Falsifiability is a concept in philosophy that was introduced by Karl Popper in the 1930s as the touchstone for modern science. According to Stanovich (2010), the falsifiability criterion is a principle that states that a scientific theory should be stated in a way that any predictions that are made or derived from them can be proven false. Karl Popper realized that two statements are widely used by scientists. The first statement is ‘logicians’ and this sometimes is called singular existential statements because it affirms the existence of a particular object or thing that has been seen through the eyes. “The statement which is of interest to a scientist is the statement of ‘universal’ and this encompasses ‘laws’ which are found in science” (Hayes 2006, p34). The ability to falsify a theory gives the opportunity for predicting future outcomes which also leaves room for progress. If a theory cannot be falsified, then there is no room for improvement or progress. The concept of falsifiable criterion is important to the field of psychology because the ability to falsify a theory provides a step forward to finding the scientific truth about something or everything. “Without being able to show that something is false, there is no reason to test it” (Stanovich, 2010, p.23).
Scientific evidence methodology
The difficult part of scientific methodology is how a person moves from a statement which he has observed to this theory, and after that how will that person validate that. A person cannot say ‘all crows are black’ because it cannot be possible. When, in fact, there could be a white crow that has not been seen by any human being. According to Karl Popper their some statements which cannot be used to confirm the legality of a universal statement, but some statements can be used to show that a person is wrong in what he or she is saying. Just as the example illustrated that ‘all crows are black’. This statement of the crow theory is what is called modus tollens, which is Latin for “the way that denies by denying” (Weiten, 2001, p.45). “There is an existence of a back crow will imply that there is a non-black crow and this statement, implies that there exists something about the crow and which is not black” (Hayes, 2006, p.54). Although the falsifiability criterion is used to demonstrate the incorrectness of making an “all or nothing” statement, there are numerous instances for it to be helpful.
“There have been false impressions among the scientists that scientific facts and theories are by nature are all empirical and this type of knowledge is superior to all kind of rational knowledge” (Weiten 2001, p.56). It is evident that modern scientists base quite a bit on empirical methods. These scientists are correct in doing so because the scientific method model will present an idea on how to evaluate information to determine if the statement is true or false. This is true because science is a school of thought, as much as other people or scientists will say it’s a body of facts put together.. It is known that in science the term ‘theory’ will not mean ‘to guess’ but scientific theories that have been brought forward by observations or hypotheses which have been tested. The usage of the word ‘fact’ is used to describe an observation which has been brought forward by a scientist, “but sometimes the word ‘fact’ is used to describe something which has been tested or that something has been observed over a period of time and there is no reason anymore to keep looking for another example” (Hayes, 2006.p. 34).
Faith or Evidence
In various religions, their followers (believers) are accepting belief without empirical evidence that can support that belief; however, that is the difference between science and faith. That is the primary reason that science will always differ from religion because the nature of science demonstrates that one must have provided evidence or facts. It is a constant process that scientists are building and modify new information from older versions. “For that reason, something which one doesn’t have facts is not appropriate to be used in science, because facts are just an important part of science and we can conclude that ‘faith’ in science is different from faith in religion” (Hayes, 2006, p.45).
Facts that cannot be verified
Most of the scientific statements cannot be verified, and what makes them be called scientific experiment or methods, it is not their truth but, their paradoxical context. Which means? Karl Popper argued that things are not stated in a way that human beings understand them such as in various theories which are found in scientific studies. Karl Popper said he does not think all scientific statements can be falsified as individual statements, because those scientific statements can only be tested in conjunction with other auxiliary statements to be logical (Hayes 2006, p.46). For any theory or fact, in science, it must be falsifiable i.e. these theories should be a way in which they can be proved to be wrong (be tested). This concept of Falsifiability is important in psychology and can be applied in the treatment and the diagnosis of a problem. “A person might have a theory and no matter the outcome of that theory or experiment, if those set of problems can be explained by the theory of falsifiability then you have a problem” (Hayes, 2006,p.47).
Attempts to refute the existing theory
Some aspects of the world can only be explained from the human perspective and for any statement to make sense in this world, it must first exist as a theory and with this, it will improve the understanding of human beings. In this theory, quality statements must have a quality theory, which has substance and should be available for correction. The simple way in which one can tell if a theory has substance is to try and see if that theory can be refuted, and if that theory one is trying to refute can be refuted, then it implies that the theory is disconnected from the real world. So the point is, that in psychology, for any theory to be proved right it must be tested to assert the truth of that theory, when we relate this to human beings, they must ensure anything they say must be falsifiable first.
