The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice and Other Classic Essays on Science

By Peter Medawar | Go to book overview

2
Hypothesis and imagination

There is a mask of theory over the whole face of nature.

WILLIAM WHEWELL


1

If an educated layman were asked to set down his understanding of what goes on in the head when scientific discoveries are made and of what it is about a scientist that qualifies him to make them, his account of the matter might go something like this. A scientist is a man who has cultivated (i indeed he was not born with) the restless, analytical, problem-seeking, problem-solving temperament that marks his possession of a Scientific Mind. Science is an immensely prosperous and successful enterprise -- as religion is riot, nor economics (for example), nor philosophy itself -- because it is the outcome of applying a certain sure and powerful method of discovery and proof to the investigation of natural phenomena: The Scientific Method. The scientific method is not deductive in character -- it is a well-known fallacy to regard it as such -- but it is rigorous nevertheless, and logically conclusive. Scientific laws are inductive in origin. An episode of scientific discovery begins with the plain and unembroidered evidence of the senses -- with innocent, unprejudiced observation, the exercise of which is one of the scientist's most precious and distinctive faculties -- and a great mansion of natural law is slowly built upon it. Imagination kept within bounds may ornament a scientist's thought and intuition may bring it faster to its conclusions, but in a strictly formal sense neither is indispensable. Yet Newton was too severe upon hypoth

-12-

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