Essay Scholarship

In: Section 1 – college essay

Essay scholarship

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Essay sample

The scientific man in the prosecution of his art of discovery has to practice three quite different mental processes. These may be distinguished as firstly, the choosing of his facts; secondly, the formation of an hypothesis that links them together; and thirdly, the testing of the truth or falsehood of the hypothesis. When his hypothesis answers numerous and repeated tests, he has made what is usually called a 'scientific discovery'. It is doubtless true that the three processes of choosing facts, drawing a hypothesis or conclusion, and testing the conclusion, are often confused, in his own thinking, by the man of science. Often, too, his demonstration of his discovery, that is the testing of his hypothesis, helps him, more or less unconsciously, to new acts of judgment, these to a new selection of facts, and so on in endless complexity. But essentially the three processes are distinct, and one might be largely developed while the others were in a state of relative arrest.

In this matter scientific articles, and especially scientific text-books -- including text-books on the history of science -- habitually give a false impression. These scientific works are composed to demonstrate the truth of certain views. In doing so they must needs obscure the process by which the investigator reached those views. That process consists, in effect, of a series of improvised judgments or 'working hypotheses', interspersed with imperfect and merely provisional demonstrations. Many hypotheses and many demonstrations have had to be discarded when submitted to a further process of testing. Thus an article or book, which tells nothing of these side issues, blind alleys, and false starts, is, in some sort, an attempt on the part of the investigator to conceal his tracks. For this reason, among others, science can never be learned from books, but only by contact with phenomena.

The distinction between the process of discovery and the demonstration of discovery was consistently missed during the Middle Ages. On this point, in which our thought is separated from that of the men of those times, Bacon remained in darkness. He succeeded, indeed, in emphasizing the importance of the operation of collection of facts. He failed to perceive how deeply the act of judgment must be involved in the effective collection of facts. As an insurance against bias in the collection and error in the consideration of facts, Bacon warned men against his four famous Idols, false notions of things, erroneous ways of looking at Nature. There were the Idols of the Tribe, fallacies inherent in humankind in general, and notably man's proneness to suppose in nature greater order than is actually there.

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