Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Scientific Method and our Western Culture by Greg Hartnell

Western Culture and Science
Environmental Studies, PHS 100
Professor David Terrell, PH. D.
November 20, 2010

At first the prospect of writing a paper on “What is the scientific method and how it has been the foundation of Western Culture” seemed a daunting task. Understanding the processes of the ‘scientific method’ that scientists use when undertaking a scientific study is not all that difficult. As implied in our text there is nothing mysterious about it; it is merely a formalized version of the procedure any of us might naturally take, using common sense, to resolve a question. (Withgott & Brennan, 2008)
The active involvement by scientists, utilizing the scientific method has driven our modern culture to new heights of awareness in two important disciplines: Social science and natural science—giving way to environmentalism.
Now, by understanding the scientific method (in its rudimentary form) I am able to begin my own process of discovery as to its (the scientific method) place in the foundation of our Western Culture.

Western Culture can be characterized as an ‘advanced’ civilization due in large part to the broad spectrum of knowledge gained by the key element of science—the scientific method.
What is the scientific method? It is an observational technique used by scientists to test ideas—in an orderly manner. However, this ‘orderly manner’ may differ from one scientist to another, respective of their field of endeavor and the particular challenge they face. In circumstances that warrant an ‘out-of-the-box’ approach a scientist may be inclined to stretch the basic methodology but, the scientist will still very much rely on the tried and true assumptions as outlined in the PHS 100 text (Withgott & Brennan, 2008):
 The universe functions in accordance with fixed natural laws that do not change from time to time or from place to place.
 All events arise from some cause or causes and, in turn, cause other events.
 We can use our senses and reasoning abilities to detect and describe natural laws that underlie the cause-and-effect relationships we observe in nature.
 The scientific method as outlined is as follows: Observation, questions, hypothesis, predictions, test and results. A hypothesis may be rejected which would be an immediate result, or it fails rejection which then moves the process to the prediction stage, testing stage, and finally the results stage. It must be noted that there plausible variations of this model.
As written in the Introduction of this paper, “understanding the processes of the scientific method is not all that difficult.” That being said, applying the methodology to specific situations to achieve a result requires a learned and trained mind capable of the aforementioned analytical processing.
When I think of our “Western Culture” in the context that its foundation is rooted in the scientific method—I am conflicted by the remembrance of that old saw; “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” Was the scientific responsible for the elevation of knowledge that brought about the rise of Western Culture, or did the creative arts cue the rise of knowledge and awareness?
The scientific method may be a pillar of the Western Culture; but a culture cannot stand on a single pillar. The enlightenment that began in the Renaissance era was rooted in science and the arts. Coupled with an endowment of generational experience and cumulative world knowledge our Western Culture has evolved mainly because it has embraced and enhanced the scientific, the arts, and the freedom to explore all possibilities. Western Culture has and will continue to evolve as humans continue their quest for the certainty of their observations.


Withgott, J., & Brennan, S. (2008). Environment, the science behind the stories. San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

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