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Posted by on Mar 10, 2010 in Early blogs | 0 comments

002 How Scientists Think

How Scientist Think

Although the following overview of how scientists think is quite general, in the next few entries to this blog I will be discussing primarily what is involved in acquiring data about the microscopic world and understanding how scientists think about what they measure and what those measurements mean.


This involves trying to understand how information is obtained and how we interpret data leading us to knowledge?  The first thing to confront is the question:

“What is reality?”

This is not a trivial question and one that is at the core of understanding Nature.   In philosophy this is called   Ontology.  Ontology is the philosophy of “being” and of “reality”.


The Greeks were the first to develop the ideas:  Parmenides on existence, Plato on separating the mind from the body and Aristotle on metaphysics.

In the macroscopic world we live in reality is quite intuitive.  We probe our surroundings with our senses and these are automatically interpreted by our minds as perceptions.  We usually believe our perceptions, or maybe misled by them too, but for the most part we are convinced that the objects we see are real.

Normally if you doubt something is real, you simply ask a friend: “Do you see it too?” and seek confirmation.   Yes the moon is really there because when you do not look at it, someone else can, and sees it in a reproducible experiment.

Moon: we all can confirm it is there.

Naive Realism

Our view of the world around us is WYSIWYG .  We do not think much about preparing the object we observe:  we might just pick it up.  Nor do we think about how to measure it: we just look and feel it, maybe shake it, sometimes smell or taste it. We do it without much thought. We perceive and that is our reality.

This is called Naïve Realism

Although this works well in our world, for example animals function very well without any knowledge of physics, Naïve Realism does not work at the microscopic level.

Objective Reality

Objective Reality means that objects around us exist and possess exact values for their properties independently of our intervention.  If, however, an observation is made, then it must be possible for others to confirm it by independent observation.  You see the moon, and others see it too.

Subjective Reality

Naïve Realism does not extend to the microscopic level, does objective reality?  Some say yes, most say no. Besides objective reality, there is also subjective reality.

For example, no-one can confirm that God exists because it is a matter of faith.  God is real to all believers and not real to non-believers.  This is not the type of reality of science.  This is called Subjective reality but it plays an important role in the interpretation of objective results

These interpretations must be consistent with the objective results, and be accepted by a large number of other scientists who can agree on some things and disagree on others.


The subjective interpretation of objective reality is knowledge and the branch of philosophy is epistemology—how we know.

In Summary, ontology is the philosophy of the state of being and Epistemology is the philosophy of how we know.

In my next entry I will discuss some common philosophies of science and what they mean.

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