Re: The origin of scientific thinking
Thu, 20 May 1999 06:22:20 EDT

Glenn wrote an interesting account of how ancient hunting can be considered
the origin of scientific thinking. He wrote,

The chapter I am going discuss concerns the origin of scientific
thinking. By scientific thinking one means the proposing of
hypotheses, the gathering of data, the comparing of the data to
various hypotheses with the resultant rejection of hypotheses failing to
match the data and the modification of hypotheses to fit the data.
Amazingly, this type of thinking has been on earth for a very, very long

He then illustrated how ancient people applied this kind of thinking in the

Id like to make a couple of comments on this. It has been pointed out in
other places (I cant cite references right off hand) that scientific
thinking finds its origin in problem solving required by ordinary human
activities. This can be illustrated in many ways, as Glenn has done with
hunting. Probably just as good a case could be made for the origins of
scientific thinking involved in the problem solving activity of the ancient
women who cooked the meat brought in by the hunters. I presume they had to
hypothesize and observe the best kind of wood for the cooking, the stage of
the fire that gets the best results, the length of time of cooking to get
best results, the superiority of tenderloin over other cuts, etc.

In short, as soon as human beings began to think at all and solve problems
they employed the rudiments of scientific thinking.

In my own simplistic way I make a distinction between scientific thinking and
what might be called engineering thinking. To me, engineering thinking is
_problem solving_, whereas scientific thinking is _puzzle solving_. Of
course, there is overlap between the two modes. Scientists solve problems,
and engineers solve puzzles. But the two modes of thought have their
separate domains, and the ancient hunters were acting more like engineers
than scientists.

Charles Malik described the origin of scientific thinking in this way, The
Greeks, more than any other people, displayed an irrepressible and unbounded
passion for the exercise of reason and incredible curiosity to investigate
and know everything . . . free inquiry and unfettered curiosity. (Taken
from _The Real Issue_ 17 [February 1999]).

_everything_ (unbounded puzzle solving, DH) not just solving specific
practical problems, is the start of scientific thinking.

Best regards,