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Thread: Is scientific method obvious?

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    Is scientific method obvious?

    I would think the scientific method is obvious for discovering things about the physical world. But 99% of human cultures and 99% of human history did not have it.
    How obvious is it?

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    It developed quite slowly over several centuries so I guess it is only obvious in hindsight. (Like many things!)

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    The formal scientific method probably but people have experimenting since we were humans, Try strange plant or animal if you do not die that is food if someone dies afterwards do not eat. Round thing rolls better than flat thing that drags so use rolling round thing if we can.
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    I have wondered how people first determined which plants were edible, and which were poisonous....did they use dogs maybe? If a dog ate it and survived, that would at least provide some evidence that the plant wasn't poisonous, although I know it wouldn't guarantee it.
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    The scientific method is not obvious, neither is science. There are some things that are relatively easy to quantify, but everybody and their brother and sister think that science can offer real ways to make life better, where the real truth is that we can only study most phenomena very narrowly, which can help some, but more frequently makes things worse for most or increases instability over time. This was recognized a long time ago and was called pandora's box. This is why farmers, engineers and others keep making things more efficiently, for much less money and yet we all know and feel unease about the situation. This is why so many people do not like the assault on their cultural ways of doing things and do not like reductionism. This is probably why Ian talked about chaos theory in "Jurassic Park"
    The real way science works is that things are invented and then cultures acquire these things over time, changes that are beneficial survive the test of time and situation and survive by the choices of billions of people with millions of times of choices. Everybody has limited information individually, but together, over time, culture evolves. No one, or no group, can have enough information at hand to decide at, any one time, what is best or even net positive.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mudskipper View Post
    I have wondered how people first determined which plants were edible, and which were poisonous....did they use dogs maybe? If a dog ate it and survived, that would at least provide some evidence that the plant wasn't poisonous, although I know it wouldn't guarantee it.
    People ate before they domesticated dogs. If I remember, field biologists found that many animals showed behavior that indicated that grazing, browsing, and hunting behaviors were being transmitted from parents to offspring.

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    Quote Originally Posted by swampyankee View Post
    People ate before they domesticated dogs. If I remember, field biologists found that many animals showed behavior that indicated that grazing, browsing, and hunting behaviors were being transmitted from parents to offspring.
    yes, but when humans moved to a new area of the world where there were different plants, they may have used animals/dogs to test the new foods on...maybe..
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mudskipper View Post
    yes, but when humans moved to a new area of the world where there were different plants, they may have used animals/dogs to test the new foods on...maybe..
    They may have observed what animals ate, but they may also have eaten small samples, and suffered the occasional instances of severe pain or watched their more adventuresome friends and family succumb.

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    Quote Originally Posted by swampyankee View Post
    They may have observed what animals ate, but they may also have eaten small samples, and suffered the occasional instances of severe pain or watched their more adventuresome friends and family succumb.
    Maybe the first step to testing a new food, is to rub it on the skin...then rub it on the tongue...etc......or maybe just feed it to the unpopular guy that no one likes.
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    Quote Originally Posted by astrotimer View Post
    The formal scientific method probably but people have experimenting since we were humans, Try strange plant or animal if you do not die that is food if someone dies afterwards do not eat. Round thing rolls better than flat thing that drags so use rolling round thing if we can.
    Sleds and dragging poles were used for many thousands of years before the wheel was invented. Heck, Aztecs HAD the wheel, and yet didn't make the logical leap to using it for moving heavy things. Humans are not naturally logical or rational thinkers. We have to force our minds to work in such a way.

    And random trial and error experiments are not, by nature, science.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Sleds and dragging poles were used for many thousands of years before the wheel was invented. Heck, Aztecs HAD the wheel, and yet didn't make the logical leap to using it for moving heavy things. Humans are not naturally logical or rational thinkers. We have to force our minds to work in such a way.

    And random trial and error experiments are not, by nature, science.
    It was the first step to science. Some one did not just wake up one morning and said I got and idea and I will call it science. If you wanted to taste if a catalyst helped a reaction you would come up with a list of possible catalyst( a lot of chemist overtime figured this out), do the reactions, test the product by various means such as different kinds of spectroscopy, figure out which made the most product you desired and conclude what is the best catalyst. Or if you have an astronomical observation you want to figure out, you use the current theories, either you or someone else writes a model for it you might have to change the parameters and see what result closely matches yours and make a conclusion. It is a refined version of what started out thousands of years ago. We started off knowing really nothing of the world at the beginning.

