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Introduction to scientific method

In this video Doina-Cristina Rusu introduces the content of the second week on scientific method.
You just read two text about the nature of fire and the process of burning. The first one is coming from Aristotle’s work on the Heavens, and you can recognise the characteristics of Aristotelian philosophy presented last week. Individual objects, according to Aristotle, are composed of matter and form.
Matter is also made out of the four elements: earth, water, air, and fire, which exist in objects in potency. Because during the burning process, wood is decomposed into ashes and fire, Aristotle concludes that wood is made out of fire and earth kept together by the form of wood. The process of burning is, thus for Aristotle, nothing else but the decomposition of individual bodies into its component elements once the form is lost. The second text is from Descartes’ work. As you know from last week, Descartes adopts a corpusculatian matter theory. The process of burning is described in terms of the motion of particles. Wood is decomposed during the process of burning into small parts of ashes, smoke, fire, and air.
Descartes criticises Aristotle’s idea that heat or fire exists in matter impotency. On the contrary, he says, burning happens when the particles of fire sets in motion the particle of wood. And this happens in a quick and violent way, leading to a new organisation. But let’s assume you are a natural philosopher or an artisan working with fire, which explanation of the process of burning would you choose and why? In the past week you have seen that scholastic philosophy was criticised, and there were attempts to replace it. As it has been discussed, and it’s also relevant in the two texts you just read, one of the big problems in the early modern philosophy was the Aristotelian distinction between matter and form.
This distinction was replaced by the idea that matter is composed of very small particles or corpuscles, which interact with one another according to the laws of nature. This shift presupposed moving from a framework in which observation was enough to describe nature and its phenomena to a framework in which what was at stake were the inner structure of matter, its particles, and the mechanical interaction between them. For the second type of explanation, simple observation was not enough. This week, we’ll discuss the way in which the early modern period dealt with this problem of gaining access to the inner structure of matter and to the discovery of the laws of nature. 17th century is usually associated with the emergence of experimental philosophy.
But what are the characteristics of early modern experimental practises? We will start by looking at the distinction between experience or mere observation and experiment, defined as contrived experience. We will particularly look at the advantages of creating setups able to answer our questions about natural phenomena, questions that cannot be answered by mere observation. Then, we will analyse the elements needed in order to create these setups, namely those instruments used to manipulate matter to reproduce phenomena or even to create new phenomena. Since scientific instruments were new in the early modern period, we will also look at their limitations and the criticisms raised against their use.
In the final part of this week, we will touch up on the relation between theory and experimentation. We will look at the interplay between theory and practise. We will see how new theories were accepted because of the results provided by experimental practises and how new discoveries shaped new theories about the natural world.

In this video Doina-Cristina Rusu exposes the content of the second week, which focuses on the scientific method. There will be three main focus points in this week. First, the relation between observation and experiment, second, the use of instruments and tools, and third the relation between hypothesis and experimentation.

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The Scientific Revolution: Understanding the Roots of Modern Science

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