Inductive reasoning: From observation to theory

Inductive reasoning involves looking for a trend or a pattern, then using the observations to formulate a general truth. For example, "When I eat peanuts, my throat swells up and I have difficulty breathing. Therefore, I'm likely allergic to peanuts."

Limitations:

  • Inductive reasoning leads to uncertain conclusions as there is no way to prove the veracity.
  • Inductive reasoning can also lead to wrong conclusions. We may mistake correlation with causation, or apply the particular to the general.
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How to improve your knowledge

According to the Falsification Principle of Karl Popper, we cannot prove the validity of a hypothesis. We can only disprove it.

However, we can get closer to the truth by improving our knowledge, using inductive or deductive reasoning. Both are based on evidence, but provide different ways of evaluating the facts.

Deductive reasoning starts from established facts, then applies logical steps to reach a conclusion. For example, "Bachelors are unmarried men. Jack is unmarried. Therefore, Jack is a bachelor."

Limitations:

  • If the premise or the logic applied is flawed, deductive reasoning can lead to the wrong conclusions. For example, "All dogs are animals; all animals have four legs; therefore, all dogs have four legs," is false because injury or species characteristics mean not all animals have four legs.
  • It is impractical to use on a daily basis, as it requires a factual premise to start from, which we don't always have access to.
  • Building a premise on an outdated hypothesis can lead to the wrong conclusion.

Depending on the nature of the task, inductive and deductive reasoning can be used in combination.

Researchers use inductive reasoning to formulate theories and hypotheses. Then they use deductive reasoning for evaluating their theories in specific situations.

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The prevailing theory of truth

Philosophers have struggled with the question "What is truth?" from the dawn of time.

The current theory of truth among the public and scientists is that truth corresponds with facts and reality. Many scientists would add that the scientific method is the central system for determining facts and the best tool to find the truth.

Jumping into Conclusions
Jumping to conclusions is a common phenomenon, where people prematurely decide and finalize something, without having sufficient information or choosing not to consider it.

Sherlock Holmes observed facts without being judgmental. He would construct a hypothesis about what he believed happened. He would then search for more evidence to logically validate his initial statements. The detective deconstructed what happened — piece by piece.

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