“Freudian psychology is an example of a theory which cannot be falsified even in principle” (Washburn, 2007, p.45). The theory of Freudian cannot be falsified because the theory itself is unclear and cannot be compared to anything in the world which exists and is real. With this theory, Freud was trying to explain how human beings behave in this world and one cannot accurately predict these behaviors that are found in humans. The problem with this theory lays the way the theory is judged about the ego, the superego, and the id. It is quite impossible to prove and then falsify something that may not even be factual. “Freud observed the patient and then on the basis of that patient’s behavior being observed, he then creates a story about the ego and superego of the patient” (Washburn, 2007, p.46). The problem of this theory arises when the patient who is under observation fails to act the way one predicted and this is what prompts psychologists to question the Freudian theory of ego, superego and the id. Some people will alter the observation of the patient under watch to fit it into the new behavior of the patient. In general psychological theories hypothesize some facts on the life of a person being observed based on his or her behavior, “and they will use that fact to predict the future behavior of that patient on the basis of that fact at hand” (Washburn, 2007,p.47).
“One other theory which can be falsified is the theory of metaphysics; this theory of metaphysics was brought about by Humes” (Washburn, 2007, p.48). Although the theory of Epistemology is more of a philosophical theory, rather than a psychological theory is has much relevance to the point of the falsifiability criterion. Metaphysics is simply the study of anything that can be thought to be and the principles of metaphysics are common to the world. The most common theory of metaphysic is; ‘to be something, is to be’. In other words, what it is merely saying is that nothing will exist by itself. This notion is basically implying is that each item will have some features which will be used to identify that item.
Epistemology is the study of knowledge and how one can acquire knowledge. There are two broad ways in which philosophers are approaching knowledge and these ways are rationalism and empiricism. The rationalist approach of epistemology defines knowledge as being based on certain principles and those principles are not learned through experience but they are implicit in reasoning itself. Senses alone cannot provide any conclusion that what is known is right. “Just like in mathematics, one must rely on reason as a basis to determine whether the basis is true, and that is what is called knowledge” (Washburn, 2007, p.54).
The theory of Epistemology cannot be falsified, some scientific theories cannot satisfactorily be explained or its outcome cannot be predicted. “A good example is the theory of light although one can predict the outcome from the double-slit experiment” (March, 2008, p.67). It would be a mistake to assert this because this phenomenon is unpredictable because science cannot adequately explain a theory. So it is incorrect to say that because some scientific theories cannot be explained, so it is not correct. In modern legal systems, it is presumption innocent till proven guilty, it would be a fallacy to assume because of lack of evidence a person may have been acquitted from a crime he is innocent, or because a person has been found guilty he cannot be innocent. Simply taking a criminal before the law is not adequate evidence to presume anything true or false. A person would only be found guilty if there is evidence that he or she has committed the crime. Anekāntavāda, a famous India Philosopher had this to say “the physical world can be seen differently from a point of view of a person and this cannot be changed completely” (Hayes, 2006, p.78). He goes on to say, “An object has qualities and those qualities cannot be perceived in all manifestations because human beings are limited in senses” (Hayes, 2006, p.79). Anekāntavāda also believes that “no definite word can express the nature of reality because reality can be seen from different points of view depending on the person” (Hayes, 2006, p.56).
Psychology continues to fascinate people. One reason is that psychology is practical. It presents an immense accumulation of information about issues that are relevant in society. Another aspect of psychology’s allure is that it symbolizes a way of thinking. As a science, psychology demands defined research, and that through systematic observation; new theories and ideas are invented; this is where the importance of the falsifiability criterion comes into play. The concept of falsifiable criterion is important to the field of psychology because the ability to falsify a theory provides a step forward to finding the scientific truth about something or everything. Without being able to show that something is false, there is no reason to test it. Psychology’s dedication to questioning and research theories promotes a vigorous kind of critical thinking. Thus, one could say that the field of psychology produces a knowledge base that can be considered to be precise and reliable.
- Hayes, C. (2006). Fallibilism democracy and the market: the meta-theoretical Foundations of Popper’s political philosophy. NY: University Press of America.
- March, J. L. (2008). A theory of mind. NY: Author: Scribner’s sons.
- Stanovich, Keith. (2010). How to think straight about psychology (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson/Allyn Bacon.
- Washburn, M. (2007). The ego and the dynamic ground: a transpersonal theory of human development. NY: SUNY Press.
- Weiten, W. (2001). Psychology: themes and variations. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Press.