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We are taught that science is about measuring. It is about weighing components, getting accurate measurements and that we must use ’machines’ to do this.

Like many people, I have vivid memories of arduously pipetting and titrating in chemistry labs liquids of various colours and painstakingly documenting all of the ‘numbers’ that I obtained each time…and this concept carries on throughout life, where in research we learn that we must get particular groups of people, and then select particular characteristics that can be ‘measured’ and eliminate everything that cannot be measured so that we can get a ‘scientific result’.

We are taught that only if you can measure something with a machine can it be seen to be reliable.

Interestingly, we all used machines in chemistry to pipette and titrate and we all got different ‘results’…

The problem with machines and tests is…they also make errors and do not give accurate reliable results! There are many times in medicine where I have received the result of a hormone level or a chemical or a serology in the blood which has been higher than it ought to be and on retesting, it was found to be within normal limits. It was my observation of the clinical situation that made sense of the test which is called ‘scientific’. Had I not observed and just trusted the result because it had been ‘measured’, the patient could have been treated automatically, and inappropriately….

We are taught that we as people are fallible, but machines are infallible. But increasingly we are seeing that is not the case.

We are yet to generate a computer that is able to process the world around us the way that people can. We can see interpret and understand far more with our senses than a programmed computer is able to.

Given that we know that we can make sense of the world far more than a computer, then why is there such a rush and pressure to ‘confirm’ the things that we already perceive with machines and tests?

Machines are certainly part of science, but they are not the definition of science, nor are they all of science.

Our ability to observe is science. It is part of science. It is a science.

Certainly our powers to observe are influenced by our personal perceptions and beliefs and ideals. We do at times ‘see’ what we want to see, but on the whole, our powers of observation are vast and all-encompassing, it is simply a matter of allowing ourselves to perceive what has already been registered.

For example, when we see patients in our consulting rooms, we are observing everything about that person. We see the things that we need to see to make a ‘diagnosis’, but we also perceive many other things about that person. Our ability to observe leads us to deepen our understanding of life, and to understand what is happening in life and why.

If we do not observe or allow ourselves to observe in full, then ‘science’ as we know it will be unable to progress.

The progression of ‘science’ is not directed by machines, nor is it directed by statistics, but rather it is directed by the powers of observation of people, who see that the world is changing. First we observe it and notice that something doesn’t fit, and then, secondly we seek to do the experiments to confirm or deny our observations.

Observation is the bedrock of all science and it is vital that we do not dismiss the power of the personal in scientific observation. Our ability to observe people on the street is no less scientific than our ability to observe petri dish growth in the lab.

We are all engaging in the process of science every day as we observe things, about ourselves, and about others. Machines are not needed to confirm that which we observe as we, the ultimate biological computer, are far more reliable than any machine.

We just need to refine our ability to interpret what it is that we perceive, so that we become increasingly impartial observers.

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    Photography: Susannah Williams