Thursday, January 6, 2011

Quote: The scientific method

The following is a rather neat expiation of the scientific method. While it leaves a great deal out (institutions, the social nature of science, etc.), it's damn good nonetheless. The writer is John D. Barrow and the quote is taken from his essay "Simple Reality: From Simplicity to Complexity - And Back Again", published in Seeing Further: The Story of Science & The Royal Society:
Laws reflect the existence of patterns in Nature.We might even define science as the search for those patterns. We observe and document the world in all possible ways; but while this data-gathering is necessary for science, it is not sufficient. We are not content simply to acquire a record of everything that is, or has ever happened, like cosmic stamp collectors. Instead, we look for patterns in the facts, and some of those patterns we have come to call the laws of Nature, while others have achieved only the status of by-laws. Having found, or guessed (for there are no rules at all about how you might find them) possible patters, we use them to predict what should happen if the pattern is also followed at all times and in places where we have yet to look. Then we check if we are right (there are strict rules about how you do this!). In this way, we can update our candidate patterns and improve the likelihood that it explains what we see. Sometimes a likelihood gets so low that we say the proposal is 'falsified', or so high that it is 'confirmed' or 'verified', although strictly speaking this is always provisional, none is ever possible with complete certainty. This is called the 'scientific method'. 

1 comment:

  1. I urge you to read Barrow’s book Impossibility for an intriguing alternative view of what (modern) science is about, and his 100 Essential Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know. The man doesn’t have the public recognition he rightly deserves.