Moonbear's Scientific Method Journal Entry

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Main Question or Discussion Point

First of all, if you haven't read Moonbie's journal entry on this, YOU SHOULD!

I have decided to start a thread on this because I have a few "opinions" and questions on it, and I didn't think it was appropriate to add them as comments. So Moonbie, I hope you don't mind.....

PF has a philosophy forum because from an academic perspective, philosophy is the origin of scientific method. Sometimes what begin as philosophical debates become scientific theories as new evidence is found or new methods developed that lead to the ability to now test what was previously untestable.
What does it mean to say that "philosophy is the origin of scientific method"? Is this in reference to historical origin of the scientific method? Or does this refer to how things are done in practice?

If you are refering to the possible historical origin (which I don't think you are), then maybe..... However, if you are refering to it as being the universal, or even a common practice, then I disagree. You stated that "Sometimes what begin as philosophical debates....." I have no problem with that. To me, the EPR paradox began as a "philosophical" debate until Bell showed the possibility of testing for such a thing. But this occurs sometime. I continued reading your article and it didn't say what happened other times. Thus, it would be difficult to imply that such a thing is a universal statement on the practice of science.

.... remember, scientific arguments have their roots in philosophy....
I'm guessing that this is connected to the previous one. Again, it's difficult to connect a metaphor with what it actually means. If you are saying that the scientific method is based on logic, and that logic is philosophy, then sure. We can then lump every single knowledge of the universe as having "roots" in philosophy. However, is this really true in practice?

This is where you can ring the Irony Bell. After smacking the quacks who kept quoting Einstein's quote about imagination being more important than knowledge, I'm going to use that to demonstrate my point. Most of us, after we have attained a level of education or knowledge, are now guided by not only what we have understood, but with our intuition. This is why we tried gaining as much knowledge as we can, so that our intuition is not faulty due to our ignorance of the subject matter. However, intuition and "imagination" are often "irrational" and "illogical". I lost count how many times I've pursued something simply based on gut instinct. Many went nowhere, but quite a few resulted in worthwhile endeavors (worthwhile enough to get fundings and several publications). I can't say if the "roots" of such a line of thinking is based on any scientific method. I may have joined the scientific method line when I tested my intuition, but it certainly didn't come into existence based on it.

I find that it is always dicey at best to nail down what a "scientific method" really is. I do know that it is never just one single "thing", nor a single .... er... "practice". We never teach "scientific method" to budding physicists. The majority acquire the skill to do science via simply doing it, rather than talking/studying about it. The origin of many advancement in knowledge did not come out of a "philosophical" issue. In fact, many came out simply by accidents and irrational pursuit.

The fact is that most scientists are ignorant of the subject of philosophy, but can still function very well as scientists. Now, one could argue that just because one didn't know about it, or didn't study it, doesn't mean it doesnt' exist, or play any important role. But is this a "given"? Since we are using metaphors here, let's see if I'm good at it.

Let's say that equivalent to being the "roots" of scientific origin, we let philosophy be the knowledge of a system at the individual particle level. After all, if we buy into reductionism, being the "root" of something is means that it is the knowledge at the most fundamental, lowest level of interaction. (Now Vanesh and others may disagree with this, but let's play along.. :)) If we accept the Pines-Anderson-Laughlin axis regarding emergent phenomena, then in principle, our knowledge of the fundamental interaction tells us nothing about how we can derive those phenomena. Even if we disagree with that, at the VERY least, our current understanding of emergent phenomena (such as superconductivity, magnetism, fractional quantum hall effect), makes NO USE of such low level interaction. The starting point to describe such phoenomena is the many-body ground state where collective interactions dominates. Such description is immune to the details of what is going on at the individual particle scale (the so-called quantum protectorate).

How does this convoluted picture connect to what we're talking about? If what you say is true that philosophy is the root of the scientific method (assuming that there is such a well-defined thing), then if I equate

philosophy = interactions at single particle scale

science = emergent phenomena

then science is IMMUNE to philosophy. It neither cares, nor look to it for "guidance". How science is done and practiced are my evidence.

I've probably gone off on a tangent here, but hey, that's my response.. :)

Zz.
 

