Zollikon Seminars

Heidegger and the scientific method

Let us first of all deconstruct what might be termed the myth of ‘scientific method’ as this is currently understood: a set of rational procedures guaranteed to eliminate mere dogma from “true” scientific knowledge, distinguish empirical fact from mere belief or hypothesis. So what exactly is the modern scientific “method” - that veritable barricade of investigative procedures designed to defend institutionalized science from empty supposition or pseudo-science? Modern scientific method understands itself as a five-stage process involving:
1. Observation and description of a phenomenon.
2. Formulation of a hypothesis that explains the phenomenon.
3. Use of the hypothesis to predict other phenomena.
4. Controlled experiments designed to test these predictions.
5. Validation of their results by independent researchers.
The first and most important questions raised by this self-definition are those it notably fails to address. The questions are:
1. What counts as a phenomenon in the first place?
2. What account is given of the phenomenon itself?
3. In what ways can the phenomenon be a ccounted for?
These questions are of fundamental methodological significance, for as Heidegger points out: “All explanation reaches only so far as the explication of that which is to be explained.” Heidegger himself gives several examples of phenomena to which the questions apply, amongst them “grief and tears”. Before we can formulate and confirm a ‘scientific’ hypothesis to explain the phenomenon of ‘tears’ for example, we must first ask ourselves what the phenomenon itself essentially is. Within the modern scientific method however, what  counts as a phenomenon is above all that which is countable - measurable. To which Heidegger counters: “In reality you can never measure tears; rather when you measure, it is at best a fluid and its drops that you measure, but not tears.”