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North Olympic Peninsula Skills Center

Miscellaneous

Don't Jump to Conclusions

"Just the Facts, Ma'am"

Overview:

Help students understand the important philosophical difference between an empirical statement and a theoretical statement. Students will use objects found in the natural world to differentiate observations and conclusions.

Focus Questions:

  • What is data?
  • How do we make observations?
  • The importance of scientific analysis and philosophical reasoning?

Background:

We all must be keen observers, whether we are naturalists or just human beings trying to figure out our life. But being a observer and not jumping to conclusions is only the first half of the program. We must also draw conclusions from what we observe. If we don’t, then we run the risk of thinking that there really are no conclusions to be made. Eventually, we must take the risk to draw a conclusion, because there are conclusions to be made. And this, my friend, is our journey.

"The fur is made to keep the beaver warm."

"The sharp canines are to hold flesh tightly."

What about truth? Is truth observable? Is the nature of truth a conclusion we can make? If we are a true skeptic, we don’t allow ourselves to assign a judgment to the nature of truth. But even the skeptic can’t help from leaning this way and that way toward a particular ideal or a presuppositions. It’s in our nature. These leanings are unavoidable.

We are continually bombarded with observations in the natural world that help us define truth. These observations beg questions as well as answers. Why are there so many stars? Why is water liquid on earth? What is the human mind?

We are also given testimonials to truth from witnesses. These observations of others also begs questions and answers—unless we just consider all testimonial of all other humans to be either lies, fantasy or insanity. If we believe the observations of others, then we must consider at least a part of their observations in the body of evidence. Then it’s time for us to draw conclusions. We make a judgment based on the what we know.

Making observations and forming hypothesis and checking hypothesis based on more observations is most certainly the fundamental reason for Science. But it is more than just science, it is what makes the human animal indeed different from all other known life.

Procedure:

Have students arrange themselves in a circle. Pass out some natural objects, such as skins and skulls. Have a variety of objects from which to choose.

On the first round of the activity, students will make only observations. No conclusions are to be made. Go around the table and have each student make one observation. If the student makes a conclusion say, “No conclusions please, only observations this time around.”

Next, go around the table and make conclusions based on their first-round observation.

Go around one more time and have the students back up their conclusion based on one more piece of evidence.

Explain that this in a nutshell is the Scientific method.

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