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  • #2
Danger
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ZapperZ said:
What does it mean to say that "philosophy is the origin of scientific method"?
There might be a matter of definition involved here. What we know as 'Science' was called 'Natural Philosophy' for centuries before they came up with the term 'Science'.
 
  • #3
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Danger said:
There might be a matter of definition involved here. What we know as 'Science' was called 'Natural Philosophy' for centuries before they came up with the term 'Science'.
Yes, I'm aware of the "name change". What science is NOW, and what philosophy is NOW, may be different in their nature and practice to what they were back then. If all we're talking about is historical origin, then as I've said, maybe. But I don't believe this is what Moonbie is stressing.

Zz.
 
  • #4
cronxeh
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When I took a course Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics, the instructor used a philosophical approach to the entire subject, and without ever even seeing Shrodinger's equation, we knew what quantum mechanics was about. From historical perspective to how the ideas evolved - we compared all of the theories and what they offered, and how they differed with experimental data. Now if this class was a graduate Physics course, we would've probably plunged directly into the math, without ever bothering with 'other' ideas - which also included different methods of attacking the problem.

I think there is a philosophical approach in engineering and science, and especially from historical perspective. 'Science' as we know it is not very old, couple of hundreds years to be exact, but the Ancient Greeks already talked about atoms, not in same context as we would today, but they 'contemplated' which gave rise to more inquiry and progress
 
  • #5
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cronxeh said:
When I took a course Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics, the instructor used a philosophical approach to the entire subject, and without ever even seeing Shrodinger's equation, we knew what quantum mechanics was about. From historical perspective to how the ideas evolved - we compared all of the theories and what they offered, and how they differed with experimental data. Now if this class was a graduate Physics course, we would've probably plunged directly into the math, without ever bothering with 'other' ideas - which also included different methods of attacking the problem.
But you WERE exposed to "other ideas". In classical mechanics, you had at least two different ones: Newtonian mechanics, and Lagrangian/Hamiltonian mechanics. One puts everything in terms of forces, while the other based everything on the least-action principle. In QM, you should have at least saw the Schrodinger approach, and the matrix approach (if you didn't, you should ask for your money back).

I think there is a philosophical approach in engineering and science, and especially from historical perspective. 'Science' as we know it is not very old, couple of hundreds years to be exact, but the Ancient Greeks already talked about atoms, not in same context as we would today, but they 'contemplated' which gave rise to more inquiry and progress
Again, if we're talking about a historical perspective, I don't think I have any disagreement with it. It is equally valid to say quantum mechanics came out of the old quantum mechanics of the Bohr model. However, just because it evolved out of that doesn't mean it is valid to say that the Bohr model is a correct depiction of the present-day QM, or that it is the "roots" of how QM is done today. The old QM is only the historical roots of the QM that we know of.

Zz.
 
  • #6
Moonbear
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Oh boy, now I'm squarely in the spotlight, aren't I? :redface:

Okay, first, I welcome comments and suggestions for editing. I had been planning to take more time in constructing that into something for general use, but there seemed to be someone here in more immediate need of some sort of advice who wasn't getting it, so I posted it more hastily than I originally had planned.

It's also a "short course," certainly not comprehensive.

Zz said:
"Sometimes what begin as philosophical debates....." I have no problem with that. To me, the EPR paradox began as a "philosophical" debate until Bell showed the possibility of testing for such a thing. But this occurs sometime. I continued reading your article and it didn't say what happened other times. Thus, it would be difficult to imply that such a thing is a universal statement on the practice of science.
The alternative is that sometimes something that starts out as a philosophical debate does not become a topic of scientific inquiry because we can't formulate a testable hypothesis.

Zz said:
I'm guessing that this is connected to the previous one. Again, it's difficult to connect a metaphor with what it actually means. If you are saying that the scientific method is based on logic, and that logic is philosophy, then sure. We can then lump every single knowledge of the universe as having "roots" in philosophy. However, is this really true in practice?
As for the origin of scientific method coming from philosophy, I was talking about historical context. And yes, I was referring to logical arguments, setting up things like premises, assumptions, evidence, conclusions, etc. These are more formalized in the teaching of philosophy (especially in formal logic), and less explicitly taught in scientific writing, but nonetheless, strong scientific writing uses the same "formula" if you will.

