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Unstrange Phenomena

14 March 2009

A Limitation Of The Scientific Method

Pierre and Marie Curie in the laboratory. Prio...Image via Wikipedia

Madame Curie in her laboratory prior to 1907.

"The Scientific method (from wikipedia)

"Scientific method refers to bodies of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses."

I often hear from scientists and wanna-be scientists (like me) that the scientific method is the only way possible forward in understanding the universe. Logical reasoning and the scientific method have their place in the scheme of things. But to say that they are primarily responsible for all progress is putting the cart before the horse. In the definition above, formulation of a hypothesis is taken as a part of the scientific method. However, this formulation is often mysterious, and no one can really explain how a "productive" hypothesis is arrived at. Most of the times logic and reasoning have nothing to do with it.

The anonymous Indian genius that conceived zero, Kepler, Newton, Kekulé, Marie Curie and Einstein all have one thing in common: they created a paradigm shift in our understanding of nature. The paradigm shift was not in the proof they offered but the hypothesis itself. While proof is important, it is secondary to the hypothesis. I doubt if anyone of these giants have explained how they came up with the hypotheses. Given a "productive" and viable hypothesis, someone can and will come up with a proof eventually just as Fermat's last theorem demonstrated.

The modern scientists spend their lifetimes perfecting the scientific method. But they probably do not spend enough time understanding how the hypotheses are made. It is assumed that a good scientist "knows" how to arrive at one. There is no process, no class (that I know of) and no "formal" guidelines to come up with a good hypothesis. No good hypothesis no significant progress. That's a limitation of the scientific method..."

From Denny: Very interesting post as he raised good questions in regard to how the spiritual component enters into and influences the rational sphere for problem-solving. What is even better is the quality of comments and arguments he received from both the "smug and arrogant" to the "understanding and differing" crowds. Check it out for yourself.

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