Science and Common sense

by Nikolai V. Shokhirev

What is scientist?


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Crazy scientist 

The image of a crazy (mad, evil) scientist is the product of mass media and the entertainment industry. In fact, the modern mass media is a part of the entertainment industry. They are ignorant in the majority of areas that they present (science is only one of them), so they create some primitive images to substitute for the real things (This is the subject of a separate discussion). But what is a scientist anyway? 

A scientist is a person who does science. So we need to determine what science is. But first let us step back and discuss the notion of common sense. 

Common sense 

One can find several definitions for "common sense": 

 It does not look like much, does it?. But on the other hand:

  1. "Common sense" is a giant step from "No sense" (animals, computers)
  2. It is not common at all (unfortunately)
  3. Common sense is the basis and the origin of science 

The last statement can be proved by the comparing two approaches to problem solving:

   The scientific approach The common sense approach 
1 Identification of a natural or social phenomenon (general question)  Ordinary question ("What the hell is this?", "Why is it happening?", etc.) 
2 Hypothesis formulation (Wild) guess ("This fruit is eatable")
3 Experimental design Planning ("How can I make it happen?", "How can I get it?", etc.)
4 Collecting data and information Observing, touching, sniffing, chewing, etc.
5 Analyzing data Analysis ("This fruit almost killed me")
6 Interpretation Interpretation ("It must be poisonous")
7 Publication (in Journals, books) Publicizing ("Don't eat this fruit. It is poisonous.")

Science is refined common sense

 In the above comparison, the common sense approach is separated into stages on purpose just to show the similarities. Usually, the stages in the common sense approach are combined together. For example, the statement "Snow is cold and is made of millions of snowflakes" is a mixture of all stages (explicit and implicit ones). 

The scientific approach consciously deals with the pure stages. In other words, science is purified, refined common sense. 

The following quotations support this idea

Using the extended definition, anyone with the ability of common sense can be called a scientist. A professional scientist takes common sense to the higher levels of abstraction.

Back to the crazy scientist

Before the mid-twentieth century, American inventors, engineers and scientists were regarded with more esteem. For example, nobody considered Alexander Graham Bell as "mad" or "crazy", and the following citation about Thomas Alva Edison speaks for itself:

"He led no armies into battle, he conquered no countries, and he enslaved no peoples... Nonetheless, he exerted a degree of power the magnitude of which no warrior ever dreamed. His name still commands a respect as sweeping in scope and as world-wide as that of any other mortal - a devotion rooted deep in human gratitude and untainted by the bias that is often associated with race, color, politics, and religion." (

"A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" is a social satire and is full of Mark Twain's humor, but he never sneered at the main character. Quite the opposite, he admired the 19th century mechanic and inventor. 

Benjamin Franklin presents another remarkable example. He was the 10th child of 17 children. He achieved everything by his hard work and self-education. In addition, he was recognized as a scientist and inventor both in America and Europe. He became a diplomat and an American statesman who helped write the Declaration of Independence. 

Now turn on your imagination: a man experiments with lightning, flies a kite in a thunderstorm,

Franklin flying a kite with his son  

researches electricity*) , invents the catheter and bifocals among other things. He also has some ideas about social order and political structure. Can you picture this man in modern American politics? Now, who is crazy?


  1. Thomas Paine. Common Sense (1776)
  2. Mark Twain. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889)
  3. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) 

*) At that time electricity was something more mysterious than nuclear energy now.

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Next (Science is measurement. Great Discovery. How to make the right angle. From Alchemy to Chemistry. Science is purified and extended measurement)


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©Nikolai V. Shokhirev, 2002-2005