The Scientific Method: The Foundation of Discovery – (Part 1) Introduction & Making Observations

This is the first article in a six part series on the scientific method. Originally meant to be a single entry, once we began writing, we found that in order to fully discuss the significance of the ideas held within the method, we needed to break it up. We understand that many of you have tight schedules, and you often don’t have more than five minutes to spare. We hope that by making this a series, we’ll make it more easily digestible. After the series concludes we will be compiling the articles into a single volume, which will be one chapter of an online text dealing with the deeper implications of scientific principles. We hope it enables you to think differently.

Think what you want, but never be afraid to think differently.

-Apes in Lab Coats

Introduction

As independent thinkers and scientists, we have a responsibility to the great minds of the past, society, and ourselves to ensure that the scientific method is used when someone makes a claim. We must unify and stand against anyone whose goal is to devalue and discredit the process. That is not to say that we cannot keep an open mind if another methodology turns out to be superior, but we must always require evidence when an argument is being made, whether it’s for or against our personal convictions. Likewise, we should ensure that we use evidence when making our own claims. The only way to do this is by educating ourselves on the topic of interest. The issue doesn’t even have to be science related. For example, take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If you don’t educate yourself on the complicated history surrounding this issue, then it is impossible for you to make an informed opinion on the matter. Things are almost always more complicated than you think, even if you’re a genius and know the topic intimately. Remember, don’t mistake professional opinion for fact.

*In today’s age of information, it’s inexcusable to be uninformed when stating an opinion. We must learn to hold judgement until we’re presented with adequate verifiable facts, and we’ve heard an appropriate number of arguments before we form our opinion. It’s always okay not to have an opinion. Never be ashamed of not knowing, be ashamed of thinking you know best with insufficient information.

Enter the scientific method. The internet, being what it is, makes it impossible for us to know who may end up reading this content, so we’re just assuming that you’ve never heard of the scientific method, or at most you have a limited understanding of the subject. Even if you don’t fall into one or all of these categories, you may find this series valuable as it presents the scientific method through a different lens. But if you do fit the description, Don’t worry, remember, this model was created by people who are no smarter than you are, they just had a head start. By the end of this series, you’ll have a deeper understanding of scientific method. We aim to avoid boring you to death with definitions and terms – we get enough of that in classrooms – our purpose is to allow you to see that this is just a model through which we can think through a problem. This model is the unifying principle behind all great discoveries. As time has gone on, it has been modified, but the core remains the same. Notice something, make an observation. Tell us why you think it happened. Devise an experiment where you try to only observe one change. Tell us what you found and what that means. And give us a model that we can follow. One that will accurately predict under what conditions the observation occurs.

 

Today we will be focusing on…

Making an Observation

Humans are fascinating creatures, especially when you start to take into consideration the fact that we don’t really know how we got here. Even with all of the significant discoveries that have occurred in human history, we really only know one thing for sure. We’re here. Of course, I’m making a broad generalization, we do know some things. We have computers, we send satellites across the solar system, we examine the structures of microscopic organisms. We’re able to do this through our understanding of scientific principles, all of our knowledge can be traced back to just one*, observation.

*Actually, we’re assuming this is the farthest principle we can trace back. This is the premise behind evolutionary psychology. Observe the behaviors of the species’ that are most closely related to us, think about the environment as it must have been before agriculture, look at our fossil and historical records, and through the lens of psychology, infer a common thread that leads to  assumptions regarding the human condition. While it’s strictly a metatheoretical framework, it’s useful when we consider that it’s our best guess as to why we exhibit behavior. The reason Ape in Lab Coats argues for it, is due to the fact that, while not strictly hypothesis driven, it at least gives a proposal for why we behave as we do. No other science has been able to provide detailed evidence tracing that far back, so Occam’s Razor dictates that the simplest explanation is often the right one. in this case it’s evolutionary psychology.

You are connected to every single human that exists or that has ever existed, through your mutual evolutionary predisposition towards curiosity. Our ability, to want to, observe phenomena and create theories based on those observations is one of the things that separates us from other organisms.  However, our evolution is sometimes detrimental towards our ability to make accurate observations. Too often our minds shut out all of the ‘noise’ that is associated with the monotony of life. The tragedy lies in that it is precisely this noise where deeper understanding lies.

To become better at observation, you must actively fight against the “zone effect,” the state in which your brain filters out the information that it deems unnecessary. To accomplish this you must, actively practice mindfulness, an awareness of subtle changes in your environment. Luckily the practice of mindfulness has been a growing trend in Western societies as of late, but it still takes work if you aren’t used to doing it. To build this skill, actively participate in as much of your day as possible, always resist the urge to “zone out.”

A Note on Mindfulness:

An easy way to practice mindfulness is try it in the shower (not that we need to know what you do in the shower). As soon as you enter start to pay attention to the details in the room. Don’t judge them, i.e. don’t feel like you have to clean the sink because it’s gross, simply notice the details. When you’re in the shower, focus on the feeling of every drop hitting your skin, the smells, and temperatures. As a beginner focus on maintaining focus on one sense, such as touch, for as long as possible.

It may sound silly, especially if you’ve never practiced mindfulness. Trust us. The world will open up to you. You will become more sensitive to your environment and your ability to calmly recognize and adapt to change will greatly improve. Remember, we are apes, first and foremost. We are animals with an inherent need for survival, we’re making an assumption here, but if we look at it through the lens evolutionary psychology and what we know about biological systems (they conserve energy). We make the argument that one of the reasons we survived in a prehistoric world is by an inherent genetic/behavioral quality which allowed us to actively live in our environment and notice new things. Live in yours.

When making an observation, it’s vital that the observer (that’s you) understands that every detail could matter. This doesn’t mean that it will matter, but the more you know about the thing that you are observing, the better equipped you will be to interpret the results, form connections, and recognize patterns. When you make an observation your purpose should be to use your senses to receive information from your surroundings. In science, it’s something specific.

Let’s say that you’re interested in the relationship between depression and the rise of social media. You observe that from the time social media debuted, depression rates seemed to increase. Now, what do you do with that?

In our next article, we will discuss what we’re going to do with this newfound information. The ability to ask questions in a way that integrates observation is a crucial part of being a human being. The word “why” is perhaps the most powerful word in the English language. Join us next week as we explore the significance of Asking Questions.

-Apes in Lab Coats

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