In the realm of academics, yes, the way we present arguments and ideas (not the tools and methods we use to conduct the actual research, but the process of writing and explaining the rationale) follow the same methods as philosophical arguments, whether you were formally taught this or not. You don't have to learn it in a philosophy course or be told its historical context to utilize it. Afterall, you know that Ph.D. isn't a Doctorate of Physics, but a Doctorate of Philosophy, right? :wink:

Zz said:
Most of us, after we have attained a level of education or knowledge, are now guided by not only what we have understood, but with our intuition. This is why we tried gaining as much knowledge as we can, so that our intuition is not faulty due to our ignorance of the subject matter. However, intuition and "imagination" are often "irrational" and "illogical". I lost count how many times I've pursued something simply based on gut instinct. Many went nowhere, but quite a few resulted in worthwhile endeavors (worthwhile enough to get fundings and several publications).
The key in what you've stated is after attaining "a level of education or knowledge." What you call "intuition" probably was more a product of that education or knowledge than you realize. For those who are just starting out without formal education in science, what seems intuitive to us still needs to be broken down step by step in explicit statements.

I am actually somewhat surprised that you state physics students are not taught scientific method. In biology, teaching of scientific method begins at the very introductory level, and is usually included in the first chapter of every general biology textbook (certainly every textbook I've seen). How do you conduct science without knowledge of scientific method? Surely you have been taught that you make an observation (perhaps an unexpected result of a previous experiment), formulate an hypothesis, make predictions based on that hypothesis and design an experiment that challenges those predictions to test your hypothesis, conduct your experiment with proper controls, and based on the results, reject, fail to reject, or revise your hypothesis. If you have had funded grants and published articles, you must know how to argue the rationale for your experiment and to state the hypotheses being tested.

For someone who has had formal education in the sciences, much of what I wrote regarding philosophy is largely not relevant; they are already beginning beyond that stage. They have been trained in such things as hypothesis testing, and know that's what they need to do. The target audience for that entry was more for those who have not pursued formal education and need help identifying the stage where their own ideas are presently, and whether their ideas are more of a philosophical nature or sufficiently developed to begin hypothesis testing. It was also aimed more for those who are having difficulty organizing their ideas for presentation. Many of us learn this through a gradual process of interaction with a mentor who asks us questions and guides us through the process.
 
  • #7
ZapperZ
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Moonbear said:
Oh boy, now I'm squarely in the spotlight, aren't I? :redface:
Yes you are! :)

In any case, you should know right away that your opinion and views count A GREAT DEAL in my book, Moonbie. So I'm not trying to pick on you or anything. :) I agree with almost everything that you wrote in that wonderful entry, and every quack or budding quack on here should read it first before posting anything.

The alternative is that sometimes something that starts out as a philosophical debate does not become a topic of scientific inquiry because we can't formulate a testable hypothesis.
No, what I meant was, there is an alternative to the STARTING POINT. Not every idea in science starts off, or even progresses via the so-called scientific method or from a philosophical origin. I brought up intuition and accidents as examples.

Afterall, you know that Ph.D. isn't a Doctorate of Physics, but a Doctorate of Philosophy, right? :wink:
Eeeewwww... you don't have to remind me! :)

The key in what you've stated is after attaining "a level of education or knowledge." What you call "intuition" probably was more a product of that education or knowledge than you realize. For those who are just starting out without formal education in science, what seems intuitive to us still needs to be broken down step by step in explicit statements.
I think we have no disagreement here. I made sure I stressed the "level of knowledge", because intuition and "common sense" evolve with knowledge. It is not something innate. However, the impetus of pursuing something need not be "scientific". While one does use one's skill that was gained through repeated systematic procedure, the origin of some ideas and discovery need not have any rationality or explanation.

