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Methods of scientific cognition

Methodis the system of principles, rules and modes of approaching to the study of phenomena and laws of nature, society and thinking, the way of achieving certain results in cognition; the mode of a theoretical research or a practical implementation of the results of cognitive activity. Methods express connections of the subject with the object of cognition, reveal the system of their interaction. Therefore, methods are often characterized as a system of regulatory rules and principles of a cognitive, practical and theoretical activity produced by the subject on the basis of the research of the object. The foregoing indicates that an important constituent part, the foundation of science as a special form of spiritual and theoretical activity is methodology – the study of methods, ways and forms of a scientific activity. Methodology reveals the ways of formation, structure and principles of knowledge argumentation.

Scientific cognition has two levels: empirical and theoretical. Each level has its own methods, forms of a cognitive activity, and also methods of processing, systematization and argumentation of the obtained knowledge. Herewith their division is not absolute. Every real act of cognition is a dialectical unity of empirical, theoretical and practical.

Scientific research assumes not only the movement upwards, to­wards the elaboration of theoretical apparatus (towards the con­struction of a perfect theory), but also the movement downwards in­volving assimilation of empirical information and discovery and prediction of new facts. Research never begins with observation and gathering of facts – it begins with an attempt at a solution of some task underlying which is always a certain hypothesis or surmise; it begins with the formulation of a problem.

The empirical level of cognition includes methods, techniques, and forms of a cognitive activity, which are the direct result of practice. For this stage of cognition it is important to select an object of research and systematization of knowledge about it.

The methods of selection and research of an empirical object: a) observation, b) experiment, c) description, d) explanation, e) measurements, f) modeling.

Observation and experiment. There are two ways of achieving a solution of a problem: one may look for the necessary information, or one may try to investigate the problem on one's own through ob­servation, experiment and theoretical thinking. Observation and ex­periment are extremely important methods of research both in natu­ral and in social science. There can be no research at all outside ob­servation. Observation is an intentional and directed process of per­ception, carried out in order to identify the essential properties and relations in the object of cognition. Observation may be either direct or mediated by various technical devices (for instance, even molecules are now accessible to visual observation with the aid of electronic microscopes). Observation acquires scientific significance if it per­mits the reflection, in the framework of a research programme, of objects with the maximum accuracy, and if it can be repeated under varying conditions.

But man cannot restrict himself to the role of observer only: ob­servation, as we know, records only that which life itself provides, while research also requires experiment through which an object is either artificially reproduced or placed under specified conditions in accordance with research goals. Through experiment, Faraday discovered magnetic induction, Lebedev, the pressure of light, and so on.

The so-called mental experiments are also part of scientific cogni­tion: here, a scientist operates with certain mental images and men­tally places the object of study under various conditions which, ac­cording to the experimental design, should facilitate the obtaining of a desired result. Experiment thus comprises both practical and theoretical activity, with the latter pre­dominating.

What is a fact? The word "fact" comes from the Latin word factum "that which has been done". It means an actual, unimagined event in nature, history, everyday life, in the intellectual sphere. An arbitrary invention is also a fact, but it is a fact of con­sciousness recording the fact of invention. A fact is a fragment of being that has moved into the focus of a subject's thought, into the system of knowledge. A fact is a phenomenon of the material or spiri­tual world which has become an authenticated part of our conscious­ness; it is an object, phenomenon, property or relation as it is recorded in observation or experiment. The importance of facts in science is exceptional: reliable facts constitute the basis of any scientific re­search, for any science is concerned with the study, description and explanation of facts and nothing but facts.

Facts have scientific value if there is a theory interpreting them. When facts appear which cannot be explained in the framework of an existing theory, a contradiction arises between facts and theoreti­cal principles. Scientific thought has to look for new explanations. In such cases, a shortage is sensed of really large-scale theories. Only in these circumstances can the "black market" of all kinds of sur­mises, sometimes reaching fantastic proportions, arise. It often so happens that something is hard to confirm yet impossible to refute!

