Solving Everyday Problems with the Scientific Method
eBook - ePub

Solving Everyday Problems with the Scientific Method

Thinking Like a Scientist

Don K Mak, Angela T Mak, Anthony B Mak

  1. 348 pagine
  2. English
  3. ePUB (disponibile sull'app)
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eBook - ePub

Solving Everyday Problems with the Scientific Method

Thinking Like a Scientist

Don K Mak, Angela T Mak, Anthony B Mak

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Informazioni sul libro

This book describes how one can use The Scientific Method to solve everyday problems including medical ailments, health issues, money management, traveling, shopping, cooking, household chores, etc. It illustrates how to exploit the information collected from our five senses, how to solve problems when no information is available for the present problem situation, how to increase our chances of success by redefining a problem, and how to extrapolate our capabilities by seeing a relationship among heretofore unrelated concepts.One should formulate a hypothesis as early as possible in order to have a sense of direction regarding which path to follow. Occasionally, by making wild conjectures, creative solutions can transpire. However, hypotheses need to be well-tested. Through this way, The Scientific Method can help readers solve problems in both familiar and unfamiliar situations. Containing real-life examples of how various problems are solved — for instance, how some observant patients cure their own illnesses when medical experts have failed — this book will train readers to observe what others may have missed and conceive what others may not have contemplated. With practice, they will be able to solve more problems than they could previously imagine.In this second edition, the authors have added some more theories which they hope can help in solving everyday problems. At the same time, they have updated the book by including quite a few examples which they think are interesting.

