Bacon and Descartes differed in their methods, however. Bacon stressed experimentation and observation. He wanted science to make life better for people by leading to practical technologies. Descartes emphasized human reasoning as the best road to understanding. His Discourse on Method explains how he decided to discard all traditional authorities and search for provable knowledge. Left only with doubt, he concluded that doubt was the only thing he could not question, and that in order to doubt he had to exist as a rational, thinking being. At that point, he made his famous statement, “I think, therefore I am.”
Over time, the scientific method evolved into a step-by-step process of discovery. Scientists collected and accurately measured data. To explain the data, scientists used reasoning to propose a logical hypothesis, or possible explanation. They then tested the hypothesis with further observation or experimentation.
For the first time, mathematical calculations were used to convert the observations and experiments into scientific laws. After reaching a conclusion, scientists repeated their work at least once—and usually many times—to confirm and refine their hypotheses or formulate better ones.
Thinkers like Bacon and Descartes helped bring the scientific method to the pursuit of all knowledge. Their pioneering approaches to thought opened the way to even more revolutionary ways of thinking in the 1700s.
How did the ideas of Francis Bacon and René Descartes lead to a new scientific method?
The 1500s and 1600s saw dramatic changes in many of the sciences, especially medicine and chemistry. Like Copernicus, Bacon, and Descartes, scientists rejected long-held assumptions. They relied on new technology, such as the microscope, and benefited from better communication, especially the availability of printed books.
Medieval physicians relied on the works of the ancient Greek physician Galen. Galen, however, had made many errors, in part because he had limited knowledge of human anatomy. During the Renaissance, physicians made new efforts to study the human body.
The scientific method, still used today, is based on careful observation and measurement of data. Why do you think it's critical to follow each step in sequence and to follow the same procedure for each step?