The Science of Failure

Philosopher Karl Popper stated that we can never prove anything to be true. No matter how often something has happened in the past, there is always the possibility that it won’t happen in the future. We can prove that something is false. If something is false, we can discard it.

In A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking mentioned Popper’s idea. Hawking gave an example of the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. There is always the possibility that it will rise in the west and set in the east. If it did do that just once, the idea that the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west would be falsified.

Medical research is based on that idea. Instead of looking at one event falsifying an idea, experiments are set up to falsify an idea using statistics. Two groups are set up. One is the control group. Nothing is done to the control group. It is the comparison. The treatment in question is performed on the experimental group. The null hypothesis is there is no difference between the two groups. If a statistical difference is found, then the null hypothesis is falsified. That does not prove the treatment works, but it provides evidence that it might be true. If the null hypothesis is not falsified, then the treatment can be discarded.

Using the idea of falsification to run your life doesn’t work very well. Let me give you a few examples.

You go to the gym for a week and find that you still don’t have the body you desire. If you thought that falsified exercise, you’d stop exercising.

You eat a large piece of cake and find your blood sugar the next day is still normal. If you thought that falsified the idea that eating cake was harmful, you might only eat cake.

The problem is that what is healthy and what is harmful are often long term results. It is difficult to set up short term experiments.

The same is true in nearly all human endeavors. We grow by continuing to do things that don’t show immediate results. We fail in the same manner.

Science is about using the past to predict the future. We apply science by watching what happened to others and using that information to inform our lives. We learn tendencies.

What do we learn from that process? People who exercise tend to become stronger than people who don’t. People who practice tend to become better than people who don’t. People who plan their future tend to have better outcomes than people who don’t. People who eat more natural foods, tend to be healthier than people who don’t.

The REALLY BIG FINDING: People who persist do better than people who quit. Quitters never win and winners never quit.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There is no point being a damn fool about it.” W. C. Fields

That is a cute quote. When you apply the science of falsification to your life, you might have to try more than twice. You might also want to try something different by the third try. Don’t be afraid to keep your goal and change your process of getting there. That might be the takeaway from the science of failure.





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