    No, humans are not logical they might not adopt some technology for religious or cultural reasons. Sometimes a wheel might not be as useful as a sled the ground might be soft in areas and having something that spreads out the weight might be more useful.
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    Also making a strong wheel is going to take some development.
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    Quote Originally Posted by astrotimer View Post
    We started off knowing really nothing of the world at the beginning.
    Bunkum. We knew plenty about the world. We just didn't know how or why the world worked the way that it does. So we just made up our own explanations out of whole cloth and pareidolia, enshrined them in faith and rationalized justifications for them. That's the opposite of science, it's magical thinking.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Bunkum. We knew plenty about the world. We just didn't know how or why the world worked the way that it does. So we just made up our own explanations out of whole cloth and pareidolia, enshrined them in faith and rationalized justifications for them. That's the opposite of science, it's magical thinking.
    as there wasn't much else option, wasn't it just 'thinking'?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mudskipper View Post
    as there wasn't much else option, wasn't it just 'thinking'?
    Well, whatever. The point was that it's not science.
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    I think the most non-obvious element of science is also it's most paradoxical element, the part of it that is actually practiced the least-- even by people who regard themselves as scientific thinkers! The most non-obvious element is skepticism. Sure, we all do experiments, starting as babies pushing objects off tables to see what will fall (everything, we are thrilled to discover), or watching with amazement as objects disappear behind our parents' hands, only to reappear later when the hands come down. So at some level it might seem obvious to observe things and try to make sense of them. But what is not so obvious is when to stop the process and claim victory-- when have we actually achieved understanding, and when are we simply deluding ourselves that we have plumbed the depths of some phenomenon that we actually understand quite poorly but we have simply run out of energy to continue the process of discovery?

    I claim this problem is far more widespread than most people realize, because there is a kind of "Catch-22" involved: if you cease testing, you also cease finding out if you are wrong, and will hence live out your life blissfully thinking you are right. It happened all the time, to entire generations of people, it's completely routine even in a reasonably scientific culture. An example I like to use to demonstrate the principle is the cause of the phases of the Moon-- generally speaking, if you ask random people, at all ages and all levels of education, what causes the phases of the Moon, about half of them will say it is the shadow of the Earth. Since this is just as true for old people as for young ones, it means that many people are living out their entire lives fully confident that they understand the phases of the Moon, when obviously this explanation fails even the most rudimentary tests. The point being, when the tests are never done, there is never any apparent problem with the explanation, yet the longer someone holds to a wrong explanation that they have not discovered to be wrong, the more confident they will likely become that it must be correct. So what is not obvious is that we need to keep testing even the things we hold are most likely to be correct, else we can mistake the absence of a failed test for the simple absence of any test. Yet on the other hand, if we simply keep pushing objects off tables, it's hard to get much done in a day! Hence the paradox.

    Of course Feynman said it better when he defined science as instructions for not fooling yourself, given that you are the easiest person to fool. It is not obvious that we are the easiest people for ourselves to fool. What makes it paradoxical is that we do have a desire to hold a concept of "scientific knowledge," and it is clear that some kind of scientific progress is occurring. Yet at the same time, to know science is to understand how impossible it is to know, and to be all right with that understanding. It requires a rather sophisticated understanding of the meaning of "scientific knowledge," that, quite frankly, is not obvious!
    Last edited by Ken G; 2017-Sep-24 at 07:24 AM.

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    Best to assume that we(well me...I also just assume other people exist) live in Alice's Wonderland...to some extent.

    Science makes assumptions all the time....it's assumptions all the way down...right down to assuming those numbers a scientist writes in her notepad don't just dance around all night when she's at home asleep, and reform into different numbers on the page the next day.