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Informazioni

Editore
WSPC
Anno
2016
ISBN
9789813145320
Chapter 1
Prelude
The father put down the newspaper. It had been raining for the last two hours. The rain finally stopped, and the sky looked clear. After all this raining, the negative ions in the atmosphere would have increased, and the air would feel fresh. The father suggested the family of four should go for a stroll. There was a park just about fifteen minutes walk from their house.
The mother got their three-year-old son and five-year-old daughter dressed. They arrived at the park, and rambled along the path leading to the playground. Not exactly watching where she was going, the daughter stepped one foot into a puddle of water. Both her sock and the shoe got wet. She refused to walk any further. Even with some persuasion, she declined to walk. The father pondered what action he should be taking. Shall I carry her all the way back home? I may get a backache or a hernia. Maybe I shall run home and get the car. Or, maybe, I should force her to continue walking. Which path should I choose to solve this problem?
Take a minute to think what you would suggest. And before we find out how the father is going to cope with the situation, let's see what exactly the scientific method is all about.
Chapter 2
The Scientific Method
In the history of philosophical ideation, scientific discoveries, and engineering inventions, it has almost never happened that a single person (or a single group of people) has come up with an idea or a similar idea that no one has ever dreamed of earlier, or at the same time. This person may not be aware of the previous findings, nor someone else in another part of the world has comparable ideas, and thus – his idea may be very original, as far as he is concerned. However, history tells us that it is highly unlikely that no one has already come up with some related concepts.
The ideation and development of the scientific method is no exception. No single person, or a group of people, or a certain civilization can claim the credit for inventing the scientific method. The method is slowly evolved through centuries. It may have started with cavemen using their stone tools. There are, however, some significant milestones along the way.
2.1 Edwin Smith Papyrus
The origin of the scientific method can be traced back to approximately 2600 BC. Ancient surgical methods were documented in the Edwin Smith papyrus, a manuscript bought by an Egyptologist Edwin Smith in 1862 in Egypt. Papyrus is an aquatic plant native to the Nile valley in Egypt. The spongelike central cylinders of the stems of the plant can be laid together, soaked, pressed, and dried to form a scroll, which was used by ancient Egyptians to write on. Imhotep (circa 2600 BC), the founder of Egyptian medicine, is credited as the original author of the Edwin Smith papyrus, which is considered to be the world's earliest known medical document. The document compiles a list of forty-eight battlefield injuries, and the prudent surgical treatments that the victims had received. It describes the brain, heart, liver, spleen, kidneys, and bladder. It also depicts surgical stitching and different kinds of dressings. The papyrus contains the essential elements of the scientific method: examination, diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis.
2.2 Greek Philosophy
(4th century BC)
Another significant contribution to the scientific method occurred in the fourth century BC in Ancient Greece. One of the key figures was the Greek philosopher, Aristotle (384–322 BC). Aristotle was born in Stagira, which was near Macedonia. His father was the family physician of King Amyntas of Macedonia. From his father, Aristotle received training and knowledge that would encourage him toward the investigation of natural phenomena.
When he was seventeen, he was sent to study at Plato’s Academy in Athens, which was the largest city in Greece. At that time, the Academy was considered as the center of the intellectual world. He stayed there for twenty years, until the death of Plato (427–347 BC). Nevertheless, Aristotle disagreed with Plato on several basic philosophical issues. While Plato believed that knowledge came from conversation and methodical questioning, an idea that originated from his teacher Socrates (469–399 BC), Aristotle believed that knowledge came from one’s sensory experiences. Plato theorized that, through intellectual reasoning, the laws of the universe could be discovered. However, Aristotle attempted to reconcile abstract thought with observation. While both Plato and Aristotle supported deductive reasoning, only Aristotle championed inductive reasoning
Deductive reasoning is a logical procedure where a conclusion is drawn from accepted premises or axioms. A logic system, now sometimes called the Aristotelian logic, has been developed by Aristotle. One famous example is: from the two statements “Human beings are mortal” and “Greeks are human beings”, we can come to the conclusion that “Greeks are mortal”.
Inductive reasoning starts with observations, from which a general principle is derived. For example, if all swans that we have observed are white, then we can come up with the generalization that “All swans are white”. If someone tells us that he just saw a swan running along the street, we can deduce (i.e., using deductive reasoning) that the swan must be white in color. However, we need to be careful in our observations before we come to any general principle. For instance, if we ever see a black swan in the future, we would need to discard our general principle.
Aristotle had a wide interest and wanted to know just about everything in nature. If there was something that he did not understand, he would attempt to discover the answer by making observations, collecting data, and thinking it through. However, he did make some occasional mistakes. For example, he said that women had fewer teeth than men did. He also wrote that a king bee, not a queen bee, ruled the hive. While he stressed on observation, he did not attempt to prove his theories by performing experiments. For instance, he claimed that heavy objects fell faster than light objects. This proposition was later refuted by the Greek philosopher, John Philoponus (circa 490–570 AD). Centuries later, Galileo (1564–1642 AD) established experimentally that heavy objects fell at practically the same rate as light objects. Aristotle also failed to see the application of mathematics to physics. He thought that physics dealt with changing objects while mathematics dealt with unchanging objects. That conclusion obviously would have affected his perception of nature.
Aristotle has written about many subjects, viz., ethics, politics, meteorology, physics, mathematics, metaphysics, embryology, anatomy, physiology, etc. His work exerted a lot of influence in later generations. For example, his books on physics were served as the basis of natural philosophy (now known as natural science) for two thousand years, up to the era of Galileo in the sixteenth century.
It had been asserted that Aristotle’s writings actually held back the advancement of science, as he was so respected that he was often not challenged. However, he did explicitly teach his students to find out what had previously been done on a certain subject, and identify any reasons to doubt the beliefs and come up with theories of their own. Nevertheless, his fault was that he did not perform any experiment to validate his theories.
2.3 Islamic Philosophy
(8th century AD–15th century AD)
Muslim scientists played a significant role in the development of the scientific method in the modern form. They placed more emphasis on experiments than the Greeks. Guided by Islamic philosophy and religion, the Muslim’s empirical studies of nature were based on systematic observation and experimentation. Muslim scholars benefited from the use of a single language, Arabic, from the newly created Arabic community in the 8th century. They also got access to Greek and Roman texts, as well as Indian sources of science and technology.