Description and explanation. The course and results of observa­tion and experiment are invariably recorded and described. The de­scription employs generally accepted terms, visual means (graphs, drawings, photographs, film records), and symbolic means (mathe­matical, chemical and other formulas). The main scientific require­ment imposed on description is reliability, accurate presentation of the data of observation and experiment. Description may be complete and incomplete. It always presupposes a certain systematization of the material, i.e. its classification and a certain generalization: pure description is left behind on the threshold of scientific creativity

Description and classification are the initial stages in the devel­opment of scientific cognition, as scientific cognition does not merely establish facts – it strives to understanding them, to comprehend the causes why these facts emerged and function in precisely this way and not another.

Explanation is a mental operation aimed at establishing the causal dependences of the object of research, at grasp­ing the laws of its functioning and development and, finally, at the dis­covery of its essence. Explanation occurs where it is shown according to what laws an object emerged, exists, and is developing. Explana­tion assumes the existence of certain initial data about the object. To explain means to interpret an object in a system of already exist­ing, historically accumulated knowledge, of definite principles, laws, and categories. It is impossible to explain anything without spec­ifying the object's all-sided links with other objects, without taking into account the principle of historism, the object's genesis, contra­dictions, and development.

Explanation as an extremely complex searching activity cannot do without all kinds of guesses and hypothetical judgements, that is, without hypotheses. It should be noted that contradictions some­times arise at the level of explanation of facts: identical facts can sometimes be explained in different ways and in different theoreti­cal systems.

Measurement is a way to provide quantitative descriptions of the object being studied, its properties or relations. Measurement includes: 1) the object (measurement value), 2) the method (metric, scale), 3) the result (that is the subject to a further interpretation). Measurement is one of the most complex procedures in modern science, as, for example, the study of microscopic objects the measurement affects the system, changing the key parameters.

Experiment is a general scientific method, which lies in the study of phenomena and processes within specially created conditions. Unlike observation, the experiment involves isolating the object of study, creating favorable conditions for the detailed analysis of some of its properties. The structure of the experiment: 1) the subject, 2) the object, 3) the circumstances of experimentation (the conditions of time and place, equipment, theoretical framework).

Modeling is a general scientific method, which provides the research of not a specific object, but its substituent (a model, an image). The model is considered to be correct if its properties match the properties of the original, which is investigated. Stages of modeling: 1) construction of a model, 2) study the model, 3) extrapolation (the dissemination of the obtained data on the object-original). With the development of the computer and information technologies modeling has expanded much its limits of functionality and applicability.

Based on these methods they formulate relatively stable views of the world – facts. The verity of the facts is set directly by an experienced way. Scientists try to explain theoretically every scientific fact. Moreover, in modern science most facts are theoretically predicted. In other words, the empirical work of the subject is not chaotic, but is historically conditioned, dependent on the involved theory and previously acquired knowledge about the world.

Obviously, scientific knowledge is not limited to stating of facts. That is why the methods of processing and systematization of facts are important. They are: a) analysis and synthesis, b) induction and deduction, c) analogy, d) classification and others. These methods are also called general-logical methods of cognition.

Analysis and synthesis. The movement from the sensuous-con­crete to the abstract and then to the concrete-in-thought includes above all such devices as analysis and synthesis. Analysis is the divi­sion of objects into their constituent parts or aspects in practical or the­oretical activity aimed at grasping some complex whole. When the particulars have been studied sufficiently well through analysis, the next stage in cognition comes, which is synthesis that impractical or mental combination of the elements, divided and studied analyti­cally, into a single whole. Analysis identifies primarily the specifics which distinguish the parts from one another, while synthesis reveals the essentially general which binds the parts into a single whole. Analysis which presupposes synthesis has as its central nucleus the identification of the essential. When that is done, the whole does not appear in the same light, either, as when reason first knows it — it now has much deeper content.

Induction is a form of thinking in which the general conclusion is based on knowledge of the particular. Induction is based on the existence of causal-effective dependence between the partial and general. Therefore, the inductive conclusion is always probable.

Deductive reasoning is a form of thinking, which includes strict observance of laws of logic as you move between thoughts and processes of contemplation. Sometimes the deduction is defined as the way to determine the views from the general to the particular. The conclusion obtained by the deductive method is always reliable. In the scientific cognition induction and deduction are interconnected. Induction expands the existing knowledge, allows to put forward hypotheses, assumptions, versions, while the deduction is aimed at systematizing the existing knowledge, creation of some theories and their argumentation.

