The appliance of science

Have you ever tried to open a jar with your bare hands and found it impossible? Using rationalism and its problem solving properties, you can explain why it is so difficult to open.

The flesh of a human palm is usually smooth and slightly greasy. This means the grip on the jar lid (usually smooth metal) is insufficient to get any decent torque. To overcome this inefficiency we naturally grip tighter on the tin lid which, being so flimsy, squeezes onto the glass adding more friction between the glass and the lid making it more difficult to turn and so we grip tighter in a self defeating loop.

Once observed and understood, the identified problem – insufficient friction between flesh and tin lid – can be addressed.

The solution is to increase the friction between flesh and metal by using a suitable material placed between the two. A readily available material is rubber which requires no preparation or involved removal. Either use a rubber glove when gripping the lid or place a rubber band around the lid before gripping it with your bare hand. Anyone who has tried this little trick will testify to its efficacy – as if by magic the lid twists off with hardly any effort.

This may be a useful household tip but it is also a metaphor for the scientific method which can so dramatically improve our lives. To recap;

  • Study the problem
  • Observe all the mechanisms involved, carefully following the sequence of events. The more you learn the better.

  • Create your hypothesis
  • Basically, make an educated guess as to what you think is happening.

  • Test your hypothesis
  • Once the process is reasonably well understood (some things are too complex to surrender so easily to the scientific method) experiments can be carried out which test the understanding. These experiments either work, which demonstrate the understanding is probably sound (but not certain) or they don’t, which means going back and observing more closely the original problem. Of course, you often get results which are unexpected and so raise more questions than answers.

    Such is the history of science.

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