Experiment and Observation

David Musick (David_Musick@msn.com)
Sat, 28 Sep 96 17:09:44 UT

In the discussion between Eugene Leitl and Robin Hanson about social science
experiments, they bring up the difference between Experimentation and
Observation. I think Eugene is correct; observation is _part_ of
experimentation. However, I would just like to point out that experimentation
is simply a way of setting up interesting things to observe. Science is about
making sense of our observations. The experimental aspect is simply to
intentionally create some phenomena that one is interested in observing,
rather than waiting around for it to just happen on its own, since in most
cases it's not likely to happen on its own, and even if it does, you're not
likely to be there to observe it carefully. Thus, we can get a large sampling
of observations which we have set up to be very similar in most respects and
varied in particular, chosen respects. Then we have enough observational data
to reasonably fit our theories to. If the things we wanted to study
spontaneously arose and varied themselves in precicely the ways we would if we
were setting them up as an experiment, then we wouldn't have to experiment at
all, just observe carefully and theorize. But alas, the world isn't so
cooperative, so we must go out of our way to set up and vary interesting
phenomena to observe.

- David Musick