I am actually somewhat surprised that you state physics students are not taught scientific method. In biology, teaching of scientific method begins at the very introductory level, and is usually included in the first chapter of every general biology textbook (certainly every textbook I've seen). How do you conduct science without knowledge of scientific method? Surely you have been taught that you make an observation (perhaps an unexpected result of a previous experiment), formulate an hypothesis, make predictions based on that hypothesis and design an experiment that challenges those predictions to test your hypothesis, conduct your experiment with proper controls, and based on the results, reject, fail to reject, or revise your hypothesis. If you have had funded grants and published articles, you must know how to argue the rationale for your experiment and to state the hypotheses being tested.
I didn't say there are no systematic or scientific method. I said we don't teach them, at least not consciously. They learn via DOING. I certainly emphasized these when I used to conduct laboratory sessions. However, just because there is a systematic approach to doing one thing, would this automatically qualify to be monopolized as a whole as something that originated from, or have roots in, philosophy? I think I would find that to be as annoying as someone in, let's say, biology being told of Rutherford's quote "All science is either physics or stamp-collecting". Is there a path to scientific discovery? Yes. Is there ANOTHER different path to scientific discovery. Definitely! The path is not unique. The ability to rationale a piece of work can come out of the self-understanding on how the system works without being aware nor employing of any philosophical roots. Again, I see this in how science is, in general, immune to philosophical pressures (even human fallacies). Everything washes out in the end and nature still dictates.

For someone who has had formal education in the sciences, much of what I wrote regarding philosophy is largely not relevant; they are already beginning beyond that stage. They have been trained in such things as hypothesis testing, and know that's what they need to do. The target audience for that entry was more for those who have not pursued formal education and need help identifying the stage where their own ideas are presently, and whether their ideas are more of a philosophical nature or sufficiently developed to begin hypothesis testing. It was also aimed more for those who are having difficulty organizing their ideas for presentation. Many of us learn this through a gradual process of interaction with a mentor who asks us questions and guides us through the process.
I definitely see that, and that's why I mentioned that everyone should read your journal entry. (i) I just don't think that just because someone seems to follow or practice a "scientific method", that this really has a "philosophical" origin, and (ii) there isn't a single "scientific method" whereby there is a unique path from "origin" to "validity".

Zz.
 
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  • #8
Moonbear
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Zz said:
I definitely see that, and that's why I mentioned that everyone should read your journal entry. I just don't think that (i) just because someone seems to follow or practice a "scientific method", that this really has a "philosophical" origin, and (ii) there isn't a single "scientific method" whereby there is a unique path from "origin" to "validity".
Okay, now I see what you were concerned with. No, most people who practice science do not start all the way back with philosophy, most science is actually firmly within that "loop": results of previous experiment (observation) -> new or revised hypothesis -> test hypothesis -> get results of previous experiment -> draw conclusions (new or revised hypothesis)

Often what we call a conclusion is actually a new hypothesis. It's an iterative process. Most of the scientific disciplines have branched off from philosophy a long time ago and have evolved in their own independent directions, but it doesn't mean a new idea might not arise out of philosophy again, we just need to be aware of what is philosophy and what is science and where those divisions are formed.

Intuition and accidents are still observations, so they enter the process at that level. However, what you can discern from those observations may shunt you more toward science or more toward philosophy. I guess you can think of it as a process flowchart where there are many loops and entry points. I gave one example. A serendipitous observation may enter like this: 1) Do I understand this enough to develop a testable hypothesis? a) Yes = hypothesis testing (science); b) No = 2) Do I see a way to gather more evidence to help develop a testable hypothesis? a) Yes = gather more observational evidence and return to step 1; b) No = philosophy (until a method becomes available to either gather more evidence or I understand enough to make it a testable hypothesis).

So, no, there is no unique path one would follow in practice.
 
  • #9
Nereid
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May I add more praise to Zapper's of your journal entry Moonbear, and second his comment that every person who wishes to seriously tilt at 'mainstream science' read it!

I do have a small request for folk who will likely want to post here: can we please focus on how science is *actually done*, by working scientists? (and not dive down the many fascinating rabbit holes, pondering the essence of Popper vs the anarchy of Feyerabend for example). While there are, undoubtedly, many different 'scientific methods', let's get to grips with the core aspects (and not argue whether double blind protocols are essential in observational cosmology). Please?
 
  • #10
Moonbear
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Nereid said:
(and not argue whether double blind protocols are essential in observational cosmology). Please?
Oh, but I always find it so amusing when I get a manuscript that says cells were counted by a blinded observer. :rofl:
 

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