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Where did the Scientific Method actually come from?

  1. Dec 28, 2003 #1
    Where did the "Scientific Method" actually come from?

    I don't mean historicly who thought of it. What I mean is what actually makes it valid?


    Above is one form of the "Scientific Method". What it basically states is that the best way to know something is to take information, come up with an idea as to why it works, and then test our idea to see if it appears to be correct.

    This method of reasoning seems rather obvious to most people nowadays, particularly the idea that experimental data is the only way of confirming an idea. But... why? What is so obvious about that? How do we know it's the correct system, and in any case why do we THINK it's the correct system? If it IS correct, what MAKES it correct?

    It's something most of us take for granted... But the testing of hypothesi by experiment and the idea that we will never know anything for CERTAIN is actually very interesting... And why do we think that it's the correct way?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 28, 2003 #2


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    You know, I was just thinking about some of these very questions regarding the Skepticism & Debunking forum and some of my conversations with Ivan Seeking.

    Galileo is generally regarded as the father of the scientific method. I'm not sure he ever wrote the method down as such though. Rather, it has been adopted through the general consensus of the scientific community.

    Why do we use it? Quite simply: it works. It works well. Nothing else has worked as the current form works.

    One thing you appear uncomfortable with is the lack of absolute certainty - the fact that no theory can ever be 100% proven. But given the inherrent flaws in humans, it follows that no idea we ever make can be flawless. And its impossible to ever have all the evidence of anything, which is the only way to really know for sure.

    In the S&D forum, I've had arguements with Ivan Seeking about burden of proof, standards of proof, credibility, etc. I'm very stubborn about these subjects because they are essential to the scientific method. If the scientific method were loosened to allow ideas to be held on equal footing with unequal evidence, or trusting sources or evidence without regard to credibility, science itself would quickly break down. We'd quickly have a situation where 'the insane run the asylum' and it would be difficult or impossible to tell the valid theories from the invalid ones.

    A good example of this stubbornness is in the USPTO's policy on perpetual motion devices. Because of being absolutely flooded with such devices, the head of the USPTO a long time ago made a rule that no perpetual motion device patent would even be reviewed unless the device were left in the lobby of the USPTO for a year of uninterrupted operation. This worked quite well for reducing the workload on the patent clerks, but they were recently sued over it. One of the more famous perpetual motion cranks sued to have his device reviewed. He won - basically this type of exclusion is illegal for the USPTO just as a function of how the patent process works. But in winning, all he gained was a court order to have his device tested by an independent lab. So the patent office lost on legal grounds but the judge upheld the scientific method. Unsurprisingly, the inventor refused to turn over his perpetual motion machine to a lab for testing, thereby revealing himself as the fraud he is.

    Is it possible that some lucky fool has invented a perpetual motion machine in his garage (or just a good motor, which still would be patentable)? Certainly. Have some good inventions fallen through the cracks because of this policy? Probably. But the scientific community cannot afford to open the floodgates on what is now considered pseudoscience because the net result would be a huge reduction in the rate of scientific advancement caused by a glut of bad theories clogging up the workings of science.
  4. Dec 29, 2003 #3


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    russ, i completely agree with your post...i think overall, the pursuit of knowledge, because we are curious beings, has led us down the path to the scientific method...the pioneers of this path though, have a huge moral and ethical burden because of their elite education - simply, millions trust that their methods as true (as we can possibly know it to be) and scientific because of the lack of their own education...

    i don't want to stray this off topic, but i think it is important to remember the tremoundous responsibility the scientific community has, and that is the pursuit of truth...science is ultimately the fusion of truth and human pursuit to that truth...
  5. Dec 29, 2003 #4
    Is there a scientific method outside of high school classrooms?
  6. Dec 29, 2003 #5


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    I think the scientific community for the most part follows the scientific method. Certainly scientists are human and their actions are subject to all the usual human failings, but overall the process seems to me to be intact.
    (I hope I didn't hijack your thread Sikz) Kerrie, that responsibility - or rather the enormous power that creates the responsibility - is why I have such a strong stubbornness/bias against offcenter topics in science. In the more extreme cases like with perpetual motion machines, people attempt to exploit the power and clout of science for the purpose of fraud or to a lesser degree cause the scientific community to expend energy needlessly (cold fusion). If you get a chance, read Robert Park's: "Voodoo Science - the Road from Foolishness to Fraud" about pseudoscience. Its short, entertaining, and informative.
  7. Dec 29, 2003 #6


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    Oh yes!

