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From Poets to Galileo

The scientific method of testing an idea and refining it based on the results isn't limited to scientific endeavors, writes James Blachowicz, a professor emeritus of philosophy at Loyola University Chicago, at the New York Times.

In his op-ed piece, he notes that poets and others use such systematic approaches. As an example, he describes how a definition for 'courage' could be arrived at by offering a definition, seeing whether it fits with what people know courage to mean, and then refining it. His definition transforms from "the ability to act in the face of great fear" to "the ability to act while confronting a great fear." That second definition, he says, eliminates actions like running away or swearing.

It's similar for science, according to Blachowicz. While scientists seek simple explanations for what they observe, sometimes they have to tack on an added clarification. For instance, he says the phrase "except when resisted by air" has to be added to Galileo's law describing the parabolic path projectiles take.

But this leads Blachowicz to the question of why scientific inquiries are more reliable than other forms, and he suspects it is due to the quantified variable under study. This then leads him to caution that "[q]uantified precision is not to be confused with a superior method of thinking."

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