Where Do Hypotheses Come From?

  • Martin Goldstein
  • Inge Goldstein


In this chapter we turn to the question, where do we get scientific hypotheses? The way the question is phrased may be misleading. Put this way, it gives the impression that forming hypotheses is something unique to scientific activity. However, if we understand by the word “hypothesis” the perception of some pattern in phenomena, the establishment of some expectation as to what will happen next, we realize that “forming hypotheses” is something we do all the time and have been doing since birth. We are by nature hypothesis formers. At what age our practice of interpreting the world in such structured terms begins is not known, but long before we learn to talk in sentences we have already gone far beyond the raw impressions given us by our senses. We organize things coherently into such concepts as “mother,” “father,” “food,” and “doggy,” each of which implies a whole complex set of recognitions and expectations. We are not normally aware of how much of what we “see” is seen by inference and memory rather than with just our eyes. But there are occasions when this is brought home to us, as was discussed in Chapter 2, by the study of the kinds of optical illusions favored by psychologists and the puzzle pages of newspapers, by encounters with people of different cultures, by occasions where something radically unexpected happens, when, in the graphic but hackneyed phrase, “our whole world collapses about us.”


Scientific Discovery Tick Infestation Childbed Fever Optical Illusion Unconscious Mind 
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Reference Notes

  1. 1.
    This quotation is apparently a paraphrase of Billings (the pseudonym of 19th century humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw), who actually wrote: “It is better tew know nothing than tew know what aint so.” We copied it when we saw it quoted somewhere, but we have forgotten the source. It is phrased better that way for our purpose than the way Billings actually put it.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Wolfgang Köhler, The Mentality of Apes (New York: Liveright, 1976).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Henri Poincaré, The Foundations of Science: Science and Hypothesis, The Value of Science, Science and Method. Translated by George B. Halstead (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1982).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    A. E. Housman, The Name and Nature of Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1933).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Harry Wain, A History of Preventive Medicine (Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas, 1970).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Hans Zinsser, Biographical Memoirs of Theobald Smith (Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 1936).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Quoted in W. I. Beveridge, The Art of Scientific Investigation (New York: W. W. Norton, 1957).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    P. B. Medawar, The Art of the Soluble (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1969).Google Scholar

Suggested Reading

  1. Ghiselin, Brewster, ed. The Creative Process: A Symposium. New York: New American Library, 1952.Google Scholar
  2. Koestler, Arthur. The Act of Creation. New York: Macmillan, 1964.Google Scholar
  3. Perkins, D. N. The Mind’s Best Work. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981.Google Scholar
  4. Tweney, Ryan D., Michael E. Doherty, and Clifford R. Mynatt, eds. On Scientific Thinking. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin Goldstein
    • 1
  • Inge Goldstein
    • 2
  1. 1.Yeshiva UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Columbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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