Analogy is an objective relationship between objects that makes it possible to transfer the information obtained in the study of a given object onto another object resembling the former in terms of a definite set of features. Analogy, which links the unknown with the known, lies at the very heart of understanding facts. The new is consciously realized only through the images and concepts of the old and familiar. The first planes were constructed on the anal­ogy of the behaviour of other objects in flight, such as birds, kites and gliders.

Analogy is a verisimilar, feasible logical conclusion about the simi­larity of two objects in terms of some feature. As a method, analogy is most often used in the so-called theory of similarity, which is widely employed in modeling.

Classification is the distribution of items of any kind of interrelated classes according to some certain criteria or indicators. Implementation of the classification reveals deep, unobvious at first sight relationships between objects, allows to formulate general conclusions on the subject of research.

The result of applying of the methods of processing and systematization of facts is to formulate hypotheses and empirical laws (assumptions, versions, etc.)

Clearly, the empirical evidence does not penetrate deeply into the essence of things, phenomena and processes, and allows formulating a superficial understanding of their structure, to identify some causal dependency, promote primary hypothesis. In other words, the empirical level of knowledge allows the researcher to formulate only probable knowledge about the object. The deeper understanding of reality is only possible when some methods of theoretical knowledge are involved, which require abstraction from inessential object properties.

That is why the first step of the theoretical level of knowledge is the construction of an idealized object that in the further study replaces the existing reality. For this man’s cognitive practical activity the methods of construction of an idealized object are important. They are: a) abstraction, b) idealization, c) formalization, d) mathematical modeling.

Abstraction and idealization. It is impossible to grasp an object in the entire fullness of its properties. Like a spotlight, human thought throws light at each given moment at a fragment of reality, while the rest sinks in gloom, as it were. At each of these moments we are aware of some one thing only—but this one thing has a great many properties and relations. We can cognize it only in the order of con­tinuity, by concentrating attention on some qualities and connec­tions and ignoring others.

Abstraction is a mental singling out of some object in isolation from its connections with other objects, of some property of an object in isolation from its other properties, of some relation of an object in isolation from the object itself. Abstraction is a method of mental simplification in which only one aspect of a given process is con­sidered.

The result of the process of abstraction are various concepts of objects (plant, animal, man), ideas on the separate properties of ob­jects and relations between them considered as particular "abstract objects" (whiteness, volume, length, heat capacity).

Idealization as a specific form of abstraction is an important de­vice of scientific cognition That is an abstrac­tion not to be found in nature. But abstractions are also images of the real: they are born of the generalization from experience. Ideal­ization is a process of forming concepts whose real prototypes may be pointed out only with a certain degree of approximation. The results of idealization are theoretical models in which the characteristics and aspects of the cognized object are not only abstracted from the actual empirical diversity, but also appear as products of mental construction that are more clear-cut and fully pronounced than in reality. Examples of concepts resulting from idealization are the "point" (an object that has neither length nor height nor width), the "straight line", or the "circle". The introduction of idealized objects into the process of research permits the construction of abstract schemata of real processes, which are necessary for a deeper under­standing of the laws of their development.

Formalization and mathematicization. Formalization is generali­zation of the forms of processes differing in content, abstraction of these forms from their content. Here form is regarded as a relatively independent object of study. It is often believed that formalization is connected with mathematics, mathematical logic, and cybernetics. That is not correct. It permeates all types of man's practical and theoretical activity. Historically, it emerged together with the ap­pearance of language. Our ordinary language expresses the weakest level of formalization. Formalization is at its extreme in mathematics and mathematical logic, which study the forms of reasoning in abstrac­tion from their content, maximally "denuding" thought, leaving only the framework of its structure intact

Today, the problem of interpretation, i.e. of establishment of the objective content of scientific knowledge, is becoming more and more acute. Abstraction becomes meaningless without concretization, while formalization has no meaning without interpretation. If formalization is the movement of thought from the content of an ob­ject to its abstract form, interpretation moves from the object's ab­stract form to its content. After it is constructed, a formal system again returns to its meaningful basis. Abstraction from content is temporary only.

What is mathematicization? It is the application of mathematical methods to scientific cognition. There was a time when these meth­ods were applied first and foremost to mechanics, physics, and as­tronomy, in short, to the natural sciences. Later they began to pene­trate into the social sciences, e.g., into sociological, economic and other studies. This was made possible by the achievements of cyber­netics.

