Teaching Disciplined Hypothesis-Formation
2010 NewFoundations

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edited 9/1/18

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INTRODUCTION

In the Hypothesizing Exercises to follow we will be dealing with potential scientific hypotheses. These are based, ultimately, on evidence rooted in common experience and investigative procedure enjoying rather broad consensus.

A. Let's begin with some special preliminary definitions:

fact: - something which, in some context, is accepted as evidence supporting or disconfirming an hypothesis.

hypothesis: - a tentative explanation. The more facts the hypothesis "weaves together," the more powerful it is.

theory: -a well-established hypothesis.


Note 1: In the sciences, a theory is a form of knowledge, unlike in non-scientific discourse which tends to confuse the terms theory and hypothesis and treat theory as weaker than knowledge. In science, unlike in everyday language, nothing is just "mere theory."
 
Note 2: Disconfirmable hypotheses achieve the status of theory not so much by being confirmed by fact, as by avoiding disconfirmation by contrary evidence. That is, by withstanding critical experiments. (See Knowledge: the Residues of Practical Caution.)

A critical experiment is an investigation undertaken to disconfirm a given hypothesis. B. The nature of hypothesizing has been a item of dispute among scientists and philosophers for a long time. Nonetheless, there are some general "rules of thumb" which are generally agreed to so long as one does not apply them uncritically.

The first rule, Disconfirmability, is this:

Formulate the hypothesis so that it is disconfirmable.
That is, we must be able to conceive of something that would count as evidence against the hypothesis, whether our not we are in a position at any particular time to undertake an investigation or experiment.

The second rule, Relative Simplicity, (also called Ockham's Razor) is this:

The simplest of competing adequate hypotheses is to be preferred.
In the Western scientific tradition, risking oversimplification has proven to be more productive than risking overexplanation. William of Ockham's "Razor" in its original formulation....

The third rule, Groundedness, is this: ... (continued on complete pdf document)

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