All swans are white. But that is because I have never seen a black one.
As we have seen hundreds of white swans, we use inductive reasoning to state that, all swans are white. This is an oft cited example of falsifiability.
Sir Karl Popper wrote that the nature of scientific thought is that we could never be sure of anything. The only way to test the validity of any theory was to prove it wrong, a process he labeled falsification.
He defined falsifiability as,
the idea that a theory or belief system can only be scientific if it clearly lays out what specific evidence would prove it wrong.
When it comes to testing a theory, we don’t instinctively try to find evidence that proves we are wrong. In fact, we are quick to find all the reasons to prove our intuition or existing beliefs. This is known as confirmation bias. We do this so often in life that we close ourselves to the other ways of thinking. You can read more about confirmation bias on Farnam Street.
“What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.”
— Warren Buffett
When students collect data in science experiments, the tendency is to interpret it the way it will support their hypothesis. Many times, ignoring the outliers that do not follow the trend line. Ignoring the fact that, a set of 10 or 20 readings may not be enough to declare outliers as it is.
It is often seen that the bias most pivotal to inter- and intra-group conflict is confirmation bias, the tendency to seek out evidence consistent with one’s views, and to ignore, dismiss, or selectively reinterpret evidence that contradicts them (Garb, 1998; Kida, 2006; Tavris & Aronson, 2007).
Picking up from the definition given by Popper, what we can do is, develop a falsifiable mindset. Where, we look at not only the reasons that support our thinking but also, list down all the evidence that can possibly change our way of thinking.
Why is falsification important?
- It helps to boost our critical thinking by looking for evidence that refutes or challenges our existing beliefs.
- It allows us to take more balanced and better decisions.
- It boosts our creative thinking, making us more receptive to new ideas.
I recently read an article on how we can use this model to develop our falsifiable model. You can read the article here.
Picking up an idea from the article, I have created this simple chart for students to use as they try to develop their falsifiable mindset.
On a page draw three columns.
In the first column write, ‘What I believe to be true’. This could be anything that you wish to test.
In the middle column, ‘Why I believe it to be true’.
In the third column, ‘What could prove me wrong’.
You will need to think deeply about what you write in the second and third column. It is while doing this that you;
- Acknowledge the possibility of being wrong.
- Challenge yourself to modify your existing beliefs.
- Allow yourself to be open minded and start developing an alternative thinking accepting new possibilities.
What I believe to be true:
- I am not good at math. I don’t score well and therefore don’t want to study it.
Why I believe it to be true:
- I never get good marks however hard I try.
- I cannot understand what the teacher teaches in class.
- I don’t need math in future anyway.
What could prove me wrong:
- If I were to start scoring well in math, there is a possibility that I would start enjoying it.
- I am good at computer science and enjoy the subject and I realize that math and CS share common concepts.
- I want to study CS in college, and I need to have math credits.
- Math opens many avenues as I prepare for college
- I could speak with my teacher and see how I can get more help from her
Allowing yourself to think creating a tapestry of alternative viewpoints, opinions or evidence help us to analyze our existing beliefs. Many a times we are aware of evidence that do not support our existing beliefs, but we tend to ignore them. Writing them down and critically evaluating them can only help us improve our judgement.