The origins and history of the scientific method
We do not learn by accident – for generations scientists, mathematicians and thinkers have developed scientific method to progress the human race’s knowledge.
From the scholars of ancient Egypt to the 18th century naturalists, the use of scientific method has evolved remarkably over the centuries.
What is the scientific method?
The scientific method is a process of critical thinking that involves forming a hypothesis based on observations and rigorously questioning what is observed with a healthy degree of scepticism.
It usually begins by asking a question, followed by background research and forming a hypothesis about that question. For example: “If I do X with Y then Z will happen.”
Then the hypothesis is experimented on, data is drawn and analysed, before a decision can be made on whether the experiments’ results match the hypothesis.
Finally, the results need to be communicated.
History of the scientific method
The earliest found physical evidence of applying observations to the solving of problems is generally accepted to be Edwin Smith Papyrus in Egypt, estimated to be from 1600BC.
His medical textbook had four steps - examination, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the Arabic world was a long way ahead of Greek and Roman scholars in the west, in terms of knowledge and understanding of the world.
In Mesopotamia the Babylonian astronomers looked to the skies nightly to discover their great wonders. They applied of mathematical principles on cosmic bodies together with the study of light through optics.
Though it was the ancient Greek philosophers who would develop the earliest forms of rational theoretical science.
Phoenician scholar Thales was the first to use natural explanations to explain phenomena, explaining that every event had a natural and explainable cause.
Another major thinker of his time was Leucippus, who proposed the theory of the atom. He stated that if a block of cheese was cut and cut until it could be cut no more, the remaining particle would be what we now know as the atom.
One of the great forefathers of science, Aristotle, founded a philosophy based on observation to infer general principles, then to make deductions from said principles for further observations – with the cycle forever continuing. He heavily emphasised empiricism - the theory that all knowledge is based on experience derived from the senses, sparking the start of the experimental process of science.
The Arab physicist Ibn al-Haytham took prose from the works of Aristotle and began this practice experimental methods of data collection in his Book of Optics (1021). His combination of observations, experiments and rational arguments to support his theories on sight and vision through data collection from experimental practice was all together a new approach to learning.
The work of the Persian scholars is still deeply rooted in modern science, astronomy and knowledge, and the milestones that they achieved were not superseded till much later in the west.