    The best people can do is at least acknowledge to themselves the assumptions they make.
    Last edited by Mudskipper; 2017-Sep-24 at 08:05 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken G View Post
    It requires a rather sophisticated understanding of the meaning of "scientific knowledge," that, quite frankly, is not obvious!
    I think knowledge is defined something like a belief in something, which is also true. But what is scientifically true? Surely it can only be the belief in the scientific evidence...
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    I'm impressed with Ken's statistic of half of all people saying the earth's shadow causes moon phases. I tried to look it up, and found a lot of planetarium websites (of course they would say it's a common misconception!), but no statistic. Now, I'm trying to visualize a survey question that would fairly elicit that info.

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    Quote Originally Posted by grapes View Post
    I'm impressed with Ken's statistic of half of all people saying the earth's shadow causes moon phases. I tried to look it up, and found a lot of planetarium websites (of course they would say it's a common misconception!), but no statistic. Now, I'm trying to visualize a survey question that would fairly elicit that info.
    Well you could just ask people to explain the crescent shape of the moon, longhand......

    My dad told me of a woman with a physics degree, he met recently, who thought that the phases of the moon were produced by the shadow of the Earth...I'm not sure how someone could get a physics degree and still have that belief.
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    trial and error is obvious and innate it seems. But the scientific method of hypothesis and deliberate test to try to falsify is a method that developed slowly. A lot of science is taught by demonstration, that's inevitable, but the idea that a new experiment can "fail" or challenge your hypothesis is more mature.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mudskipper View Post
    I have wondered how people first determined which plants were edible, and which were poisonous....did they use dogs maybe? If a dog ate it and survived, that would at least provide some evidence that the plant wasn't poisonous, although I know it wouldn't guarantee it.
    One problem with the theory: humans were eating plants long before they domesticated dogs. Maybe by looking at what other animals liked and didn't like? Also I think that a lot of poisonous plants will not kill you, but make you ill, creating a strong deterrent.
    As above, so below

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    About the scientific method, this is just my personal view, but I think our brains are hard wired in some way to make hypotheses and experiment. I think the crucial thing was the codification of the scientific method, because then it became something that could be described and refined.
    As above, so below

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    The scientific method requires that a certain number of assumptions be taken, which many, even today, are not willing to do. The first and most obvious is naturalism; it is necessity, not divine will, that orders the world. Things happen because there are underlying rules to the world that demand they happen. That was the big contribution of the ancient Greeks.

    The next step is experimentation, which was the bit delivered by the Arabs. After the package was delivered to Europe in the Middle Ages, Roger Bacon introduced the idea of empiricism over rationalism, and the resultant arguments between people like David Hume and Immanuel Kant over the implications of this are still being waged to this day. So no, in answer, the scientific method is not obvious.
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    Quote Originally Posted by parallaxicality View Post
    The scientific method requires that a certain number of assumptions be taken, which many, even today, are not willing to do. The first and most obvious is naturalism; it is necessity, not divine will, that orders the world. Things happen because there are underlying rules to the world that demand they happen. That was the big contribution of the ancient Greeks.

    .
    How can you be sure that divine will doesn't play a part in the order of the world. Take a chess championship, the rules are agreed before the game, and the players abide by them. A player could make any move he/she wanted but if it goes counter to the agreed rules, then there could be no game, or the person making the illegal move would forfeit the game.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mudskipper View Post
    How can you be sure that divine will doesn't play a part in the order of the world. Take a chess championship, the rules are agreed before the game, and the players abide by them. A player could make any move he/she wanted but if it goes counter to the agreed rules, then there could be no game, or the person making the illegal move would forfeit the game.
    Untestable. then I cannot see the chess example relevance to the first question. Untestable makes me agnostic, can't know.
    sicut vis videre esto
    When we realize that patterns don't exist in the universe, they are a template that we hold to the universe to make sense of it, it all makes a lot more sense.
    Originally Posted by Ken G

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    The concept of the scientific method is obvious - "try not to fool yourself" is something anyone with a moderate degree of self-insight tries to do (at least from time to time), even if unconsciously.
    The practice of the scientific method is not at all obvious - new bits of it are still being invented, and many scientists are impressively bad at it.

    Grant Hutchison

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    Perhaps it's only obvious to some people, say, people like us.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DonM435 View Post
    Perhaps it's only obvious to some people, say, people like us.
    You mean, people who have already fooled themselves?

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