3What Does Galileo's Discovery of Jupiter's Moons Tell Us About the Process of Scientific Discovery_

3What Does Galileo's Discovery of Jupiter's Moons Tell Us About the Process of Scientific Discovery_

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Science & Education 11: 1–24, 2002. © 2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands. 1 What Does Galileo’s Discovery of Jupiter’s Moons Tell Us About the Process of Scientific Discovery? ANTON E. LAWSON Department of Biology, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-1501, USA; E-mail: [email protected] Abstract. In 1610, Galileo Galilei discovered Jupiter’s moons with the aid of a new more powerful telescope of his invention. Analysis of his report reveals that his discovery involved the use of at least three cycles of hypothetico-deductive reasoning. Galileo first used hypothetico-deductive reasoning to generate and reject a fixed star hypothesis. He then generated and rejected an ad hoc astronomers- made-a-mistake hypothesis. Finally, he generated, tested, and accepted a moon hypothesis. Galileo’s reasoning is modeled in terms of Piaget’s equilibration theory, Grossberg’s theory of neurological activity, a neural network model proposed by Levine & Prueitt, and another proposed by Kosslyn & Koenig. Given that hypothetico-deductive reasoning has played a role in other important scientific discoveries, the question is asked whether it plays a role in all important scientific discoveries. In other words, is hypothetico-deductive reasoning the essence of the scientific method? Possible alternative scientific methods, such as Baconian induction and combinatorial analysis, are explored and rejected as viable alternatives. Educational implications of this hypothetico-deductive view of science are discussed. Introduction In 1610 in his Sidereal Messenger , Galileo Galilei reported some observations of heavenly bodies made by a new more powerful telescope of his invention. In that report Galileo claims to have discovered four never before seen ‘planets’ circling Jupiter. As he put it: ‘I should disclose and publish to the world the occasion of discovering and observing four planets, never seen from the beginning of the world up to our times’ (Galilei 1610, as translated and reprinted in Shapley et al. 1954, p. 59). Unlike many modern scientific papers, Galileo’s report is striking in the way in which it chronologically reveals many of the steps in his discovery process. Thus, it provides an extraordinary opportunity to gain insight into the thinking involved in an important scientific discovery. Galileo’s key observations were made during the nights of January 7th, 8th, 10th and 11th in 1610. What follows is a step-by-step This material is based upon research partially supported by the National Science Foundation under grant No. DUE 9453610. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations ex- pressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
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GALILEO’S DISCOVERY OF JUPITER’S MOONS 15 deductive nature of this system functioning is clear. And all one need do to apply the same principles to Galileo’s case, is to extend the time frame over which obser-
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