The Biology of Life


Biologists use scientific principles to study living things

Like any scientist, a biologist uses a hypothesis to test an interesting question by various experimental techniques. A hypothesis allows making a prediction of what is or should happen. This prediction can be tested and the outcome allows either confirming (verification) or rejecting (falsification) the hypothesis. Now most philosophers of science say that an experiment can never proof a hypothesis correct, only falsify it, since the outcome of an experiment may confirm the hypothesis, but for all the wrong reasons. In other words, every confirmation of an experiment has to be challenges by controls (attempts to falsify it) in order the ascertain that the hypothesis is in fact the best possible explanation there is.

So does having a hypothesis mean you already know what you are looking for? If that were the case, then how are discoveries made, new things found? Discoveries are very important to scientist, because every scientist is driven by discovering new things (what is out there) or answering unexplained observations (how does it work?). A discovery is often made in the search to find something not seen or explained before, yet something that is similar enough to already known things that we can categorize and describe it. For instance finding a new species, or demonstrating a link between the microbes in the human gut (microbiome) and human health and disease.

Science also makes use of theories, not just hypotheses. A scientific theory, unlike the common saying ‘it’s just a theory’, is a well established collection of facts verified by several independent experimental observations. The latter have been obtained through hypothesis testing. With its many theories, science comes as close to a truthful description of the world around us as is possible (objective truth). Scientific theories include Einstein’s theory of general relativity, Darwin ’s theory of evolution, or the theory of the chemical bond. In physics theories are often referred to as laws. e.g. the laws of thermodynamics.

To read more about theories, testable hypothesis and falsification read Karl Popper. To read more about the process of science, read Thomas Kuhn. For a recent description of science as a never ending quest to find the best explanation of nature read The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch.

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 Copyright © 1999-2016 Lukas K. Buehler