The Scientific Method (Part 1)

The scientific method is amazing. It is a process that has given us everything from penicillin to internal combustion engines, from  the internet to solar panels. Most of the modern world we live in, and the advances we take for granted, have been driven by this method. 

The scientific method is essentially a 4 part process that can be applied almost anywhere, or to anything: 1) ask a question, 2) create a hypothesis, 3) do an experiment to test the hypothesis, and 4) analyze the results and drawn conclusions. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is. It is also incredibly powerful. Most of us learned about this in school, but we often think about it only in the context of a classroom, or a lab, or things that feel like “science.” In fact, it can be applied much more broadly. 

Let’s take a hypothetical problem of having trouble falling asleep at night, and apply the scientific method. First, we would have ask a question, “Why am I not sleeping well?” Then, we would need to develop a hypothesis as to why this is so. Perhaps, “I drink coffee too late in the day” or, “I watch TV too late at night.” Which of this is the answer? The scientific method teaches that the next step is to do an experiment. In this case, the experiment might be to stop drinking coffee after 11 AM. Lastly, we would analyze these results and draw a conclusion. My sleep is better (or not) because I was drinking coffee too late in the day (or not). If this answers the question, great! If not, the process can be repeated with the next hypothesis.

One of the pieces that makes this so powerful is that it systematic. In our example, not drinking coffee for one day is unlikely to yield useful data. We would have to stick with it for a few days to really test the hypothesis. Similarly, making several changes, such as not drinking coffee, starting to exercise, and not watching TV late at night would make it challenging to figure out what was actually causing the sleep difficulties. Was it the coffee? The TV? The scientific method also depends on our ability to observe what we experience. The practice of paying attention, of really noticing what is happening, can be challenging— particularly if we are not sure what to pay attention to, or if we are not sure what, in fact, is important. In this case, noticing changes in sleep is something that we could really focus on. 

In the next post, I’ll talk about how this same approach can be applied not just to challenges like sleep, but bigger obstacles we face as well.