Title 2 – TOK Essay May 2017 KQ 6 : In what ways are experimentalists with the Facts/Data are perfect partners with Theorists and their theories?


Francis Bacon believed in facts , data and observations and he also believed that theories should seek the physical causes underlying observations so as to predict the results of observations not included in the data that generated the theory and that theory and experiment were partners in the quest to generate sound science for the benefit of society.

And yes with only grainy and fuzzy data , you cannot have a good theory : Galileo could not see the saturn rings and he came up with the probable model of Saturn Rings with very different and incorrect diagrams that Christiaan Hugyens cataloged, before he came with a better theory for Saturn Rings equipped with a better telescope getting rid of all that grainy data.

“Einstein is often cited as an example of a conceptual researcher, but he based his theories on experimental observations and proposed experiments, real and thought, which would test his theories. On the other hand, Edison is often considered an empiricist, the “Edisonian method” being a by-word for trial and error. But Edison appreciated the work of theorists and hired some of the best.”

Theories are crucial to science because they provide a coherent framework for making sense out of scientific observations. Therefore, scientists prefer theories with a few far-reaching principles to theories that require a different principle to explain each new phenomenon. Thus, it should be no surprise that two theories that have enjoyed great popularity–evolutionary theory and social learning theory–possess only a few, broad-ranging principles.”

Being a renowned theorist , Richard Feynman paid a sparkling tribute to the supremacy of experiment when he said:

“In general we look for a new law by the following process. First we guess it. Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right. Then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is – if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong.”


“ There are also outstanding example of discoveries made by experimenters which really had no theoretical precedent. That is what makes Rutherford and Faraday the two greatest experimental physicists in history. Rutherford discovered the atomic nucleus in 1908, but it took thirty years for physicists to develop a concrete theory of the nucleus. Similarly Faraday discovered the seamless relationship between electricity and magnetism – one of the very few examples of unification by experiment – but it took until after his death for Maxwell to come up with his pioneering theory of electromagnetism. Experimentalists often follow in the steps of theorists, but the instances in which they lead the way are as full of creativity and achievement as the work of an Einstein, Bohr or Feynman. And even when they follow, they are the ones who bridge the gap between idea and hard fact.”


“You can do is be lazy with theory or be lazy with data. You can be an armchair philosopher, dreaming up ideas about how the world works without ever bothering to find out if your ideas are right. Or you can be a “regression monkey”, sitting there sifting for correlations without having any idea what you’re looking at. Obviously, if you’re expecting to get good results, you shouldn’t do either of these.”