We scratched the surface of what knowledge is in the last post, but how do we obtain it in the first place? It is a pretty simple question, but we should not take it for granted that we acquire knowledge — in many different ways — every day. We should acknowledge each of those methods individually to better determine whether our beliefs are rational. I will begin the list with the most popular — a step-by-step description of the scientific method.
1. The scientific method of observation and experimentation
As elementary school students, most of us were assigned the task of conducting a scientific experiment using this 6-to-7 step method. It can vary depending on who you ask, but it typically involves the following steps in chronological order:
- Making an observation about the universe.
- Forming a question about that observation. It can either be a “yes-no” question or one more open-ended.
- Forming a hypothesis — an educated guess about your question that will, hopefully and in theory, ultimately be confirmed or disproved.
- Performing an experiment. The experiment should be a controlled one, meaning you are able to control all variables. Ideally, only one variable, called the independent variable, is tested each trial, while all other variable remain constant.
- Recording your results. This goes for each trial of the experiment conducted, including all data observed.
- Make a conclusion. Involves acceptance or rejection of the hypothesis. If the hypothesis is rejected after experimentation, determine whether your hypothesis really is invalid or whether you need to design a better experiment to test it.
The scientific method is the first in a long list of methods of obtaining knowledge — the topic of my next few posts. Of course, some ways of acquiring knowledge may be more reliable or more valid than others, but we should still recognize the potential importance of all rational forms, due to the fact that we cannot rely solely on any one method of obtaining knowledge to govern our lives or understand the universe. What other ways of gaining knowledge should be included in this list and why?
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