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Experiment!: Planning, Implementing and Interpreting by Oivind Andersson

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4

Science Inclined to Experiment

An experiment is a threshold event: It may make use of ordinary and uncomplicated things, but these serve as the bridge to a domain of meaning and significance.

—Robert P. Crease

The cry “I could have thought of that” is a very popular and misleading one, for the fact is that they didn’t, and a very significant and revealing fact it is too.

—Douglas Adams

If we want to learn something about a particular phenomenon there are, in principle, two ways to observe it. We may be passive observers, hoping that something interesting will take place while we happen to look. The other way is to deliberately interfere with the world to create a condition that we are interested in. The passive observer is washed over with large amounts of information. Much of it is likely to be irrelevant and it may be difficult to see clear patterns. By creating conditions relevant to a specific question, however, the observer will mostly obtain relevant information without having to rely on luck. This is why experimentation is a more efficient way to obtain information about the world than passive observation.

If you are trying to understand how the planets move around the sun it is, of course, difficult to interact with what you are studying. For this reason, most of the developments discussed in the last chapter were based on passive observation of the heavens. We are still missing a crucial ingredient of modern science: an elaborate experimental method. Galileo Galilei ...

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