THE METHOD

The Scientific Approach

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Written by Dr. Nash Popovic

This is currently the dominant approach. At its best, it produces reliable explanations of natural phenomena through observations, experiments and theoretical or mathematical inferences.

Some Common Misconceptions About Science

Science is a modern Western invention there is a widespread belief that science was invented in Europe and did not exist before the 17th century. In fact, science has thrived in various periods in the Arabic, Indian, Chinese and other cultures. The science of the present day is influenced by and partly based on their findings. Ancient and Middle Age Europe had science too – although, following a highly influential early Christian theologian, St Augustine (354-430), observation as a method of knowledge acquisition was rejected in the Middle Ages in favour of more abstract thinking.  Modern science (starting in the 17th century, in the period known as Enlightenment)  shifted the emphasis to empirical observation that could be tested and independently verified. Its aim was to dispose of speculation and place science on firmer foundations. However, this also somewhat narrowed its scope as only the physical world could be studied in such a way.

Science and technology are the same – although they may contribute to each other, science and technology should not be equated. Science is about increasing human knowledge and understanding, while technology is about producing tools, more often on the basis of trial and error than scientific discoveries (for example, Edison, one of the greatest inventors, was not a scientist). The following observation may be illuminating in this respect:

Up to [the mid-19th century] natural science had made no major contribution to technology. The industrial revolution had been achieved without scientific aid. Except for the Morse telegraph, the great London Exhibition of 1851 contained no important industrial devices or products based on the scientific progress of the previous fifty years. The appreciation of science was still almost free from utilitarian motives. (Polanyi, 1958, p.182).

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