On Recognising Life

  • N. W. Pirie


The three essential, one might in this context say vital, components of science are observation, logic and assumption. It is conventional to condemn, or reluctantly condone, the third component, but it is assumption that integrates the scientific structure. It controls the directions of observation, and it is the fashionable body of assumption at any given time that supplies the canon by which the acceptability of logical processes is judged. Assertions such as these are anathema to most of those who teach science and to many who practice it. They like to think (or assume) that science is a steady progression in which old uncertainties are gradually replaced by certainty based on increasing knowledge. They forget, or repress, the fact that now-discarded assumptions were not held tentatively but with positive conviction as strong as that with which contemporary orthodoxies are held. An assumption that is later discarded, or even found in retrospect to be ridiculous, need not at its inception be harmful. Thus the assumption that something was coming out during combustion was formulated into the “Phlogiston Hypothesis” and that guided the activities of those who constructed the main framework of inorganic chemistry. They would have been rudderless without it. As someone remarked “Truth is more likely to emerge from error than from confusion.”


Sodium Silicate Biochemical Evolution Silicate Solution Sodium Silicate Solution Initial Bias 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press 1972

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. W. Pirie
    • 1
  1. 1.Rothamsted Experimental StationHarpenden, HertsBritain

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