The prominent Arab scientist, Ibn Al-Haitham (known in the West as Alhazen) (965 AD–1040 AD), applied the scientific method for his optics experiments. He examined the passage of light through various media, and devised the laws of refraction. He also performed experiment on the dispersion of lights into its component colors. His book, the Book of Optics, was translated into Latin, and has exerted a great influence upon Western Science.
Another distinguished scientist, Al-Biruni (973 AD–1048 AD), contributed immensely to the fields of philosophy, mathematics, science, and medicine. He measured the radius of the earth, and discussed the theory of the earth rotating about its own axis. Furthermore, he made reasonably precise calculation of the specific gravity of eighteen precious stones and metals.
Similar scientific studies were carried out by Muslim scientists in a much wider scale than had been performed in previous civilizations. Science was then, an important discipline in the Islamic culture.
2.4 European Science
(12th century AD–16th century AD)
With the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, a large portion of knowledge of the past was lost in most of Europe. Only a few copies of ancient Greek texts remained as the basis for philosophical and scientific learning.
In the late 11th and 12th centuries, universities were first established in Italy, France, and England for the study of arts, law, medicine, and theology. That initiated the revival of art, literature, and learning in Europe. Through communication with the Islamic world, Europeans were able to get access to the works of Ancient Greek and Romans, as well as the works of Islamic philosophers. Furthermore, Europeans began to travel east, leading to the increased influence of Indian and even Chinese science and technology on the European scene.
By the beginning of the 13th century, distinguished academics such as Robert Grosseteste and Roger Bacon began to extend the ideas of natural philosophy described in earlier texts, which had been translated into Latin.
Robert Grosseteste (1175–1253), an English philosopher, has written works on astronomy, optics, and tidal movements. He has also written a few commentaries on Aristotle’s work. He thoroughly comprehended Aristotle’s idea of the dual path of scientific reasoning (induction and deduction), that discussed the generalizations from particulars to a general premise, and then used the general premise to forecast other particulars. However, unlike Aristotle, Grosseteste accentuated the role of experimenttation in verifying scientific facts. He also emphasized the importance of mathematics in formulating the laws of natural science.
Roger Bacon (1214–1294) was a Catholic priest and an English philosopher who thought mathematics formed the base of science. He was quite familiar with the philosophical and scientific works in the Arab world. Like Grossetteste, he placed considerable emphasis on acquiring knowledge through deliberate experimental arrangements, rather than relying on sayings from authorities. An experiment had to be set up as a test under controlled conditions to examine the validity of a hypothesis. If the conditions were controlled in precisely the same way in a repeated experiment, the same results would occur. All theories needed to be tested through observation of nature, rather than depending solely on reasoning and thinking. He was considered in the West as one of the earliest advocates of the scientific method. He has written topics in mathematics, optics, alchemy, and celestial bodies.
In the 14th century, an English logician, William of Ockham (1285–1349), introduced the principle of parsimony, which is now known as the Ockham’s Razor. The principle states that an explanation or a theory should be as simple as possible and contains just enough terms to explain the facts. The term “razor” is used to mean that unnecessary assumptions need to be shaved away to obtain the simplest explanation. The Razor is sometimes stated as “entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity”. It parallels what Einstein wrote in the 20th century, “Theories should be as simple as possible, but not simpler”.
In the year 1347, a devastating pandemic, the Black Death, struck Europe, and killed 1/3 to 2/3 of the population. Simultaneous epidemics also occurred across large portions of Asia (especially in India and China) and the Middle East. The same disease is thought to have returned to Europe for several generations until the 17th century. This drastically curtailed the flourishing philosophical and scientific development in Europe. However, the introduction of printing from China during that period had a great impact on the European society. Printing of books changed the way information was transferred in Europe, where before, only handwritten manuscripts were produced. It also facilitated the communication of scientists about their discoveries, thus bringing on the Scientific Revolution.
2.5 Scientific Revolution
(1543 AD–18th century AD)
The Scientific Revolution was based upon the learning of the universities in Europe. It can be dated as having begun in 1543, the year when Nicolaus Copernicus published On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres. The book contested the universe proposed by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy (90–168 AD), who believed that the earth was the center point of the revolution of the heaven.
Ptolemy and some other astronomers believed that the planets moved in concentric circles around the earth. However, sometimes the planets were observed to move backwards in the circles. This was described as a retrograde motion. To interpret this behavior, planets were depicted to be moving, not on the concentric circles, but on circles with centers that were moving on the concentric circles. These circles were called epicycles. While the planets moved in a uniform circular motion on the epicycles, the centers of the epicycles moved in uniform circular motion around the earth. This could explain the retrograde motion.
In order to explain the detailed motions of the planets, sometimes epicycles were themselves placed on epicycles. In Ptolemy’s universe, about 80 epicycles were used to explain the motions of the sun, the moon, and the five planets known in his time. This description fully accounted for the motions of these heavenly bodies. Nevertheless, when King Alfonso of Castile and Leon was introduced to Ptolemy’s epicycles in the thirteenth century, he was so baffled that it has been said that he commented, “If God had made the universe as such, he should have consulted me first”. As a matter of fact, even Ptolemy himself did not like this clumsy system. He argued that his mathematical model was only used to explain and predict the motions of the universe. It was not a physical description of the universe. He stated that there could be other equivalent mathematical model that could yield the same observed motions.
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) was the first influential astronomer to question Ptolemy’s theory that the earth was the center of the universe. He proposed that the sun was actually the heavenly object where the earth and other planets revolved around in circular orbits. While his system was simpler, he still needed epicycles to explain the retrograde motions of the planets.
It was Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) that pointed out that the planets actually revolved around the sun in elliptical orbits, with the sun being at one focus. An ellipse is a flattened circle. The sum of the distance ...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Halftitle
  3. Title
  4. Copyright
  5. Contents
  6. Preface to the Second Edition
  7. Preface to the First Edition
  8. 1. Prelude
  9. 2. The Scientific Method
  10. 3. Observation
  11. 4. Hypothesis
  12. 5. Experiment
  13. 6. Recognition
  14. 7. Problem Situation and Problem definition
  15. 8. Induction and Deduction
  16. 9. Alternative Solutions
  17. 10. Relation
  18. 11. Mathematics
  19. 12. Probable value
  20. 13. Epilogue
  21. Bibliography
  22. Index