|MadSci Network: Science History|
That is a hard question. Firstly, there is a lot of controversy about just what the "scientific method" is. There is how scientists think they discover things, how they actually discover things, or how some philosophers think they need to discover things so that their knowledge will be logically valid. And different scientists and philosophers do not even agree about these things. Then there are different ways that scientists go about things in different areas of science. The simplified story you get told about experiment, hypothesis, and testing, is partly true, but not totally realistic. If you really get interested in these questions, there is a book you should read in a few years when you have done more science and more studying generally: Henry Bauer: "Scientific Literacy and the Myth of the Scientific Method", University of Illinois Press, 2nd Ed 1992. I do not think he has all the right answers, but I do think he raises a lot of the right questions. Probably the first time that anyone used something like what is now commonly called scientific method was in the stone age, when someone tried chipping different sorts of rock to see which would make the best sharp edges for tools. That must have had all the right ingredients -- try something, think critically about the results, and modify your next try accordingly. It is hard to think of any other way it could have been done. The great Greek thinkers Plato and Aristotle had a view of nature that was directly opposed to what we would think of as scientific method. Plato believed that all of the great knowledge and true nature of things was in the world of thoughts and ideas, and that the physical world was only an imperfect expression of abstract ideas. For example, in the world of ideas a line runs perfectly straight and has no thickness. But in the physical world all lines have a thickness, and their straightness is not perfect. Aristotle believed that to study nature was to contemplate the world as we find it, without interfering with it in any way. Any form of experiment was therefore not part of the study of "nature", because it involved interfering with the world and making things behave in an "unnatural" way. The ideas of these two thinkers, coupled with the strong influence of a dogmatic approach to religion and some cultural superstitions, dominated European thought for two thousand years. It was not really until the Renaissance in the 1400s and 1500s that things changed. Three (very different) scientists that you should look at in more detail are Roger Bacon, 1220-1292 Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus, 1493-1541 Galileo Galilei, 1564-1643 check them out at Encyclopedia Britannica or from Carmen Giunta's Classic Chemistry Page Here is an interesting quote from Paracelsus that shows a new attitude to science: "People have neglected to study the secret forces and invisible radiations. They have been satisfied with relating miraculous facts. Nature has within itself forces visible and invisible, and all are natural."
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