Archive for the ‘chemistry’ Category

Science makes sense Week1: On Inductive, deductive reasoning, Ernie and Bert and other things

August 24, 2015

A big hello and welcome to all my science, math students, especially to the MSTQE group! Anybody who is intrigued by/ enjoys / wants to know more about science are also welcome here. Please comment and share your ideas. I am just a facilitator who wants passion and energy to flow here. I will make connections with different branches of science, include social justice issues, activities for teachers and nuggets of information. I hope teachers of science in middle school gain confidence and love for science to impart it to their students.

I am reading a very informative book called ” The Story of Science” by Susan Wise Bauer, which she says she is writing for people who are not into science. Personally I think all of us in the scientific field can enjoy her historical travels. She traces the history of science (when she says science she definitely includes math which I consider to be the queen of sciences) from several centuries BC to the present century. I will focus on her discussion of deductive and inductive methodology.

From the time of Aristotle ( 300 BC) deductive reasoning was well known.Deductive reasoning starts from general statements to specific conclusions. You start with a premise and come to a conclusion.   No experimentation was done to get to the conclusions.  The Aristotelean method survived for centuries. (This is similar to the hypothesis that students start with in a science fair experiment.) Many centuries later,( almost nineteen centuries later)  during the time of Queen Elizabeth I (1612), Francis Bacon who had served in her court started thinking a little differently. He felt that deductive reasoning could distort evidence. You could play around with the evidence to suit your hypothesis. He was of the opinion that inductive reasoning would lead to more useful information. You start from specifics, work on experimentation and then come to a general conclusion. So you may have a hypothesis at the beginning ( not at the end like Aristotle) do some experiments and then come to a conclusion. This is what we call a scientific method.  The concept of experimentation  to prove something started in the Western world with Francis Bacon.

This was continued by William Harvey who, through dissection of the human and animal bodies proved how blood circulated in the body. Again, Copernicus proved through his mathematical observations that the sun, not the earth was the center of our universe. Deductive reasoning was being replaced slowly by inductive reasoning.Remember, all these pioneers had to fight against popularly held ideas that followed deductive reasoning and were ridiculed  for their innovations.

Think about the invention of the wheel by early man( or woman?). Perhaps a piece of stone with corners was used first. Perhaps with more and more corners, the movement of the stone along a pathway improved and with time people realized that a structure with no corners or infinite corners , in other words a circular object, works best as a wheel. ( There used to be a remarkable episode with Ernie of Sesame Street philosophizing about the shape of a circle. Ernie says to Bert, ”  You think a circle has no corners or maybe, just maybe it has infinite corners?!”) Another amazing early case of inductive reasoning.

Following Francis Bacon’s inductive reasoning, we have Robert Boyle in England,  a little later in the seventeenth century, who started working with elaborate pieces of equipment to find relationships between pressure and volume of gases . So the place where he did his experiments was called elaboratories. The word laboratory, or short form ‘lab’ is derived from this word just  four centuries ago.

It is important to note that deductive reasoning is still applied in philosophy, social sciences and even sometimes in science,especially in mathematics, but inductive reasoning is a valuable additional tool for scientists.

Activity for middle school teachers: Check what the language arts teacher/ social studies teacher is covering in his/her class. If the subject is Shakespeare, or anything to do with Queen Elizabeth the first, then bring in seventeenth century Francis Bacon etc to compare inductive and deductive reasoning.

Nuggets of information: On August 17,1835, the tool we use a lot, a wrench, was patented.

The Chemist Hazel Gladys Bishop was born on August 17, 1906. She designed the first long lasting lipstick!

lab in 17th centurylab1

Here is a picture of a laboratory or elaboratory from the seventeenth century; the picture next to it is from the Chemistry Department of Northeastern Illinois University, showing present day laboratory equipment.


Bauer, Susan Wise, The Story of Science, ( W. W. Norton and Company 2015)