    Insert the step "Get funding" between "question" an "hypothosize".

  8. Dec 29, 2003 #7
    but why must something that is not able to be replicated then deemed not valid???? is this not possibly discounting things that might not otherwise be valid????
  9. Dec 29, 2003 #8


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    Yes, but it cuts both ways. If its not able to be replicated, how do you know it wasn't just an error in the first place? Since we don't know, the burden of proof is on the person claiming the unusual observation to show that its a valid observation.

    Ever hear the adage about the legal system that its better to let 100 guilty men go free than to put one innocent man in jail? Same thing: its better to miss 100 valid observations than to let one invalid one be accepted as scientific fact. Why? Because the theories these facts are built on depend absolutely on their validity. Science would fall apart if scientists couldn't be sure of the validity of observations.
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2003
  10. Dec 29, 2003 #9
    Where is the replication for M theory, string theory, big bang etc. how do you replicate the intangible??? And why are these theories accepted yet others out of the box will never be???
  11. Dec 29, 2003 #10
    Theories are not replicated, observations are. The observations behind M theory, string theory, big bang, etc. have been replicated. The theories are ideas people have come up with of why those observations might be how they are- the theories have predictions which will eventually be tested. The observation (the test) will then be repeated multiple times to check the validity.

    The theories are not "accepted" based on replicated observations. The observations are excepted based on multiple reobservations, and the leading theories are those that seem the best guess as to why we observe the things we do.

    And related to my original post: What other methods might there be? Scientific Method is distinguished from others by testing, so other methods wouldn't test? Or would other methods come up with a hypothesis and THEN observe?

    In any case, what makes us so sure (philosophicaly thinking) that the Scientific Method (observe, question, hypothesize, experiment, observe; or variants of that) is correct? Why are observations more valid than hypothesis? What's to say a hypothesis without observations wouldn't be valid? Why does testing mean anything; what methods are there WITHOUT testing, if any?
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2003
  12. Dec 30, 2003 #11


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    Some of these are difficult questions without clear answers (though I think I covered some in my first post).

    An anecdote: supposedly, Aristotle once reasoned that a fly has 4 legs like a table due to symetry and the need for stability. But he didn't bother to look at a fly to find out for sure. He considered science a form of philosophy and as a result, much of what people thought they knew of science for hundreds of years was wrong.
  13. Dec 30, 2003 #12
    This may be a bit of a tangent...
    I think that is a hell of a jump to make.
    It is non-sequitur at best, and completely baseless false assumption at worst, if you have nothing else supporting it.
  14. Dec 30, 2003 #13


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    Why is it a jump to assume humans are not flawless?
  15. Dec 30, 2003 #14
    I'm questioning the validity of the concept of the 'scientific method'...there have been many articles about it in the skeptic's journals, and if I am lucky enough to find one only, I'll post it. Mostly, the point of them is that what is descibed in high school books isn't what real scientists do. I'm of course not disagreeing with anything you have posted in general, just that people seem to be confused as to what scientists actually do....

    Mostly, I think the flaw comes in the hypothesis step, which too often is placed first. Observation ALWAYS comes first, unless you are a pseudoscience fan. Rather than thinking that something should be true, and then looking for supporting data, like I was taught in school, scientists see things occuring, hypothesize as to teh cause, and then collect data that will let them know whether their hypothesis is correct or not.
  16. Dec 30, 2003 #15
    (btw I realize this is somewhat off of the topic of my original post... bear with me) Of course... How do we know that the fly DOESN'T have four legs? Before the Scientific Method, maybe the beliefs of the times were true. For instance, the belief that the planets, stars, moon, and sun orbited the earth; no observational data, at the time, was found to disprove this. So what's to say it wasn't true?

