The scientific method is simply a tool-set that aims to sort what is real from what has been imagined. If you have an event that you with to investigate, the best method for consistently accurate, useful, and truthful results is the scientific one.
The scientific method has a number of stages that utilise various forms of reason, logic, observation, experimentation and creating a hypothesis. These form part of the tool-set that are then formalised in four main stages.
Something is observed. Let's take love as an example. We can observe that human love occurs in many different forms, ranging from the love of family members, the love of material objects, romantic love, etc.
In each type of love that has been observed, a positive emotional feeling is reported. This feeling varies in intensity and is described as 'warm' and 'rewarding'.
Now we have to offer an explanation of what might be happening when a human feels love. Using the data collected in the first stage, it appears that the emotion love appears to be closely associated with reward. When love is perceived by each person, they report a positive emotional response.
From these observations we will conclude that love triggers a reward.
Now we must make well-reasoned predictions based on our hypothesis. This will establish the foundation of the final step were we will test these predictions.
1. As love is a cognitive process we shall predict that it occurs in the brain. If this is correct, we should be able to observe it in this organ.
2. The positive sensation of reward is reported when a person perceives love. The brain should trigger a reward when a person perceives love.
Processes that occur in the brain can be observed via fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). Using this tool we can observe which areas of the brain are active when thinking of someone who is loved romantically, and then thinking of someone who is loved maternally.
The experiment that needs to be examined is one that is designed to discover if there is any merit in the hypothesis that love is 1) based in the brain and 2) triggers a reward when perceived.
|Image from an article on Forbes.com|
When the brain thinks about romantic love we do observe a change in neurological activity. This supports the hypothesis that love is an event that is contained in the brain. When romantic love is perceived, one of the areas of activity in the brain is the right ventral tegmental area (shown as a red dot in the center of the brain in the bottom image marked y=12). This area is a reward center that releases dopamine. Dopamine is a neuro transmitter that reduces pain and increases the feeling of enjoyment.
In conclusion, we have followed a scientific method to investigate a small part of the emotion of love. Next time someone asks "but what is love? How can you prove you love your wife?" we can begin to answer the question.
If the experiment did not support our predictions, the hypothesis is wrong. In this case, we can learn from the results of the experiment, return to the data, establish a new hypothesis, make new predictions, and run more tests. This process cycles until the hypothesis is backed up with evidence.
There is a final stage - peer review. This is where other people who are working in the same area of expertise check the findings, predictions, collected data, etc, and pass criticism regarding where hidden issues may lie and the general plausibility of the findings.
After the findings have undergone peer review and have been published, our hypothesis is now upgraded to a scientific theory. This theory is supported with the collected evidence, predictions, reasoning, and all other data that was made during the process.
This method has brought profound change to our lives. But at its heart, this is simply a tool-set that aims to sort what is real from what has been imagined.