Curiosity and Reasoning
Environmental Studies, PHS 100A
Dr. David Terrell
Warner Pacific College
May 31, 2011
Curiosity and Reasoning
Western culture is based on reasoning, with a sprinkling of freedom and the pursuit of happiness, a dash of curiosity and imagination, and is rooted in faith in a higher power. The same is true of the scientific method.
A Brief History of the Scientific Method
In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the works of Aristotle, who lived 350 B.C., re-emerged in Europe. According to Aristotle, knowledge was based on investigating “a question by a) examining what everyone else had said about the matter, b) making several observations, and finally, c) deriving either general or probable principles on the matter from both a and b.” This “empirical” manner of thinking was revolutionary at that time. (Hooker, 1996)
In the late thirteenth century, Roger Bacon developed a very early version of today’s scientific method. His trial and error experiments (or “controlled experiences”), were defined as: “if the experience of a natural phenomenon is controlled in a certain way, that experience will be identical to any repeated experience that is controlled in precisely the same way.” (Hooker, 1996)
When Galileo started peeking through a telescope in the seventeenth century, he discovered the heavens were much larger, much more amazing, that any of his peers ever dreamed. It challenged everything they knew, and enlarged their way of thinking. (Hooker, 1996) This independent thinking may be, at least somewhat, attributed to his father, who said:
“It appears to me that those who rely simply on the weight of authority to prove any assertion, without searching out the arguments to support it, act absurdly. I wish to question freely and to answer freely without any sort of adulation. That well becomes any who are sincere in the search for truth.”
(Fowler, no date) Obviously, Galileo was in search of truth.
In the seventeenth century, two ideas basic to the Scientific Revolution were: a) the idea that the universe, and everything in it, works according to laws of nature, established by a higher being; and b) the idea that the laws of nature are discoverable by means of reason. (The Scientific Revolution, 2011)
Isaac Newton was among those scientists who believed that it was God who set everything in motion, and that the universe could be explained through mathematics. (Hooker, 1996)
Today’s Scientific Method
Today’s scientific method is logic in action. Much the same way as a reasonable person may trouble-shoot an everyday problem, the scientific method walks through an observing-and-testing model, only with much more documentation. The typical steps are (Withgott, 2008):
1. Making observations: this initial step of observing recurs throughout the process;
2. Asking questions: this is where the freedom part is displayed—the freedom to question how things work, or how they might be different, or even better. We typically associate “freedom” with western cultures, although that isn’t always the case; but the freedom to think independently, although somewhat tempered by the church, was instrumental in spawning the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century.
3. Developing a hypothesis: the next step is to develop a hypothesis, an answer to the question, which must be tested. This can be an obvious answer, or it may be an out-of-the-box answer, which may require some imagination, some creativity that would stem from previous research or observations.
4. Making predictions: this is where the scientist may refer to one of the foundations of the Scientific Revolution (in the 17th century): the universe, and everything in it, works according to the laws of nature, established by a higher being. (The Scientific Revolution, 2011) Scientists of that century believed in a higher power.
5. Testing predictions: experimentation (as started by Roger Bacon) will then test the hypothesis and predictions previously made. When possible, scientists will often use a controlled experiment, where only one variable differs between two units being tested, the reasoning being that any difference in outcome is attributed to the single variable that is different.
6. Analyzing and interpreting results: documenting the results, recording the data—especially numerical data—strengthens the testing, and provides explanations that can then be reviewed and substantiated by peers.
Much of the groundwork for testing scientific theories, laid many years ago, is still applicable today. And scientists are still curious, thinking outside the box, searching for answers that will make their lives—and ours—richer, fuller and happier.
Fowler, M. (no date). Life of Galileo. Retrieved from http://galileoandeinstein.physics.virginia.edu/lectures/gal_life.htm, May 31, 2011.
Hooker, R. (1996). World Civilizations: The European enlightenment—the scientific revolution. Retrieved from http://public.wsu.edu/~dee/ENLIGHT/SCIREV.HTM, May 31, 2011.
The scientific revolution of the 17th century, and, the political revolutions of the 18th century. Retrived from http://classweb.gmu.edu/rcherubi/ancient/srfr.htm, May 31, 2011.
Withgott, J., & Bennan, S. (2008). Environment: The science behind the stories (4th ed.). New York. Pearson Benjamin Cummings.