The Grammar of Science

The Grammar of Science

The Grammar of Science

The Grammar of Science

Excerpt

It is a common-place that the practical fruits of modern natural science have transformed the face of the earth and the lives of men. Nor is it less well-recognized that these fruits are frequently the products of difficult theoretical conceptions and of a disciplined method of inquiry. It is therefore not surprising that although everyone to-day is exposed to the impact of applied science, familiarity with the theoretical and logical foundations of scientific advance is not widespread.

It may nevertheless seem like a paradox that even distinguished men of science often possess no clear ideas concerning the theoretical notions they employ or the logic of inquiry they practice. The paradox is mitigated, however, if one recalls that this fact has parallels in other areas of human activity. A great painter or a great athlete is not always the best expounder of his art, because he may never have felt the need to reflect deeply on what is involved in his achievements or to formulate clearly the principles of his procedure.

There are, indeed, two circumstances which help explain why it is that high competence in special areas of science may go hand in hand with considerable naivete about the character of the scientific enterprise. Men are usually trained for a career of research by acquiring through repeated practice habits of workmanship conforming to implicit standards of excellence, rather than by learning some codified system of rules for the conduct of inquiry. In consequence, a man can be an extraordinarily gifted investigator of nature without being able to articulate the logic he employs; and should he be pressed to describe for some ceremonial occasion the principles of his method, he will most likely reproduce the half-forgotten philosophical credos he may have acquired during his years of intellectual immaturity. As Einstein once advised his readers, if one wishes to learn what are the methods theoretical physicists use, "don't listen to their words, fix your attention on their deeds." It is usually only when their habitual methods are found to be unequal to new problems, that scientists feel impelled to reflect seriously on questions of scientific procedure and to formulate with care the principles of scientific method.

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