For this essay, the following hypotheses below is the choice that is being used. Next, apply the S.E.A.R.C.H. method to that hypothesis. The essay should be in the form of a developed and well structured essay, and defend a clear thesis (is the hypothesis likely or unlikely to be true, and why?). If you use outside sources, be sure to cite your sources.
The essay should be at least 750 Words long ( longer is recommended).
Hypothesis choice: Homeopathy is real; extremely dilute solutions of substances that produce symptoms in a healthy person can cure those symptoms in a sick person.
Except from the book THE SEARCH FORMULA Our formula for inquiry consists of four steps, which we represent by the acronym SEARCH. The letters stand for the key words in the four steps: 1. State the claim. 2. Examine the Evidence for the claim. 3. Consider Alternative hypotheses. 4. Rate, according to the Criteria of adequacy, each Hypothesis. The acronym is arbitrary and artificial, but it may help you remember the formula’s vital components. Go through these steps any time you’re faced with an extraordinary claim. Note that throughout this chapter we use the words hypothesis and claim interchangeably. We do so because any weird claim, like any claim about events and entities, can be viewed as a hypothesis—as an explanation of a particular phenomenon. Thinking of weird claims as hypotheses is important because effectively evaluating weird claims involves essentially the same hypothesis-assessing procedure used in science. Step 1: State the Claim Before you can carefully examine a claim, you have to understand what it is. It’s vital to state the claim in terms that are as clear and as specific as possible. “Ghosts are real” is not a good candidate for examination because it’s vague and nonspecific. A better claim is “The dis- embodied spirits of dead persons exist and are visible to the human eye.” Likewise, “Astrology is true” is not much to go on. It’s better to say, “Astrologers can correctly identify someone’s personality traits by using sun signs.” Even these revised claims aren’t as unambiguous and definitive as they should be. (Terms in the claims, for example, could be better defined. What is meant by “spirit”? What does it mean to “correctly identify someone’s personality traits”?) But many of the extraordinary claims you run into are of this caliber. The point is that before examining any claim, you must achieve maximum clarity and specificity of what the claim is. Step 2: Examine the Evidence for the Claim Ask yourself what reasons there are for accepting the claim. That is, what empirical evidence or logical arguments are there in the claim’s favor? Answering this question entails taking inventory of both the quantity and quality of the reasons for believing that the claim is true. An honest and thorough appraisal of reasons must include: 1. Determining the exact nature and limitations of the empirical evidence. You should assess not only what the evidence is but whether there are any reasonable doubts regarding it. You have to try to find out if it’s subject to any of the deficiencies we’ve discussed in this book—the distortions of human perception, memory, and judgment; the errors and biases of scientific research; the difficulties inherent in ambiguous data. Sometimes even a preliminary survey of the facts may force you to admit that there really isn’t anything mysterious that needs explaining. Or perhaps investigating a little mystery will lead to a bigger mystery. At any rate, attempting an objective assessment of the evidence takes courage. Many true believers have never taken this elementary step. 2. Discovering if any of these reasons deserve to be disqualified. As we’ve seen, people frequently offer considerations in support of a claim that should be discounted. These considerations include wishful thinking, faith, unfounded intuition, and subjective certainty. The problem is that these factors aren’t reasons at all. In themselves, they can’t pro- vide any support for a claim. 3. Deciding whether the hypothesis in question actually explains the evidence. If it doesn’t—if important factors are left out of account—the hypothesis is not a good one. In other words, a good hypothesis must be relevant to the evidence it’s intended to explain. If it isn’t, there’s no reason to consider it any further. Step 3: Consider Alternative Hypotheses It’s never enough to consider only the hypothesis in question and its reasons for acceptance. If you ever hope to discover the truth, you must also weigh alternative hypotheses and their reasons. Take this hypothesis, for example: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Rein- deer— Santa’s funny, flying, furry headlight—is real and lives at the North Pole. As evidence for this hypothesis we could submit these facts: Millions of people (mostly children) believe Rudolph to be real; his likeness shows up everywhere during the Christmas holidays; given the multitude of reindeer in the world and their long history, it’s likely that at some time a reindeer with flying capabilities would either evolve or be born with the necessary mutations; some people say that they have seen Rudolph with their own eyes. We could go on and on and build a fairly convincing case for the hypothesis—soon you may even come to believe that we were on to something. The hypothesis sounds great by itself, but when considered along-side an alternative hypothesis—that Rudolph is a creature of the imagination created in a Christmas song—it looks ludicrous. The song hypothesis is supported by evidence that’s overwhelming; it doesn’t conflict with well-established theory in biology (as the real- Rudolph hypothesis does); and unlike its competitor, it requires no postulations about new entities. This third step involves creativity and maintaining an open mind. It requires asking whether there are other ways to account for the phenomenon at hand and, if there are, what reasons there are in favor of these alternative hypotheses. This step involves applying step 2 to all competing explanations. It’s also important to remember that when people are confronted with some extraordinary phenomenon they often immediately offer a hypothesis involving the paranormal or supernatural and then can’t imagine a natural hypothesis to account for the facts. As a result, they assume that the paranormal or supernatural hypothesis must be right. But this assumption is unwarranted. Just because you can’t think of a natural explanation doesn’t mean there isn’t one. It may be (as has often been the case throughout history) that you’re simply unaware of the correct natural explanation. As pointed out in Chapter 2, the most reasonable response to a mystifying fact is to keep looking for a natural