Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Importance of Multiple Working Hypotheses

"An hypothesis is always more believable than the truth, for it has been tailored to resemble our ideas of truth, whereas the truth is just its clumsy old self." - Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, 1530

The above quote illustrates the importance of the the concept of "Multiple Working Hypotheses".  To simplify, our first hypothesis - in reference to a scientific concern or curiosity - is highly influenced by our bias or biases.  We all have biases of different sorts.  Their validity is based upon how thoroughly you have "noodled them out", i.e., how much time have you spent verifying the reason for your opinion/bias on a particular subject.

Of primary relevance to me, is my bias as a field scientist vs. a "lab scientist" and/or computer modeller.  Of course lab experiments and computer models play an important part in our continual search for a better answer to the "How and Why" of a particular issue.  But laboratories and computer models are "nice, neat places", while nature is messy.  Labs are "closed systems" where the number of inputs into a system can be controlled and accounted for.  Nature is a wide-open system, with an unknown number of inputs.  It is a good idea to list all of the known and possible inputs.  That is where the concept of Multiple Working Hypotheses is important.

I was taught this concept in Dr. Earl M.P. Lovejoy's Geomorphology class at UTEP, in the Spring of 1977.  He was quite a character. 

Anyway, back to the issue of trying to lessen the effects of our own biases, through Multiple Working Hypotheses. 

To learn this properly, we need to; 1) Engage in conversations with other scientists to get their input; and 2) Re-engage our imaginations.

One example I use with my students - to develop Multiple Working Hypotheses - is to imagine that you have a hardwood forest in your backyard and a hickory tree dies suddenly.  Think of the myriad of reasons that can cause an established tree to die.

To be continued:

Apologies for the Disconformity...

Life adventures (a kind word) have kept me from my blogging duties.  Will attempt to resume, soon.

Scanning through the other blog links, I see that others have experienced similar Disconformities, of varying lengths.