Como aprender o “hábito da mente cientifica”



(para traduzir)

Henri Becquerel
Henri Becquerel
Becquerel's photo plate
The ruined photo plate that got Becquerel thinking

Some scientific discoveries are chalked up to the serendipity of being in the right place at the right time to make a key observation — but rarely does serendipity alone lead to a new discovery. The people who turn lucky breaks into breakthroughs are generally those with the background knowledge and scientific ways of thinking needed to make sense of the lucky observation. For example, in 1896, Henri Becquerel made a surprising observation.

He found that photographic plates stored next to uranium salts were spotted, as though they’d been exposed to light rays — even though they had been kept in a dark drawer. Someone else, with a less scientific state of mind and less background knowledge about physics, might have cursed their bad luck and thrown out the ruined plates. But Becquerel was intrigued by the observation. He recognized it as something scientifically interesting, went on to perform follow-up experiments that traced the source of the exposure to the uranium, and in the process, discovered radioactivity. The key to this story of discovery lies partly in Becquerel’s instigating observation, but also in his way of thinking. Along with the relevant background knowledge, Becquerel had a scientific state of mind. Sure, he made some key observations — but then he dug into them further, inquiring why the plates were exposed and trying to eliminate different potential causes of the exposure to get to the physical explanation behind the happy accident.

Want to develop your own scientific state of mind?


Think science!

You might imagine that scientific thinking differs from the sorts of reasoning tools that you use in your everyday life — that scientists go around with a head full of equations through which they view the world. In fact, many aspects of scientific thinking are just extensions of the way you probably think everyday:
Ever seen something surprising and tried to figure out how it happened? Perhaps you’ve seen a magician make his assistant disappear from a box and wondered if the trick involved a trap door ….
Ever sought out more evidence (e.g., by looking for a joint in the floor beneath the box)?
Ever come up with a new explanation for a mystery? Perhaps the trick used a mirror to reflect an image of an empty wall ….
These might seem like trivial examples, but in fact, they represent scientific habits of mind applied to an everyday situation. Scientists use such ways of thinking to scrutinize their topics of study — whether that’s human behavior or neutron stars — and you can use the same tools in your own life.

Microbiologists performing a PCR assay An inquisitive child looks to see what she can discover under a rock

Scientific ways of thinking can be applied to everyday life.
Want to develop your scientific outlook? Try to consciously apply these habits of mind to the natural world around you:

Question what you observe. How does bleach lighten your clothes? How do bees find their way back to the hive? What causes the phases of the moon?
Investigate further. Find out what is already known about your observations. Your sister says that bleach washes chemicals out of fabric, while your chemistry book says that bleach is good at breaking molecular bonds that cause chemicals to appear colored.
Be skeptical. You’ve heard that honeybees use the sun to navigate, but does that really make sense? What would they do on cloudy days?
Try to refute your own ideas. Look at things from the other side of the argument. You’d always assumed that the phases of the moon were caused by the shadow of the Earth falling on the moon — but if that were really the case, then how is it that we can sometimes see both the moon and the sun in the sky overhead?
Seek out more evidence. Does bleach work better on some sorts of stains than others? Do bees leave the hive on cloudy days? Is there any relationship between the phase of the moon and where it appears in the night sky?
Be open-minded. Change your mind if the evidence warrants it. If everything you learn about the moon clashes with the idea of lunar phases being caused by the Earth’s shadow, perhaps you should give up that idea and look for other explanations.
Think creatively. Try to come up with alternate explanations for what you observe. Maybe bees also use landmarks to get back to their hives, maybe they use the Earth’s magnetic field, maybe they follow some sort of scent trail, or maybe they use a combination of navigation methods ….
In terms of answering your original questions, some of these strategies are bound to be dead ends. At the end of the day, you’ll have learned a lot but may still be without solid answers. And if so, congratulations — you’re really thinking like a scientist! Scientific investigations, like your own exploration, often lead in unexpected directions and lack tidy endpoints. Nevertheless, these ways of thinking illuminate the world around us in ways that are often useful and always fascinating, revealing the inner workings of our everyday experiences — whether that’s a walk past a garden, a moonlit night, or just doing a load of laundry.