Reason and Chance in Scientific Discovery

Reason and Chance in Scientific Discovery

Reason and Chance in Scientific Discovery

Reason and Chance in Scientific Discovery

Excerpt

All scientific progress is the result of a chain of discoveries of differing degrees of importance and significance. Each of these discoveries, while based more or less directly on previous work, leads in turn to new advances. This forward march, however, is far from being regular. Its general sense is often obscured during periods of relative stagnation or even of apparent regression. At other times, again, scientific progress seems to be accelerated, producing vast changes in a whole realm of science, or creating fruitful connections between different sectors of our knowledge.

In fact all discoveries in Science appear to have different aspects depending on their domain (i.e. mathematics, theory or experiment), on the temperament, the background and the previous contributions of their author, and on the nature of the external circumstances under which the discovery is made.

The making of a discovery presupposes in the discoverer undeniable qualities of scientific procedure and of intutition, and even a quite special genius when it comes to questions of important syntheses and of audacious theories. Every discovery of any importance will, at the outset, encounter very strong resistances, and to engage in the unavoidable struggle against routine and prejudice a scientist must have unquestionable intellectual courage. If, in this struggle, he should become somewhat isolated, he is nevertheless linked with those who came before him and with his contemporaries. In effect, the science of an epoch is the result of the successive contributions of many generations of research workers, be they geniuses or only simple and unknown servants of science. In its presentation, its objectives and in its applications, science always reflects the current preoccupations of civilization.

The study of the origins, the conditions, the circumstances, and the character of scientific discovery involves widely varying epistemological and psychological aspects, and many studies, often reaching different conclusions, have been devoted to it. In order to . . .

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