About the World Around Us

How Things Work

We can observe the world around us, and ourselves, from the perspective of a scientific attitude. We can observe, create theories or assumptions, test those theories, then based on results, apply, modify, or discard them. We get into trouble when we ignore this process and rely on unchallenged or untested assumptions, beliefs, or feelings. An important aspect of a scientific approach is predictability. From our day-to-day experiences, we gather information, form opinions and beliefs, gather more information, form more opinions and beliefs, etc. Does the information we gather from our daily experiences support our beliefs and opinions? Do we modify those beliefs and opinions when the ‘facts’ of our experiences warrant?

Scientific Method
One Portrayal of the Scientific Method

A scientific approach can be considered an investigative process in which one:

  • confronts some type of question, curiosity, or problem;
  • collects data, asks questions, determines facts about the question or problem;
  • forms some kind of hypothesis, makes some assumptions, generates some opinions about what the data indicate, etc.;
  • develops a test to check out the assumptions, hypothesis, etc.;
  • based upon the results of the test, modifies the initial assumptions, hypothesis, beliefs, opinions, etc., while continuing to collect data, refine assumptions, develop new tests, revise theories, etc.
  • A scientific attitude recognizes degrees of probability, what’s more or less likely, rather than insistence on ‘proof’ or searching for ‘truth.’
  • However, if a hypothesis or assumption is tested and fails the test, then that hypothesis can be considered disproved.
  • A scientific attitude never ceases to inquire and seek new knowledge with an open mind.
  • A scientific attitude accepts uncertainty and approximations.
  • “Nothing in biology makes sense without evolution.”
  • Science is provisional. Scientific ‘truths’ are subject to change. When you get new data that doesn’t conform to the old theory, then you have to create a new theory.
  • Scientific behavior at its best can be characterized by never resting content with what’s known, but always seeking to test, confirm, and validate with new data.
  • Even respected scientists, like James Clerk Maxwell, can make incorrect inferences and false predictions.
  • A scientific attitude recognizes that our knowledge is never complete, always tentative, and subject to change and revision.
  • A scienfitic attitude was described by Richard Feynman as “imagination in a tight straightjacket” with respect to considering what is possible based on what is known.
  • The collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge serves as a caution that there may be forces or variables of which we are unaware. An arrogant “know-it-all” attitude or an ignorance resting on “common sense” may lead to disaster if not tempered by skepticism, curiosity, and open-minded observations.

Overview of Scientific Approach (1:15)

from Lecture by Steve Stockdale

On Science, R. Feynman (3:30)

from The Best Mind Since Einstein

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A Scientific Attitude, Irving J. Lee (:40)

from Talking Sense

Collapse of Tacoma Narrows Bridge (5:04)


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