For my biology class, I am currently reading The Nature of Life by C.H. Waddington. I’m only about 10 pages in so far, but every paragraph is packed with succinct insight about scientific development and culture.
For my sake, I wish to record Waddington’s definition of science and the four steps that scientific discovery must follow.
Waddington writes: “I suggest that science can be defined simply as the application, to questions concerning the external world, of all the major faculties which man is capable of exercising.”
He then explains that any complete scientific work follows four steps.
The first step is a relevant question or idea
“It starts by asking a relevant question… Or [it] may start from some new imaginative idea; ideas, for instance, like that of the quantum of energy, of indeterminacy, or lack of parity, or of a unit of biological heredity…and so on…”
Waddington warns the reader that these ideas often seem illogical or abstract, but they lead to the development of scientific models that one can work with, question, test, and ultimately prove or disprove fully or in part. Either way, new knowledge becomes available, and science advances.
The second step is ratiocination and repeatability
Ratiocination is a fancy word for “a reasoned train of thought.” In other words, the idea or question must be formulated in mathematical or logical terms, making the theory well-defined and available for others to work with it.
The third step is experimentation
Because really… what is science without experiments? The theory must be manipulated, picked apart, and held up to the light of past discoveries and future possibility. Regardless of the theory’s ultimate fate, the fruits of experimentation is data – information that may be applied to a modification of the theory or to other scientific models independent of the primary idea being tested.
The fourth step is humility
Waddington says it beautifully:
In his logical analysis and manipulative experimentation, the scientist is behaving somewhat arrogantly towards nature, trying to force her into his categories of thought or to trick her into doing what he wants. But finally, he has to be humble. He has, a T.H. Huxley put it a century ago, to sit down before the fact like a little child. He has to take his intuition, his logical theory and his manipulative skill to the bar of Nature and see whether she answers yes or no; and he has to abide by the result.
According to Waddington, the rapid increase in useful and accurate scientific advancement is the direct result of a scientific community cooperatively working this four-step process.
It makes sense to me. I look forward to the rest of the book and hope to share more lessons I learn from Mr. Waddington.