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THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD
Science is so identified as such because it studies nature as it is. Unlike astrology and mythology, science looks for answers that are found in nature itself and not from any transcendental reality. Inasmuch as science seeks for natural –and not supernatural – answers, it employs a method that filters all unwarranted explanations about natural processes. And by “unwarranted” explanations we mean statements that do not give a truly objective and rational explanation about nature. Hence, in order to be truly scientific, scientists devise standard procedures that help them examine the cosmic changes and its infinite puzzles in a “rigorous” and “unbiased” way. These proposed standard procedures, being so numerous, fight for the title of “the scientific method.”
An activity is scientific only if it employs the scientific method. This dictum pervades our view of science and facilitates in the categorization of human endeavors. Science is science, and not mythology for instance, because it utilizes the scientific method. With its eminence in the scientific field, the scientific method is considered as one of the most important subjects of study in science. Unless a truly rigorous method is created, there can never also be a truly rigorous science.
Because the scientific mind wants to know nature as it is, it must use a rigorous and precise procedure that will blot out everything that hinders the process of discovering nature. Surprisingly, it is our human imperfections that first infect the scientific goal of arriving at reliable knowledge. These human imperfections include the tendency to reconfigure our encounter with nature according to our own idiosyncratic feelings, biases and intuitions. These kinds of things must be prevented in order to arrive at an “objective” and “unbiased” truth about nature.
Simply put, the scientific method is our proper means in acquiring an accurate knowledge about the cosmos. What will thus follow will be a brief commentary on the different methods used by the past and modern scientists in this sort of knowledge acquisition. We will discuss briefly how these then-accepted “scientific methods” operate, and how they fail to give an accurate picture of the scientific method.
During the early seventeenth century, Baconian inductivism was considered the scientific method. It was called as such because it was created by Francis Bacon and it employed inductive reasoning. In being inductive, its procedures start from observations of particular instances and ends with a generalized conclusion about the various particular instances. It arrives at general statements which are based on empirical observations. Inductivism however could still be traced back to Hippocrates and to thinkers such as David Hume.
A classical example of inductive reasoning is the following: “Swan 1 is white. Swan 2 is white. Swan 3 is white… Swan N is white. Therefore, all swans are white.” In the example, the generalized statement (conclusion or theory) is based on the particular empirical observations. This is the most common mode of thinking. The conclusions can be subject for improvement as it becomes hypothesis or starting points for other investigations.
Basically, the aim of the inductive method is to collect numerous data and observations of physical processes as much as humanly possible in order to arrive at a reliable natural law (generalized conclusion). Although this method works in many instances, it cannot be the ultimate method for science. It still assumes a very dangerous belief which states that the properties of “some” members of a class is applicable to “all” the members of that class as well. This is logically fallacious. For instance, the example above presents an erroneous declaration that “All swans are white.” Aside from the fact that not all swans are white, we cannot declare that all swans are white after observing let’s say only 500 swans. What happened in this instance is that the possibility of the existence of a black swan is put into demise. The procedure takes for granted the idea that one cannot declare something about an entire class if not “all” of its members are studied. Simply put, one cannot project observed regularities to unobserved cases.
An inductivist may argue that it is enough to study only a good number of a class and generalize about the entire class because nature has uniform cosmic operations. Nature possesses some sort of “uniformity” that enables us to predict the future through the past observations, or give a characterization to unobserved cases through observed cases. And this is the inductive argument; to prove the uniformity of nature because you know that it is uniform. Now in logic, this is begging the question. But nonetheless, this preconception of inductivism holds strong. It is undeniable that natural processes follow some kind of pattern which undoubtedly makes the presumption of a uniform nature highly plausible. But although it stands strong, it does not suffice the deficiency of Inductivism as it still faces other problems. For one, science deals with concepts and explanatory theories that cannot be directly observed, such as the theories of forces, fields and subatomic particles. No matter how rigorous an inductivist may be, in no way will he be able to infer a generalized theory from the data he may have examined because there is not perceivable data to be gathered in the first place. If inductivism is the correct scientific method, then purely mathematical theories or any highly theoretical laws cannot be legitimate science. (to be continued next meeting…)