2.c.11 – What are the advantages of the experimental method?

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February 26, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

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What are the advantages of the experimental method?

To summarize the above, the method consists of three steps: observation of the phenomenon, creation of a mathematical model and its experimental verification. In the development of any belief, we find instead: observation of a phenomenon, creation of a mental model and, occasionally, the research of some confirmation to the thesis.
The path that our mind follows to produce new knowledge is basically the same, it is probably the only one that our mind can do, but in experimental research, observation is much more accurate and precise thanks to the use of measuring instruments and to the analysis by grades of the phenomenon, it is furthermore objective and therefore has general validity; the same can be said of the creation of the model that is much more detailed and accurate through the use of mathematics and measures; the main difference is anyway in the experimental verification: it is always (not occasionally) applied and allows to immediately find out if the model is wrong; its aim therefore is not to confirm our thesis to reassure us on the validity of our idea, but to see if it exactly reflects reality and to what extent; the goal is to refine the model or replace it with a better one and the consequences of this aspect of the experimental verification are very important:
– models are replaced with new ones when they have a greater accuracy or broader scope of validity; the models of science therefore always improve, while opinions, beliefs and superstitions change, adapting to the new socio-cultural contexts, but the beliefs of today, true or false they may be, are no more accurate and no more valid than those of a thousand years ago; in other words, science doesn’t only evolve like any cultural form, but develops with always positive mutations, in every age and every place.
– all models are valid in a certain number of well-known cases, namely those where the experimental verification has been successful, and will always remain so even when they are superseded by better models; so if the new models are valid in a larger number of cases or are more precise, but at the same time are more complicated and difficult to use, it would be still possible to use the old models, for convenience. This is a new application of the principle of mental economy, which in this case, however, does not affect the research with reactionary attitudes.
Speaking of progress, however, it is appropriate to distinguish between science and technology: the science is the study of nature, while the technology is the study of how to build tools using the knowledge provided by science. The two concepts are closely tied, but it is important to note that scientific progress is always a progress for humanity, as increases its capacity to understand the nature and then to live into it, while we cannot say the same of technological progress, which can be used for the good of humanity, but also against it: war technology and polluting industries are an example. The confusion between scientific progress and technological progress is another source of psychological pollution that has to be removed.

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