simply common sense at its best-that is rigidly accurate in observation
and merciless to fallacy in logic T. Huxley
Scientific thinking is not different from any
other kind of thinking, though it is often more rigorously applied.
It is IDENTICAL to the procedures you use to pick a route when you
have many errands to run, solve a crossword puzzle, or determine
a light no longer comes on.This page presents some rules of thumb
or observations of my own that you may find helpful or insightful.
Of course, whats good for the goose may not be good for the
gandertake what works for you, and preserve the uniqueness
of your own mental processes. The last thing the world needs is another
one of me.
Laying the foundation:
Dress for success-Title
of Dale Carnegie book
Begin with the attitude that you can & will
triumph; proceed with determination. Nothing is as lethal to your
mental processes as deciding you are not capable of solving a given
problem. Approaching with the attitude of I wonder if I can
do this is equally abhorrentyou may well retreat in confusion
at the first roadblock. Besides, what if youre wrongassuming
you couldnt succeed when you couldve robs you of
a novel insight or achievement. Assuming you can succeed when in actuality
you cannot wastes some of your timefor most of us this hardly
constitutes a capital crime.
UNDERSTAND THE MATTER AT HAND! The tools of
thinking can only function if they have something to work on. Theres
a reason most brilliant mathematical discoveries come from mathematicians
and most theories about the nature of physical law comes from physicists.
In terms of exam preparation, this doesnt mean being able to
recite a paragraph about a topic-if you cannot predict outcomes of
perturbations, you dont understandand that will
be the goal of this course and its exams. Facts are just tools to
be manipulated--and if you're unfamiliar with your tools, you're
going to get anything built--particularly within the artificial,
stressful conditions of an exam.
Genius is one percent
inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Edison
I dont know a lot of geniuses. But Ive
never met ANYbody who says Oh yes, brilliant ideas just fall
into my head fully formed. Especially in areas in which I have no
expertise. If you want to get THERE from HERE, you have to walktaking
discrete steps in an orderly fashion. Break down the problem-take
small bites. As an everyday example, a crossword puzzle looks blatantly
impossible at first glance. How many people sit down and just fill
it in from top to bottom? Most of us look at the clues, identify
that we can nail, and then incorporate the clues from these small
successes to solve bigger and more difficult issues.
The best way to have a good
idea is to have lots of ideas L. Pauling
Having good ideas is not like being struck
by lightning (see above). For most of us mere mortals, ideas derive
extensive study and contemplation with the occasional flash of insightwhich
itself generally has roots in past experience, other thought processes,
ideas and conversations of other people... Theres no harm in
having ideas off the top of your headthe trick, however, lies
in scrutinizing them to see if they have that kernel of insight or
not. The idea is the starting point of a long, rigorous procedurenot
an endpoint. There's a big difference between a guess and a hypothesis.
For an algorithmic approach to generating
ideas, follow this link.
One of these things is not like
the other &-Sesame Street
Once you have an idea or hypothesis, how do
you determine if it is valid and interesting? The best way is to contrast
it with alternative hypotheses and decide on the merits. The goal
of course is to identify a key point where two models make starkly
differing predictions and then see which is correct. My general procedure
is as follows:
- List ALL differences between the
hypotheses or models that you can think of. Then list 2 more.
- Ask if there is any way to you
AMPLIFY the differences? (this is geneally applicable to model
our experimental tools are almost always indirect and often crude,
we want to have a big target to aim them at)
- How con you observe/detect the
differences? Given that different models make different predictions
(i.e. describe different outcomes or the existence of different
states) how can we take a look and see which is the
most accurate description of the world?
model or theory may not be right; but an ugly one must be wrong. --Jacques
The point of training (and memorizing factoids)
is twofold: First, to provide grist for the millits
all very well and good to want to solve important problems but for
better or worse, the facts as we know them and (sometimes) the thoughts
and opinions of others are the sina qua non (that, without which,
not) of forward progress. Second, only by getting in the rink
and mudwrestling with the facts and tools will you develop the kind
of familiarity required to bring the amazing pattern-matching and
category-recognizing features of your brain to bear (a.k.a. your intuitiona
crucial part of scientific problem solving if it is properly trained
This quote also provides
a caution in terms of building unwieldy models--if your model is "Aliens
exist among us, but can't be seen because they move faster than light,
can't be heard because their special devices move all their sounds
to high frequency, can't be smelled because they hypnotize us to ignore
their raunchy odor, and can't be detected because they have no mass
and thus exert no gravitational influence." it suffers from too
many caveats. Far simpler the model "Aliens do not exist amongst
us, though some people are really weird." This is an example
of Occam's Razor, which can be stated "The simplest hypothesis
is most likely to be correct." (though the original rendition,
by William of Occam, is on the order of No more
things should be presumed to exist than are absolutely necessary.)
Above all:remain orderly & methodical in
It is an old and ironic habit of human beings
to run faster when we have lost our way.-Rollo May
What more needs be said? One useful tipI
personally have found that pretending to be calm can actually help.
Other than that, simply maintain perspective: will the world really
come to an end if you fail miserably?
the bugaboo of sloppy thinking!
Here's a neat site explaining and
giving examples of a ton of different sloppy/fallacious arguments.
Practice, practice, practice
Theres a reason most of
us arent performing in the next Olympics. Given that your brain
is a heck of a lot more powerful and complex than your body, do ya
really think it comes out of the box ready to rock and roll? Train
incessantlyideally by 1) watching and coaching yourself as
you solve problems of all sorts, and 2) finding ways to train that
enjoy. Some that work for me can be found in the
(hint: you are advised to have MasterMind and BlackBox working for
you by exam IV).