explanation. We all have a built-in bias that urges us to latch onto a favorite hypothesis and ignore or resist all alternatives. We may believe that we needn’t look at other explanations since we know that our favorite one is correct. This tendency may make us happy (at least for a while), but it’s also a good recipe for delusion. We must work to counteract this bias. Having an open mind means being willing to consider any possibility and changing your view in light of good reasons. Step 4: Rate, According to the Criteria of Adequacy, Each Hypothesis Now it’s time to weigh competing hypotheses and see which are found wanting and which are worthy of belief. Simply cataloging the evidence for each hypothesis isn’t enough. We need to consider other factors that can put that evidence in perspective and help us weigh hypotheses when there’s no evidence at all, which is often the case with weird things. To command our assent, extraordinary claims must provide exemplary explanations. That is, they must explain the phenomena better than any competing explanation. As we saw in Chapter 6, the way to determine which explanation is best is to apply the criteria of adequacy. By applying them to each hypothesis, we can often eliminate some hypotheses right away, give more weight to some than to others, and decide between hypotheses that may at first seem equally strong. 1. Testability. Ask: Can the hypothesis be tested? Is there any possible way to determine whether the hypothesis is true or false? Many hypotheses regarding extraordinary phenomena aren’t testable. This does not mean they’re false. It means they’re worthless. They are merely assertions that we’ll never be able to know. What if we claim that there is an invisible, undetectable gremlin in your head that sometimes causes you to have headaches. As an explanation for your headaches, this hypothesis is interesting but trivial. Since by definition there’s no way to determine if this gremlin really exists, the hypothesis is amazingly uninformative. You can assign no weight to such a claim. 2. Fruitfulness. Ask: Does the hypothesis yield observable, surprising predictions that explain new phenomena? Any hypothesis that does so gets extra points. Other things being equal, hypotheses that make accurate, unexpected predictions are more likely to be true than hypotheses that don’t. (Of course, if they yield no predictions, this in itself doesn’t show that they’re false.) Most hypotheses regarding weird things don’t make observable predictions. 3. Scope. Ask: How many different phenomena can the hypothesis explain? Other things being equal, the more it explains, the less likely it is to be mistaken. In Chapter 5 we discussed the well-confirmed hypothesis that human perception is constructive. As we pointed out, the hypothesis explains a broad range of phenomena, including perceptual size constancy, misperception of stimuli, hallucinations, pareidolia, certain UFO sightings, and more. A hypothesis that explains only one of these phenomena (for example, the hypothesis that UFO sightings are caused by actual alien spacecraft) would be much less impressive—unless it had other things in its favor like compelling evidence. 5. Simplicity. Ask: Is this hypothesis the simplest explanation for the phenomenon? Generally, the simplest hypothesis that explains the phenomenon is the best, the one least likely to be false. Simplest means makes the fewest assumptions. In the realm of weird things, simplicity is often a matter of postulating the existence of the fewest entities. Let’s say you get into your car one morning, put the key in the ignition, and try to start the engine but find that it won’t start. One hypothesis for this phenomenon is that the car battery is dead. Another is that a poltergeist (a mischievous spirit) has somehow caused your car not to start. The battery hypothesis is the simplest (in addition to being testable, able to yield predictions, and capable of explaining several phenomena) because it doesn’t require postulating the existence of any mysterious entities. The poltergeist hypothesis, though, does postulate the existence of an entity (as well as assuming that the entity has certain capabilities and tendencies). Thus the criterion of simplicity shows us that the battery hypothesis has the greater chance of being right. 6. Conservatism. Ask: Is the hypothesis consistent with our well- founded beliefs? That is, is it consistent with the empirical evidence— with results from trustworthy observations and scientific tests, with natural laws, or with well-established theory? Trying to answer this question takes you beyond merely cataloging evidence for hypotheses to actually assigning weight to hypotheses in light of all the available evidence. Other things being equal, the hypothesis most consistent with the entire corpus of our knowledge is the best bet, the one most likely to be true. It follows that a hypothesis that flies in the face of extremely well-established evidence must be assigned a very low probability. Say, for example, that someone claims that yesterday thousands of cats and dogs rained down from the sky in Texas. This strange happening is logically possible, of course, but it conflicts with an enormous amount of human experience regarding objects that fall from the sky. Maybe one fine day cats and dogs will indeed tumble from the clouds and surprise us all. But based on a massive amount of experience, we must assign a very low probability to such a possibility. What if someone claims to have built a perpetual motion ma- chine, a device that, to work, must successfully circumvent one of the laws of thermodynamics. (A perpetual motion machine is supposed to function without ever stopping and without needing to draw on an external source of power—it supplies its own energy; this concept violates the law of conservation of mass-energy, which says that mass- energy can’t be created or destroyed.) The laws of thermodynamics are supported by a massive amount of empirical evidence gathered throughout centuries. There have also been numerous failed attempts to build a perpetual motion machine. In light of such evidence, we’re forced to conclude that it’s very unlikely that anyone could avoid the laws of thermodynamics. Unless someone is able to produce good evidence showing that it can be done, we must say that person’s claim is highly improbable. Likewise, if someone puts forth a hypothesis that conflicts with a highly confirmed theory, the hypothesis must be regarded as improbable until good evidence shows that the hypothesis is right and the theory wrong. Paranormal claims then are, by definition, improbable. They conflict with what we know, with mountains of evidence. Only good evidence to the contrary can change this verdict.