Saturday, June 11, 2016

My life koan: What is a hypothesis?

Alice and the Dutchess (Lewis Carrol)

The "scientific method" is neither, but it's convenient for folks who know little of science to press onto children who know even less.

The concept of hypothesis is the heart of science--and yet after decades of trying, I have yet to be able to define what it means to myself, never mind children.

I imagine a Rōshi posing the question to me:

Enso by Yuma , CC

 "What is a hypothesis?"

And no matter what I answer, it is incomplete or wrong or banal or tautologous or incoherent or vapid....I imagine myself locking eyes with the wise elder, hoping he can see the wisp of understanding in my eyes before it all falls apart the moment I open my  mouth.

And maybe that's the point--the concept of hypothesis is more primal than our spoken language.

I can say what it is not, though--it is not a prediction, though it is used to make predictions.

A hypothesis presumes some model of how the natural world works, which requires that one has a relationship with the natural world, and is itself about the relationships within this relationship you have with the natural world.

Or, as the Dutchess said to Alice:
"Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise."

Applying the Next Generation Science Standards requires knowing "simple" words like matter, energy, and hypothesis. Look at any school textbook and see how space is used to talk about any of these words.

Tattooing a ensō on your forehead does not make you a Buddhist; following the scientific method will not make you a scientist.

OK, zen science teacher masters--What is a hypothesis? I'd love to post your responses.

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