Concluding Remarks

  • Hans R. Kricheldorf


The physicist Poincaree described the process of scientific research with the words: “It is through experiment that we prove, but through intuition that we discover.” The physician Salk later added: “Intuition will tell the thinking mind where to look next.” Where scientists have to look next is at reproducible experiments that have the purpose of confirming the predictions of intuition and revising previous errors and fallacies.

From Albert Einstein came following insight: “I think that only daring speculation can bring us further and not accumulation of facts.” However, the work of C. Darwin, A.R. Wallace, A.L. Lavoisier, H. Staudinger, W.H. Carothers, E. Hubble, and A. Wegener are examples illustrating that Einstein’s insight is extremely one-sided, not to say wrong. New hypotheses, the “daring speculation” in Einstein’s terminology, start out from accumulated facts and need confirmation by new experimental facts to become a reliable stage in the progress of science. Einstein’s work is no exception. His new ideas did not emerge from nowhere. He had studied physics (including astronomy) and mathematics and thereby learned the experimental and theoretical facts elaborated by other scientists and mathematicians before him. Furthermore, it was the experimental confirmation of his theory of general gravity by the astronomer A. Eddington in 1919 that turned Einstein´s daring speculation into a corner stone of science.

Successful scientific research is based on an interplay between elaboration of experimental facts and intuitive invention of new concepts. A slightly modified version of an aphorism of the French mathematician and physicist Jules H. Poincaré (1854–1912) describes the reality of scientific research much better than Einstein’s words: “It is through experiments that we prove, but through intuition that we discover.” A complementary insight is reported from the American physician Jonas Salk (1914–1995): “Intuition will tell the thinking mind where to look next.” Where the scientists have to look next are experiments that confirm intuitive speculations and revise previous mistakes and fallacies.

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hans R. Kricheldorf
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Technical and Macromolecular ChemistryUniversität HamburgHamburgGermany

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