Scientific Thinking LO21955

Kent Quisel (
Mon, 21 Jun 1999 17:40:06 -0400

Replying to LO21936 --

At has proposed that scientific thinking be described with 3 stages devised
by Karl Popper:

While learning communities are in general not the same as scientific
networks, a good description for one group may be very important to the
other. So I am looking for words that can be applied broadly. To me, one
of the most robust descriptions of learning is "diverging" and "converging".
If we can help organizations do these two tasks well, a lot of learning
potential can be realized.

The stage of "speculating" matches "diverging". At pointed out the
resulting static equilibrium if this stage is weak. Too much "diverging"
results in chaos.

The word "falsify" does not seem to have a broad meaning outside of science.
In the more fuzzy arenas of organizational issues, we rarely have general
statements that are rigidly true or false. We are mostly looking for
insights that are only a partial viewpoint on a complex reality.

The comments of At, Winfred, John and Leo have stimulated me to fill out a
framework with several words for consideration. The discussion of "crap
detector" and "gem dector" led to considering two types of words, describing
the core process and describing the key obstacles to a quality result.

Words for the Popper stages:

1) Observing - widely sensing what is happening

Core process
signal detector, feedback detector, surprise detector, listening skills

Awareness of quality
filter detector (how are signals transformed?), error detector, delay

2) Speculating - diverse possibilities synthesized into representative

Core process
pattern detector, potential idea detector, nurturing detector, diversity
reward detector

Awareness of quality
judgement detector, rush detector, disrespect detector

3) Falsifying - stress testing and reconciling into learnings for effective

Core process
value (gem, crap) detector, holistic balance (multi-values) detector, tough
test (destructive!) detector

Awareness of quality
LEM detector (has to be A or B), test bias (rigging) detector, promotion

I would suggest there is a useful fourth stage of "promoting". This would
mean an effort and a plan to overcome resistance to new ideas by
convincingly spreading the learnings for communal benefit. This would
include appropriate implementation plans.

I have struggled most with the stage called "falsifying." At had seen this
as a complementary dual of "true" or "false" and he was also looking for
another dual, triad, or n-ad. I suggest a respectful complimentory triad:
"reconciled", "fragmentary" and "illuminating transient (no longer needed)".

Several examples of respectful scientific progress come to mind. Albert
Einstein was uncomfortable with Quantum Theory (which is still a respected
view), but he called QT "incomplete", rather than false.

Within the past month, a team of astronomers completed an eight year study
to settle the dispute over the age of the universe. Prior estimates
seemed to cluster around 10 or 20 billion years (and no overlapping
uncertainty). This new study converged on 13 billion years with 10%
accuracy. We are still left curious how the earlier conflicting data was
reconciled. Then just one week later, another team announced that they
had measured distances with a 1-2% accuracy and that the first team was
using a distance unit that was 15% too long! Neither team used the word
"false". The first team leader graciously welcomed the new data and asked
for more tests before rewriting conclusions. In this example, it seems
that learning is an evolving process with many aspects besides "true" and
"false." It also seems that systemically, these teams tend to overstate
the accuracy of their work and they have this issue for learning.


Kent Quisel <> Decision Support Associates (DeSA) (302)654-1673 FAX (302)654-1738 Wilmington, DE, US

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