Mathematics is needed by specialists in all fields not only to carry out calculations but also as a powerful heuristic device; it is also needed to introduce greater rigorousness and discipline into logical thinking. At the same time the limitations of formalization and mathematicization of scientific cognition are becoming increasingly clear. Modern science is developing on the path of a synthesis of formal and meaningful aspects of cognition on the basis of material­ism and dialectics.

Methods of theoretical knowledge: a) the deductive (axiomatic, hipoteko-deductive), b) historical (specifically historical, abstract and historical), c) system.

Scientific knowledge, which is formed by the axiomatic method, is a deductive system in which the entire contents of the theory may be made from its first principles – axioms (statements, the reliability of which are not exposed to doubt). Hypothetic-deductive method implies the existence of the aggregate set of hypotheses and empirical facts, among which a complex system of interaction and interdependence is established.

The historical approach, unlike the previous one, is focused on the origin, formation and development of the object of research. It is widely used in linguistics, geology, astronomy, psychology and other sciences, which study complex, spread out in time processes.

At the core of the group of systemic methods is the concept of system – an orderly, structured set of elements. Systematic approach is based on the following principles: 1) the systemic object – a collection of items connected between each other with a finite set of structural and functional dependencies; 2) the system functioning depends and can be explained in consideration of its structural organization, 3) the structural organization of the system can be interpreted with the help of other object-models.

The result of applying these methods is obtaining knowledge in the form of scientific problems, hypotheses, theories, concepts.

The problem is the issue or set of issues that arise objectively during the process of a scientific cognition. Solving the problem would help settle current scientific issues.

Hypothesis and its role in the development of scientific knowledge. Not one scientific theory appeared in ready-made form. At first, a theory exists as a hypothesis. The hypothesis itself does not spring up at once but goes through definite stages of formation. A hypo­thesis is a supposition starting out from facts, a proposition trying to grasp the essence of an inadequately studied sphere of the world.

The need for a hypothesis arises, as a rule, in a situation when facts are revealed which go beyond the boundaries of the explana­tory possibilities of an existing theory. Hypotheses have a purely auxiliary but extremely great heuristic significance: they are instrumental in making discoveries. Just as theories, hypotheses are generalizations of available knowledge. At the same time knowledge contained in a hypothesis does not necessarily follow from previously available knowledge. A hypothesis is basically probabilistic; its truth is on credit, so to speak. Hypotheses should be clearly distinguished from fantasies.

Hypotheses are respected no less than theories. Although the lat­ter are more reliable and even tinged with a halo of infallibility, the history of science shows that in the course of time they are either thoroughly revised or else destroyed or otherwise collapse, and fresh hypotheses are evolved on their ruins.

Theory as the highest form of integral scientific knowledge. In the broad sense of the word, theory is a system of reliable repre­sentations, ideas, and principles explaining some phenomena. In a narrower sense, a theory is the highest, well-substantiated, logically consistent system of scientific knowledge formulating an integral view of certain essential properties, laws, cause-and-effect relations, and determinants, all conditioning the character of the functioning and de­velopment of a definite sphere of reality.

A theory is a developing system of objectively true scientific knowledge verified by practice and explaining the laws governing the phenomena in a given field. The core of a scientific theory is its laws.

Science develops not only through gradual accumulation and augmenting of new knowledge. The turning points in the history of science were scientific revolutions linked with the names of Coper­nicus, Newton or Einstein. Revolutions in science are expressed in qualitative changes in its basic principles, concepts, categories, laws, theories, methods and the style of thought itself, in the replacement of one scientific paradigm by another. What is a scientific paradigm? This concept covers the norms and models of empirical and theoretical thinking ac­cepted in a given scientific community which have become convic­tions; a mode of choosing the object of research and explaining of a definite system of facts in terms of sufficiently substantiated princi­ples and laws forming a logically consistent theory. The scientific picture of the world is continually enriched, which ul­timately leads the replacement of one paradigm by another, more meaningful, profound and complete. The characteristic features of paradigms distinguish the styles of scientific thought – mechanistic, probabilistic, or cybernetic.

The above mentioned methods and forms of scientific knowledge are interrelated and complement each other. In the complex, they allow to come closer to true knowledge, which is an ideal and the goal of a cognitive process.


Date: 2015-02-16; view: 2301

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