Sources for The scientific method: Wendell Johnson || 6 aug.2008
Here the description of the method of science as given by the psychologist Wendell Johnson
in his book on general semantics called People in Quandaries (1946).
Johnson concentrates on the dynamics of science, and, being a psychologist,
directed towards his designated application of the way of thinking about live
The first quote is about the basic process:
From: Wendell Johnson, People in Quandaries, p. 49-50:
The basic features of science as a method
... we may examine briefly some of the more "obvious" - but very important and not
at all commonly employed - features of scientific method.
We may say, in briefest summary, that the method of science
consists in (a) asking dear answerable questions in order to direct one's (b)
observations, which are made in a calm and unprejudiced manner, and which are
then (c) reported as accurately as possible and in such a way as to answer the
questions that were asked to begin with, after which (d) any pertinent beliefs
or assumptions that were held before the observations were made are revised in
light of the observations made and the answers obtained. Then more questions are
asked in accordance with the newly revised notions, further observations are
made, new answers are arrived at, beliefs and assumptions are again revised, after which the whole process starts over again. In fact, it never stops. Science
as method is continuous. All its conclusions are held subject to the further
revision that new observations may require. It is a method of keeping one's
information, beliefs, and theories up to date. It is, above all, a method of
changing one's mind - sufficiently often. ...
When one tries to put these words into a diagram, one might well get the figure
shown alongside. In this diagram one also sees that the process is an cyclic
one, the thing that Johnson describes as 'changing one's mind
- sufficiently often.'
The next quote goes towards Johnson's desired application:
From: Wendell Johnson, People in Quandaries, p. 58-61:
... So far we have indicated, as we have said, five important features of
science as general method and orientation, science as a way of life. In brief
summary these are:
1. The basic notion that reality is to be regarded as a process.
Process implies continuous change. Continuous change implies a never-ending
series of differences in ourselves and in the various aspects of reality to
which we must remain adjusted. No two things are exactly alike; no one thing
stays the same. The point of view which such a notion represents is the
fundamental point of view of science.
2. Adaptability, a readiness to change as changing conditions
require, is fostered by such a point of view. Adaptability is a prominent
feature of a scientific way of life.
3. Of the four main steps involved in scientific method, three are
concerned primarily with the use of language: the asking of the questions that
guide our observations, the reporting of the observations in such a way as to
answer the questions, and the revising of beliefs to the extent that such
revising is required by the answers obtained. (The fourth step, which is not
directly concerned with language, is that of making the indicated observations.)
The language of science is the better part of the method of science.
4. The language of science is meaningful, in the sense that it
refers directly or indirectly to experience or observable actualities.
As meaningful language it is clear and it is designed to be accurate or valid. It
is continually directed by two great questions: "What do you mean?" and "How do
5. The language of science not only involves meaningful, clear, and
valid statements, but also centers around c1early answerable questions. The use
of language in a scientific way involves a peculiarly important rule: The terminology of the question determines the terminology of the answer. There is
no place in scientific language, there is no place in the language of sanity,
for vague or meaningless - that is to say, unanswerable - questions. Such
questions are maladjustive, tragically misdirective of human energy. In a
scientific way of life they are ruled out; they are frankly abandoned. As was
said at the conclusion of the preceding chapter, the good will and well-being
which the patriarch and the moralist so often and so disastrously fail to
achieve, the scientist would seek to gain by teaching people how to put nature
and themselves only the kind of questions that can be answered
with practical clarity. ...
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