Inventions And Innovations
Scientific discoveries include both inventions (the creation of new products or methods whose function is designed in from the start), as well as innovations (the discovery of new abstract concepts).
Three principle methodologies have led to "inventions and innovations" in the past: (1) the application of an technology or knowledge; (2) mathematical calculation; and (3) logical reasoning. Most inventions and innovations can be disquished on the bases of one or more of these three methodologies.The methodology of the application of an technology or knowledge can further be divided into two sections, namely 1) application of an known knowledge; 2) making exploration with a known technology. Several historical examples also help us to distinguish these approaches. Consider, for example, a case that involved the application of known technology and that occurred in the Research and Development laboratory of a major American manufacturer of automobiles approximately twenty years ago. Management had asked its researchers to generate some new ideas for improving engine performance and they came up with the idea of an electronic fuel injection unit--a kind of mini-computer with the capacity to gauge and control the amount of fuel required by the engine under varying load and weather conditions. This device, however, was 'new' only in the sense that it was the first time that a principle of electronics had been applied to the operation of a car engine. As it turned out, any competitive edge that this invention might have given the West was offset by the fact that, researchers in the Japanese and Korean car industries had come up with pretty much the same idea at around the same time. Granted, it is not entirely fair to dismiss the importance of incremental technological improvements. After all, Chinese fire-crackers eventually evolved into rockets capable of reaching the moon. The case of making exploration with technology was used in the discovery of DNA. After optical magnification techniques had advanced to the molecular level, scientists were able to see multiple protein molecules. DNA was discovered from these molecules by observing its four organic bases, its double helix structure, and its ability to duplicate itself. Other historical examples help to illustrate these methodologies as well. For example, mathematical calculation played a pivotal role both in Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity and his equation of E=mc². Logical reasoning can help one to come up with highly imaginative ideas. An early example involving logical reasoning concerns an event that occurred over two thousand years ago in Greece. In 530 B.C., Pythagoras witnessed a lunar eclipse. On the basis of his observation, he conjectured that the dark portion of the eclipse was the shadow of the earth when lit by the sun. Noting that the shadow was round, he reasoned that the earth must also be a sphere. Unfortunately, the technology available to Pythagoras at that time did not allow him to confirm his hypothesis. Furthermore, although some Chinese, Indian, and Mayan astronomers had also witnessed this eclipse, only Pythagoras had come up with a logical explanation to account for the eclipse. Finally, it was only in 1522, the year in which Magellan sailed around the world, that Pythagoras' hypothesis that the earth was a sphere was proven to be correct. A second example of this type involves Thomas Edison, who had made many careful studies of sound characteristics. He had hypothesized that every sound (e.g., the phrase "good morning"), had its own unique vibration waveform. On this basis, he set about reproducing sound by creating an identical sound vibration waveform. This ultimately led him to the invention of a 'talking machine' or phonograph. Only later, with the invention of the oscilloscope, did it become technologically feasible to prove that his theory had been correct. Some inventions and innovations are made by applying these methodologies in parallel. When Thomas Edison first tried to invent the light bulb, he placed the filament in a vacuum glass container so that the filament would not burn. This part of the process is an example of is logical reasoning. He then tried to find a filament material that would not melt at high temperature. He experimented more than a thousand times with different materials and over many months. Finally he discovered that carbon was the most suitable material. This part of the process involves exploration. In short, the invention of the light bulb involves both logical reasoning and exploration.
The purpose of science is to solve problems. Science can be divided into two parts. The first is the uncovering of new scientific knowledge. The second is the recording of uncovered scientific knowledge and the practical application of this knowledge. School teaches us already known scientific knowledge and how to apply this science to practical use. This is why we are taught not to say anything that has not been proven to be true. School has not taught us how to uncover new scientific knowledge.(Please see chart below)
For example after our professors taught us E=mc² in Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, they then gave us an assignment to calculate the amount of uranium-235 needed to generate 1 million thermal kilowatts in a nuclear power plant. Students can easily accomplish this task by applying the above formula. However, in solving a problem in the practical world, we need to come up with the formula E=mc² by ourselves. By doing so, we uncover new knowledge by ourselves. That is the ideal way to apply science to solve problems. As mentioned above, there are three methods to uncovering new knowledge. These methods are exploration, mathematical calculation, and logical reasoning. Our teachers have not taught us how to use logical reasoning methodology in order to uncover new scientific knowledge.
When we use logical reasoning to uncover new scientific knowledge, we need to come up the most suitable hypothesis and verify this idea with experiments. This is contrary to what we are taught in school. Schools teach students that in science "what you say must be proven to be true". This statment is true when we are applying science to practical use. However, the main purpose of science is to uncover new scientific knowledge to solve problems. In order to uncover new knowledge, we need to verify that our idea is true. Yet we cannot prove our idea is true before verification. This statment becomes an obstruction in our effort to uncover new knowledge. Schools should differentiate between uncovering new scientific knowledge and applying science to practical use. Since we were taught in school not to say anything that had not been proven to be true, logical reasoning has been neglected ever since the establishment of the modern education system. We need to re-introduce a logical reasoning methodology back into our schools and into our research environments. We need to promote logical reasoning.
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