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FAQ: The Scientific Method
« on: 2002-03-05 19:12:06 »
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FAQ: The Scientific Method

URL: http://virus.lucifer.com/bbs/index.php?board=31;action=display;threadid=11537


Revision: 1B (Full BBS mark-up)

Author’s notes for revision: 1B
This message was (with minor editing) originally posted to the mail list of the Church of Virus on 1999-10-28 under the subject "(logic-proof and creative-conjecture) and more was  RE: virus: sophomoric atheism (logic-proof and creative-conjecture)"

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Abbreviated Copyright Notice
Copyright (C) The Church of Virus, 2002. All rights reserved. Unlimited distribution permitted in accordance with the terms of the Full copyright notice below.

This FAQ describes the consensus view of the scientific method.

Table of Contents
    Author’s notes for revision
    Abbreviated Copyright Notice
    Table of Contents
    The Scientific Method
    Full copyright notice
    Authors’ addresses

The Scientific Method

Aristotle began it all (as he did so many things).

Francis Bacon came next.

Bacon, however, offered only four steps based on Aristotle's works, for scientific investigation: observe, measure, explain, and verify. It was ReneDescartes who brought it close to a form we would recognize. In 1619, this 23-year-old soldier-philosopher-mathematician published his thoughts which crystallized the modern scientific method. In 1619, Rene Descartes set down four rules for applying his method for finding truth:

    1 Never accept anything for true which I do not clearly know to be such.
    2 Divide each of the difficulties under examination into as many parts as possible.
    3 Begin with the simplest and easiest and then work step by step to the more complex.
    4 Make enumerations so complete and reviews so general that I might be assured that nothing is omitted.

In the 19th century, the method evolved into six steps, and it was only in the 20th century and the work of Karl Popper that it split into those we recognize today.

    1 Pose a question about nature [Some would say, not necessarily as the result of an observation].
    2 Collect the pertinent, observable evidence.
    3 Formulate an explanatory hypothesis, defining relevant assumptions.
    4 Deduce its implications.
    5 Test all of the implications experimentally.
    6 Accept, reject, or modify the hypothesis based upon the experimental results.
    7 Define its range of applicability.
    8 Peer review
    9 Publish (including methodology, data and analysis)
    10 Evaluation and peers continue to test, extend and challenge the hypothesis.

The complete process may take a few days or many lifetimes. The acceptance of the hypothesis by the scientific community requires that the experimental results and their interpretation be verified by independent researchers. Perhaps we are not finished with this development either.

The Story of Descartes
Descartes was born to a noble French family. At the age of 10 he began his studies of the totality of Western knowledge--logic, ethics, metaphysics, literature, history, science, and mathematics. Much of the education process consisted of memorizing what the Greeks and Romans had to say. Being an intelligent and brash young fellow, at 18 Descartes declared that the whole education scheme was a farce since the only certainty he had learned in his 8 years of formal schooling was the knowledge of his own ignorance. That doesn't sound like an 18-year-old today.

Nevertheless, at that time if a young French gentleman didn't study the classics, he studied law, which Descartes did for two years. As soon as he attained his degree, he declared law to be as intellectually bankrupt as the rest of Western knowledge. He renounced his decadent social life, eventually joined the army, and found himself in Germany embroiled in the Thirty Years War. At this time in his life, 20 years of age, he was making monumental breakthroughs in mathematics just for the fun of it, and slow but steady progress in a search for a new method of finding knowledge. His military duties were neither fulfilling nor deterring his quest for intellectual satisfaction.

The night of November 10, 1619, found Descartes in an overheated room virtually feverish with "enthusiasm" about the intellectual adventure upon which he had embarked. That night he dreamed three dreams of such impact that he made detailed accounts of them in his diary. In the first dream, he experienced strong winds blowing him away from a church building and toward a group of people who didn't appear to be affected by the wind.

After this image, he awoke and, according to his journal, prayed for protection against the bad effects of the dream. Falling asleep again, he was then filled with terror by a noise like a bolt of lightning, and dreaming that he was awake, saw a shower of sparks fill his room. In the third and final dream, Descartes saw himself holding a dictionary and some papers, one of which contained a poem beginning with the words, "What path shall I follow in Life?" An unknown man handed him a fragment of verse—the words "Est et Non" caught the dreamer's eye. At the end of the third dream he dreamed he awoke to the fact that the shower of sparks in his room was in reality a dream, and then he dreamed that he interpreted the previous dream!

In the dreamed interpretation, Descartes explained to himself that the dictionary represented the future unity of science--all the various sciences linked together; the sheaf of poems symbolized the linkage of philosophy and wisdom; "Est et Non" signified truth and falsity in human attainment and in secular sciences.

In his journals, Descartes wrote that he took the overall meaning of the dreams to be that he was the person destined to reform knowledge and unify the sciences, that the search for truth should be his career, and that his thoughts of the previous months--about knowledge and methods and a unifying system--were to become the foundation of a new method of finding truth. He wrote, "I begin to understand the foundations of a wonderful discovery all the sciences are interconnected as by a chain; no one of them can be completely grasped without taking in the whole encyclopedia at once." That was perhaps the first statement of the idea of a unification theory, an idea that has become sort of the "holy grail" of physics.

And that sequence of dreams is what founded the scientific process.

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« Last Edit: 2008-08-26 22:24:56 by Hermit » Report to moderator   Logged

With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. - Steven Weinberg, 1999
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