Imagine approaching the world with curiosity and a desire to understand how things work. This is the core of a scientific mindset, a way of thinking that allows you to evaluate information, ideas, and arguments logically and thoughtfully. As a scientist, I’ve come to learn the power and importance of this way of thinking, not only in my profession but also in my everyday life. I’ve also realized that most non-scientists can and should develop a scientific mindset to improve their lives.
But what is the scientific mindset, and how can you use this approach to your advantage? Learn about its fundamental pillars to approach the world more rationally and analytically.
And here’s my last evangelical outcry before we shuttle into the practicalities: you can develop a scientific mindset to improve your choices and goals in life. It doesn’t matter if you’re a scientist or non-scientist.
What is the scientific mindset?
The scientific mindset is a way of thinking that helps you approach situations and problems through critical thinking and skepticism. It encourages you to question assumptions and test ideas objectively to get closer to the truth (at least as objectively as possible). You can achieve this through evidence and reasoning, which allow you to make sense of your surroundings, make decisions, and solve problems.
A core component of the scientific mindset is using the scientific method, which we’ve covered in this post. In short, the scientific method helps you acquire knowledge through observation and experience (empirically). It structures the procedure in which scientists – and non-scientists – reach conclusions:
- Observe something and ask a question
- Research and collect information
- Formulate a hypothesis
- Test the hypothesis
- Present your findings, discuss, and refine
A scientific mindset will let you analyze and gather knowledge to understand your surroundings and world with curiosity. As a result, you’ll be able to systematically approach information, issues, and arguments to solve problems.
That’s all fine and dandy, of course. But how about structuring the core components of the scientific mindset? Say no more. Like any good TV chef, I’ve prepared the pillars for you.
The pillars of the scientific mindset
Let’s break down the scientific mindset into its core components to increase your chances of implementing it in life. Like the scientific method, you might find different descriptions of its core components, depending on who you ask. Still, they all follow the same logic, in large. These are the eight elements that are essential for developing – and maintaining – a scientific mindset:
Most scientists are hungry for knowledge, our currency. Some seek more general knowledge that covers several topics, while others prefer the specialized knowledge of one subject. But they all have one thing in common: curiosity.
Curiosity drives you to seek information, pushing you toward the best version of yourself. It makes you itch for new content, training programs, and diets. A scientific mindset will spot any knowledge gaps and add them to your 2learn list.
According to empiricism, knowledge is acquired through sensory experience. In other words, our understanding comes from seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and feeling. Scientific ideas must be tested and verified to be valid, and we do this through experiments and observations.
For example, if you want to know if food allergy causes your night rashes, you’d test how omitting selected foods from your diet affects the reaction. Perhaps you’d avoid nuts for a few days and verify whether the change improves the condition.
You can check our post on the scientific method for an example of how to test empirically why your phone is not working.
Observing or experiencing one event occurring after another does not confirm the validity of a cause-and-effect relationship. It’s crucial to ensure that your results are replicable. Replicability means that other researchers or people should be able to observe or obtain similar results in similar conditions to rule out the possibility of chance or random occurrences.
Let’s say a group of researchers has discovered a new medication that significantly reduces spontaneous rash with minimal side effects. These results are replicable if another research team can use the same procedures and methods and obtain similar rash reductions with minimal side effects.
Or how about another practical example like baking, a type of chemistry? Imagine the nightmare you’d experience if a chocolate cake recipe would make chocolate cake only sometimes. Replicability ensures the recipe works for most.
A scientific mindset strives for constant objectivity, and it does so in many different ways.
Most people know about the placebo effect. The so-called double-blinded study is one of the best methods to minimize placebo effects. In a double-blinded procedure, the participants are unaware if they receive the medication or placebo. The experimenter is unaware of which group gets the drug (the experimental group) or the placebo (the control group). The double-blindness of the procedure reduces biases and expectations.
Of course, it’s challenging to implement objectivity in everyday situations since we often fall victim to our emotions and biases, affecting our judgment and decision-making. You can approach objectivity by becoming aware of your biases and emotions, trying to consume different types of information, and opening your mind. As hippie as it sounds, these are awesome steps to at least come close to objectivity.
(A healthy dose of skepticism.)
Skepticism ensures that presented information is well-tested and evaluated. A skeptic mindset will help you approach reliable information and the truth using skepticism correctly. How do you use it the right way? For starters, try pointing your skeptic index finger in your direction sometimes.