    With the fly example, maybe as long as we came to ALL our conclusions through reasoning rather than through observation and testing, they would all be consistent and give us a picture of a universe with laws that could be used. What's to say a fly DOES have six legs? Maybe it has six to "Scientific Method" and four to "Reasoning", and each could be equally valid, provided we find all of our information using the same technique... Heh.
  17. Dec 30, 2003 #16
    It isn't.
    It is a jump to assume that imperfect humans could not come up with a flawless idea.
  18. Dec 30, 2003 #17


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    Why? Are you saying a flawed being can come up with a perfect idea? Thats illogical. Any idea we can come up with short of artificial intelligence is subject to all of the failings of the humans who created it.
    Our theories conform to the laws of the universe, not the other way around: believing a fly has 4 legs doesn't make it so.
  19. Dec 30, 2003 #18
    I am.

    Show me how.
    Prove me wrong.

    So, artificial intelligence would be the exception?
    Although I don't necessarily agree with the idea that AI would be perfect, wouldn't you be contradicting yourself, with that statement?

    There have been a number of ideas that hunmans have come up with that perfectly fit into their intended niche.
    Don't you think that block of wood shaped like a wedge that has been in operation holding a door open when needed in a shhoolhose for over 50 years was a perfect idea?
    Admittedly, that is a simplistic example, but it is only one of many examples.
    Don't you think that Newton's Laws were the perfect tool for what they were designed?
  20. Dec 31, 2003 #19


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    Artificial intelligence is only sorta an exception because once set in motion, it creates itself. It grows, on its own, beyond the programming put into it by humans. It exceeds human abilities by itself (note, I didn't say it would be perfect, just that it would be less flawed than us).
    Certainly neither are examples of perfection. Perfect means completely without flaws. Newton's laws were known to be flawed almost from the moment he thought of them. And to be a little nitpicky, Newton didn't invent them, he discovered them. Either God (if you believe in him) invented them or the laws of the universe just Are. So even in something like math where 1=1 might be considered a perfect mathematical statement (or maybe just meaningless), we didn't create it, we're just describing it.

    And a block of wood is perfect? Huh? It certainly isn't perfect for the job - haven't you ever seen one slip? And it isn't perfect in any physical property - shape, color, etc.
    The "why" is obvious and I already said it - the logic follows directly that the imperfections of the creator manifest themselves in the creation. But for annother example, when cutting that block of wood with a saw, a person's inability to cut a perfectly straight line manifests as an imperfectly straight edge (matching exactly the flaw in the ability of the person cutting the edge). I don't know how to make the logic any simpler than that.

    As for proving you wrong, all I can do is say hit me with any human construct you consider perfect and I'll find a flaw in it. I'd even go so far as to say "perfect" isn't something that can exist in our universe.
  21. Dec 31, 2003 #20
    I would say that a perfect universe would be a featureless universe.
  22. Dec 31, 2003 #21
    It would really be a waste of time to debate back and forth what specific ideas (not necessarily inventions) could be considered or not.

    We could go into heaven, Buddha's idea of the Absolute ... balh blah blah and go on forever.

    Even fictional books and stories are human ideas, and the logic/ideas/ideals within some of them can be argued to be perfect.

    Prove me wrong by showing the logic behind your reasoning.
    Show how it is not possible for an imperfect being to have a perfect idea.
  23. Dec 31, 2003 #22
    Didn't we come up with the idea of "perfect"? Our definition of perfection, then, is a perfect construct.

    Something imperfect not being able to create something perfect doesn't make sense. We know that we can make things LESS perfect than ourselves- so why not more? Using the axiom that "Any creation will be at least as flawed as its creator", we see that in an extended period of time everything will degenerate in its proximity to perfection- ending, eventually, with total imperfection; chaos. Right?

    Also, as far as AI goes, don't WE grow beyond our original "programming"? So AI would do the same thing, so how could it exceed us?

    In any case, nothing in the universe can fit your definition of "perfect". Any "perfect" thing would have to perform the same function absolutely "perfectly" under any circumstances. For one, exterior influences (circumstances) ALWAYS effect the thing they are influencing, and thus its function is changed slightly. Secondly, those influences will be different because there are different things in the universe.

    Howabout your thought of perfect? It has to be perfect, or you can't even be comprehending this discussion. If it isn't perfect, then anything you measure to see how "flawed" it is will be measured against your flawed idea of perfection- and that must include the perfection idea itself! So with each cycle it gets infinitely more imperfect. This does NOT occur, therefore your thought of perfection must be perfect.
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