were not for observation, there would be little reason for choosing between scientific theories and fictional accounts, between science and pseudoscience, between warranted assertions and fanciful hopes …” “observation clearly cannot be maintained as infallible or certain. The existence of perceptual illusion, hallucinations, and other less dramatic perceptual errors proves that people can be deceived by their senses” Martin, M., “Concepts of Science Education: A Philosophic Analysis”. Glenview, IL: Scott, Forseman. Pgs. 112-113, 1972.

From the perspective that human existence and its interaction with its environment is of a dynamic and progressively changing nature over time, it is inferred that no two experiences can ever be identical, because the experience of a first event and its conditions alters the manner in which an individual observer may experience the same event with the same conditions the second time. The implications of this statement are profound. It appears that an individual observer’s unique set of experiences and knowledge effect not only the ability to observe but also the process of observation itself.

That a trained observer with certain knowledge and training can observe things that a person without this knowledge and training cannot observe.Further, a persons background will influence what properties he [or she] visually attends to in a particular object, or indeed whether he [or she] attends to any properties of the object at all. Finally, the theoretical background of a scientist leads him [or her] to observe non-cognitively objects which the layman, because of his [or her] lack of theoretical background does not observe at all” Martin, M., “Concepts of Science Education: A Philosophic Analysis”. Glenview, IL: Scott, Forseman, Pg. 107, 1972.

Therefore, by the definitions and descriptions above an Honest Observer is one who …

… seeks a deeper understanding of what is being observed.

… continually works and studies to increase the depth of knowledge regarding relevant subject matter.

… discerns what can and cannot be deduced by an observation.

… chooses the proper tools and measurements when making and recording observations.

… faithfully reports all of what is observed: even those aspects of the observation that do not  support a hypothesis or pre-existing belief.

… is intellectually transparent and open to critical analysis of the process(es) that led to the observation(s).

… understands and fully discloses the limits of the tools, procedures, and measurements used to make an observation(s).

… acknowledges the presence and possibility of bias when making and interpreting observational information.

… acknowledges the inherent uncertainty in sense observation and the data collected from an observation.

… is dispassionate about observational data.

… submits to peer review accountability for any inferences and conclusions drawn from observations.

… seeks truth and validity even when it doesn’t serve egocentric goals and preconceived notions.