Multiple Hypotheses

                I think it is very interesting and useful for not-experienced scientists to get a feeling about what science/research is about. As a student in the last years I had the habit to ask my professors about specific topics in physics: please tell me, not about a concept which is already understood, but a problem who’s solution is not known! Only latter became clear to me that this kind of questions mark the transition from learning to research. In this view, it is worth to understand the differences between these two activities.

                Unlike learning, which implies the reading, understanding and memorizing of already known concepts, research involves the challenge to face multiple uncertainties: what is the problem? which are the possible solutions? how can the solution be tested? For example, usually the first (and in some situation the most important) step in a scientific investigation is to formulate the problem. Unlike this, the students have just to solve given problems, which are known to have a clear solution. Only after this follows the stage of formulating hypotheses, which are proved to be right or wrong by experiment (physical or numerical). Obviously, imagination and creativity are essential ingredients in scientific investigations.

                A good felling about what research means can be gain from the classical paper of T. C. Chamberlain (please see the link below), in which are presented the differences between three methods of scientific investigation:

· Rulling Theory

· Working Hypothesis

· Multiple Working Hypotheses

                The technical strong/weak points of the last method are presented in the paper. Somehow surprisingly, are the personal human benefits in respect to the “thinking pattern” developed through repeated applications of this method in scientific research. These are nicely described by the author:

                “The use of the method leads to certain peculiar habits of mind which deserve passing notice, since as a factor of education its disciplinary value is one of importance. When faithfully pursued for a period of years, it develops a habit of thought analogous to the method itself, which may be designated a habit of parallel or complex thought. Instead of a simple succession of thoughts in linear order, the procedure is complex, and the mind appears to become possessed of the power of simultaneous vision from different standpoints. Phenomena appear to become capable of being viewed analytically and synthetically at once. It is not altogether unlike the study of a landscape, from which there comes into mind myriads of lines of intelligence, which are received and co-ordinated simultaneously, producing a complex impression which is recorded and studied directly in its complexity.”

                As with many other aspects, the best way to get a real feeling about what science means and how it can develop the human “thinking pattern” is to be involved in the research process. It is a challenging, but wonderful one.

                Enjoy reading!       The Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses