Intention in Science

cevans's picture

Science, the processes of the natural world, they are without intention. Biological Evolution, the rules of the universe, the properties of the elements, these are all forces without intention. However the way in which humanity understands all of these natural things is very far from being objective or without intention. The human scientific process is tailored to a human experience of the world, the measurements we take and the units that we use are all things that can be understood with the human senses. All of the tests that scientists conduct are tailored to humanities sensory organs, so all the experiments scientists make are made with the intent that the results can be understood using the human senses. This is very useful because if this wasn’t the way things were done there would be no way for us to understand our own experiments but it does mean that all science is done with that intent. That is not the only intentionality surrounding the scientific process however, science is always done with the intent of answering a hypothesis, and this is so the results obtained by experiments are meaningful to humans. It would be very difficult to convince a scientist to conduct an experiment without any intention as to what the results would be or what exactly they were trying to disprove. If there was no intention than the experiment would only be an example of Nature’s random laws and not a demonstration of something that had been quantified by human scientists or of something they were hoping to quantify. A quote from Robert Pollack’s The Missing Moment puts it much more elegantly than I ever could “No scientist…has time to look at all the data that all possible experiments might generate…Instead, every science chooses selectively all the time, and with each choice some data are precisely not gathered, let alone examined. Choices are necessary, and it is at the moment when choices are made that the scientific method departs from the wholly conscious tool of scientific experimentation and enters the human world in which all choices are made in a personal and social historical context, replete with emotional affects and barely remembered feelings.”(81).

The decisions scientists make when they make those choices, about what experiments they will conduct, what results they are trying to obtain, what fields they choose to pursue, these are all influenced by the scientist’s human side. Everything that a scientist does and all of the choices that they make are influenced by their intent. People try to do things with science; they try to prove theories or cure diseases, or discover new things. But they are trying to do something, they are full of intent, and after they accomplish what they had intended to do they present their data and their conclusions in the same paper or book.

            The discoveries of science are presented alongside the interpretations of them, which is great because not everybody understands the raw data of science but it also means that all scientific literature presents the intent of its author. Scientific works are written to prove something, not to be interpreted in many different ways after the fact although that occasionally happens. The author’s intent shapes the readers understanding of scientific works very forcefully because scientific articles are written with conclusions presenting authorial intent, making it clear to the reader what the author thinks that they have done with their work. Understanding a scientist’s intent is important to understand their work so the fact that science is an intentioned process is not negative, it just is. Humanities scientific development is fueled by the individual intentions of all of the people who contribute to it. Although everything that science describes is an unintentional process, our knowledge about it was accumulated through an intentioned process. Generated by the curiosities and intentions of many generation of humanity, while the body of scientific knowledge does expand in a way that would seem to mirror biological evolution, a random process, and while the presence of certain intents in people is random, or rather is a product of evolution, what they do because of those random feelings is very intentional.

            The above text was my part of a three part presentation. The theme of the presentation was intention and how that related to the topics of the course, evolution and literature. I wrote about the importance of intention in science while Jenn Dodwell and Gaby Kogut discussed the lack of importance of intention in literature. This was intended to challenge some common thought held by our class so we could all think for ourselves about how important intention is under any circumstances. I wanted to talk about intention in science because I believe it is an important thing to acknowledge. Science may be impartial but scientists are people and all people have their own mind with its like, dislikes, preferences, and intentions. This means there must be intention behind every scientific experiment and when that science is written about it is written with intention.

Many authors in literature also have intention but Jenn and Gaby talked about how that doesn’t matter because the people reading the book have their own things that they want from the book. While it is possible in science to get a different opinion than the author’s out of an article it is very obvious. If you read an article and disagree with the conclusion then you disagree with the author’s intention but you are aware of that face. In literature you can read a book and have an impression opposite of the author’s intention and never know. Intention is an interesting thing because, everybody has it but it is something that can be kept completely private. In the end All I really wanted to get across was that intention is present in the scientific world as long as there are people involved and that it is important to acknowledge and not deny that intention.



Pollack,Robert. The Missing Moment: How the Unconscious Shapes Modern Science.

New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999



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