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Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Scientific Method - 2/2

We see things and creatures around us, so we wonder who made them. Till a few centuries ago the scientific method had not been invented, so the edifice of what we now call science did not exist. It does not mean that the people were dumb then. It simply means that their efforts at acquiring knowledge were not of a systematic and concerted nature. By contrast, the power and the beauty of the scientific method is that the knowledge we acquire by applying it is both SELF-CORRECTING and CUMULATIVE. A wrong hypothesis, or a wrongly formulated hypothesis, gets rejected in favour of a better one in the light of experimental evidence. And the better one may, in turn, get superseded by a still better one, and so on.

Moreover, scientists share the results of their research work with other persons in their field of specialization by submitting their work for publication in peer-reviewed journals. The editors of the journals take the opinions of experts ('peers', or 'referees') in that field before deciding whether or not a given piece of research work is worthy of publication. Once published, the information in the research papers becomes available to anybody who reads that journal. Thus, researchers planning new experiments, or proposing new theories, have the benefit of what is already known or experimented upon. There is this famous statement by a prominent scientist that 'so and so was great, but I have the benefit of standing on his shoulders, so I can see farther'.

A few centuries ago, when this way of doing research had not been developed, people still speculated about why things are the way they are, and why they are there at all. A simple-minded approach was to say that there is an almighty, omnipresent God, who has created everything and who runs everything.

But the God hypothesis ran into a lot of problems. For one, if God created everything, who created God? If God has so much knowledge, where did this knowledge come from? I shall discuss this in future posts. Suffice it to say for the time being that the God hypothesis is a bad hypothesis, and an unnecessary hypothesis. It 'explains' away everything, but we end up learning nothing.