The Scientific Method and Weird Water: Goethe, Einstein, Feyerabend & Pollack

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Fin Creek, Rocky Mountains, BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)

The ongoing evolution in scientific reasoning and investigation has spanned centuries, from the empirical measurements and observations of Aristotle and early Islamic hypothesis–experimentation, to the rationalism advocated by René Descartes and the inductivism of Isaac Newton and Galileo, to the hypothetico–deductivism of Popper and Kuhn in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Controlled experiments using “double-blind studies” were developed to compensate for “epistemic feedback” and “observer expectancy effect” (or placebo effect) or other experimenter biases that would otherwise skew an objective experiment toward an “agenda” that was often hidden. The observer effect (Hawthorne effect) describes a type of reactivity in which individuals modify or improve an aspect of their behaviour in response to their awareness of being observed. This is something that, if taken into account, can be in of itself revealing; but if not, can bias the results toward erroneous conclusions.

Scientific archivist and professor at UC Berkleley, Paul Feyerabend, shared that many discoveries would not have come about had they been constrained by the limitations of the methodolical monism prevailing at that time. Feyerabend suggested that some of the greatest scientific leaps ignored the current scientific method. He suggested that scientists adapt their methods to tackle new discoveries that could not be examined without breaking established rules.

Biochemist Gerald Pollack of the University of Washington de- scribes the “schizophrenic” nature of the current field of water science in his 2013 book, The Fourth Phase of Water. On the one hand, “mainstream scientists employ computer simulations and technologically sophisticated approaches to learn more about water molecules and their immediate neighbours. Their results more or less define the field,” says Pollack. “On the other side are the scientists who explore the more provocative phenomena, dismissed by mainstreamers as ‘weird water’.” Consigned to fringe science, weird water phenomena are often placed in the same category as “cold fusion, UfOs and subtle energies,” adds Pollack, who includes an ‘out-on-a-limb-meter’ to some theories and discussions he forwards in his book.

Goethe, an accomplished polymath and scientist, said of the conventional approach in science: “Whatever you cannot calculate, you do not think is real.”

I believe that the mavericks of the scientific community, like our artists—because they have one foot inside and one foot outside—provide a wide and highly relevant perspective, unencumbered by tradition and the need for acceptance. So many Nobel laureates have chosen to follow untraditional paths in their pursuits—as if finally freed to pursue their imagination and dreams—that traditional science has given it a term: Nobel disease. But it was Einstein who said in 1929 that imagination is more important than knowledge: “Knowledge is limited; imagination encircles the world.” While shared knowledge is valuable in forming a stable culture or tradition, imagination through creativity and art— while it may threaten an established hegemony—creates opportunity and needed change.

Water Is-pBook COVERThis article is an excerpt from Water Is… (Pixl Press), Preface.



nina-2014aaNina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit for the latest on her books.

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