If the process of scientific discoveries is reproducible?

Reproducibility is one of the main principles of a scientific method, that is, the entire process of a given experiment should be reproduced independent of the experimenter. Now, imagine a given scientific discovery, for example quantum mechanics. It starts with some observations, then some ideas and finally formulation based on some mathematical proofs. Now, the question is: if this process, from idea to formulation, is reproducible? More precisely,  are the results independent of the people who contributed in formulating quantum theory, such as Planck, Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and many more?

My short answer to this question is “No”. For example, it is not clear that how Planck came up with his role of quantization in his 1900 paper, and if it was not suggested by him, probably this could still remain as a mystery for many more years to come. Or, it is not clear that how Heisenberg came up with his matrix formulation of quantum mechanics. See this reference, in which possible derivation of the 1925 “magical” paper of Heisenberg is discussed. The same is true for Born probabilistic interpretation of quantum states. So, as it is clear, all these steps depend highly on the genius of the people who contributed to the field. These derivations are not reproducible, hence, the process of scientific discoveries itself is outside of the realm of science, surprisingly.

In the ancient eastern science there were two methods for obtaining knowledge. The first method, which matches with the definition of the modern science, is by extrinsic observation and speculation and is called “obtainable” science. I call this method an algorithmic method. It means that, there is an algorithm to obtain that knowledge. The second method  is derived by a deep intellectual intuition and it depends on the individual intellect and its level of awareness. I call this method an intuitive method.

Almost all of the mathematical and geometrical proofs belong to the second method of obtaining knowledge, that is by deep intuitions. Actually, this is the part which distinguishes human from machine, and this is the part which I believe can not be simulated by AI (artificial intelligence). Solving an equation, or winning games like chess, all belong to the algorithmic method, so the higher the power of computation, the easier to solve or win. But proving a mathematical or geometrical problem does not require a computational power; it requires ingenuity or a deep intellectual intuition.

The second method is strongly criticized by the modern science, however, ironically, the process of scientific discoveries belong to the category of the intuitive method. In the eastern science, there is a long history of how to improve awareness and intellectual intuition accordingly [1]. This is, in fact, what is missing in the modern science.

[1] The procedure of improving awareness, actually, is the source of different religions in the east. Each religion came up with an answer to this question, as this is also the only way one can go beyond the material world, if there is any. That’s why whence the modern world started to criticize the religions, it also denies the second method totally without paying much attention to aforementioned subtleties.

4 thoughts on “If the process of scientific discoveries is reproducible?

  1. I agree with what you said and I wanted to add that the second method might also have to do with “creativity”, as you know there are a lot of students that manage to get very good grades and appear at the top of their classes but they turn out to be very poor researchers.
    these are the ones who are very good and following an algorithm and applying it to new situations, but very bad at finding new solutions without little or no background.

  2. You are absolutely right. The concept that I forgot to touch but is directly related to the intuitive method is the subject of creativity. No need to mention that, religious philosopher throughout the history are the most creative people around, particularly if you do not consider any heavenly origin for religions. Since they are people who have either deep intuition in understanding of reality, or for inventing one. Actually, that is why in the other post (از طبیعه تا ماوراء الطبیعه) I mentioned that I believed that the path toward metaphysics is through physics. Maybe I elaborate more on the subject one day soon. Thank for the comment by the way.

  3. Very interesting topic. Thanks for bringing up this issue. I am also very agree on what you have mentioned here. I just want to add another point. The Reproducibility in science itself is based on some assumptions that 1- things (e.g. laws of nature) should stay same without changing through time, eternal laws, 2- Also, as Fred mentioned, they should be independent from the observer. The root of these two assumptions (we do not have any proof that universe acts like this) came from Greek philosophers who thought the laws of nature should be eternal and independent of observer (e.g.: Atomistic philosophy) and also from religion (eternal heavenly laws). . Although, these assumptions could be intuitive and they are base of modern science and without them science gets really complicated, I am not sure if this is the only way universe exists. Imagine, universal laws are more dynamic than we though and they change through time. (Not in human time scale or even at human time scale), Then the consequence of such thinking would be looking at nature from a narrow cross section and not considering many more possibilities. Although, it is very hard or even impossible for modern science to not consider reproducibility, but reproducible events could be the rarest events in universe. Actually, they seem to be reproducible (in our time scale, by our methods (lots of constrictions and controls) and more importantly by beginning with this assumption that only reproducible experiments lead to a scientific discovery. ) So, we impose this thinking to nature and looking only for “reproducible” events. In reality, this results in an illusion of a non changing universe that is governed by some unchanged physical laws.

  4. Thanks Ali jan for your thoughtful comment. Yes, I agree with you that reproducibility itself is a postulate, and we are restricted to that part of natural phenomena which are reproducible in the lab, in some sense. For example, consider an astroid/comet which comes close to us every million or some million years, and assume someone in the history report this! Of course, it is not possible to reproduce the data on demand, however it is still a valid phenomena.

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