Many self-proclaimed skeptics or critical thinkers do an excellent job pointing out other people’s arguments, references, or accuracies. However, they fail where skepticism matters the most: self-reflection. I recommend you audit weaknesses in your ideas and resources from time to time; see it as spring cleaning. It hurts, I know. But, like spring cleaning, you’ll feel better and healthier with time.
While not a strict rule, according to the principle of parsimony, when faced with several explanations for a phenomenon, the simplest one is most likely correct.
In evolutionary biology, researchers explain traits like a giraffe’s long neck by inheritance, passed from common ancestors that possessed the long neck. This explanation contrasts one claiming its neck evolved from complex, unlikely changes to the gene or genes affecting neck length. The first explanation makes fewer assumptions than the more complex and unlikely mutation-based explanation and is more likely true.
However, you’ll find many examples of issues in which the simplest solution is incorrect. A patient showing rash, fever, and tiredness may have been infected with a virus, which is the simplest explanation. But they may also have a rare auto-immune disorder requiring a complex explanation. In this case, you wouldn’t start treating the patient for a virus infection merely based on parsimony.
The Open Definition states, “Open means anyone can freely access, use, modify, and share for any purpose (subject, at most, to requirements that preserve provenance and openness).” Or, as they add for clarity, “Open data and content can be freely used, modified, and shared by anyone for any purpose.”
Science generally relies on the open communication of ideas, methods, and results for others to verify and add to the research. Openness in science supports collaboration, self-correction, and progress.
Sure, as a scientist, I’ve experienced many cases of researchers shielding their research from others, usually because of competition. However, the increasing number of open-access alternatives gives hope to openness in science.
In everyday life, openness can be as simple as revealing the references you’ve used for your arguments. No more using “trust me, bro” as a reference.
It might not come as a surprise that science depends on progression. After all, how do scientific discoveries otherwise emerge if not for incremental improvements? However, if you zoom in, you’ll appreciate that every scientific method step requires incremental improvements.
In other words, scientists embrace progressiveness like a sloth embraces its branch. Everything requires improvements. Scientists gradually optimize experimental protocols by making small changes and observing the results. Trial and error guide scientists to identify the most effective protocols and improve the accuracy and reproducibility of their results.
You can apply incremental improvements or progressiveness to many daily activities, such as learning, training, or job seeking. For example, you might not see your daily improvements at the gym every week. Still, you’ll realize the difference if you keep squatting and adding more weights for a year or five.
Most people want quick improvements, and if they don’t see them, they give up. It’s too common. However, a scientific mindset will reassure you that progressiveness means development; it may be slow, but it will take you places.
Tips for developing your scientific mindset
You should develop a scientific mindset to improve your critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It will help you through discussions and arguments and spot fallacies in which your so-called friends try to trap you.
Unfortunately, no simple hack cultivates your scientific mindset, which is a lifelong process requiring dedication, effort, and reflection (progressiveness). At this point, most people leave the table. But you’re not “most people” since “most people” wouldn’t even make it to this paragraph. That’s because you’re dedicated to improving your mental capabilities and activating your inner scientist.
So, while I can’t provide you with quick hacks, I can give you 10 practice tips, which will streamline your development and put you ahead of 95% of the population (which is a made-up number). These points have helped me through many issues, dilemmas, and discussions. I know they’ll help you acquire a scientific mindset.
- Practice critical thinking: Question assumptions, evaluate evidence and consider alternative explanations.
- Practice mindfulness and self-assessment: Stay in touch with your thoughts, ask yourself why you believe what you believe, and search for better ways to improve your thinking.
- Be open to new ideas: Be willing to change your beliefs when presented with new evidence or a better explanation.
- Seek out multiple sources of information: Don’t rely on one source for your information; be wary of sources with a vested interest in a particular outcome.
- Be skeptical: Be wary of claims that sound too good to be true, and be on the lookout for confirmation bias.
- Embrace uncertainty: Recognize that not all questions have definite answers and be comfortable with the unknown.
- Replicate and test: Try to replicate experiments or observations and test ideas to see if they hold up.
- Learn from mistakes: Be willing to admit when you’re wrong and learn from your mistakes.
- Seek feedback: Seek out feedback from others and be willing to change your views based on that feedback.
- Practice regularly: Like any skill, developing and maintaining a scientific mindset takes practice.
That’s it! Practice makes perfect. Which of these don’t you see yourself doing?