From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
A hypothesis (from Greek ὑποτιθέναι – hypotithenai meaning "to put under" or "to suppose," plural hypotheses) is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon. For a hypothesis to be a scientific hypothesis, the scientific method requires that one can test it. Scientists generally base scientific hypotheses on previous observations that cannot satisfactorily be explained with the available scientific theories. Even though the words "hypothesis" and "theory" are often used synonymously, a scientific hypothesis is not the same as a scientific theory. A working hypothesis is a provisionally accepted hypothesis proposed for further research.
A different meaning of the term hypothesis is used in formal logic, to denote the antecedent of a proposition; thus in the proposition "If P, then Q", P denotes the hypothesis (or antecedent); Q can be called a consequent. P is the assumption in a (possibly counterfactual) What If question.
The adjective hypothetical, meaning "having the nature of a hypothesis", or "being assumed to exist as an immediate consequence of a hypothesis", can refer to any of these meanings of the term "hypothesis".
In Plato's Meno (86e–87b), Socrates dissects virtue with a method used by mathematicians, that of "investigating from a hypothesis." In this sense, 'hypothesis' refers to a clever idea or to a convenient mathematical approach that simplifies cumbersome calculations. Cardinal Bellarmine gave a famous example of this usage in the warning issued to Galileo in the early 17th century: that he must not treat the motion of the Earth as a reality, but merely as a hypothesis.
In common usage in the 21st century, a hypothesis refers to a provisional idea whose merit requires evaluation. For proper evaluation, the framer of a hypothesis needs to define specifics in operational terms. A hypothesis requires more work by the researcher in order to either confirm or disprove it. In due course, a confirmed hypothesis may become part of a theory or occasionally may grow to become a theory itself. Normally, scientific hypotheses have the form of a mathematical model. Sometimes, but not always, one can also formulate them as existential statements, stating that some particular instance of the phenomenon under examination has some characteristic and causal explanations, which have the general form of universal statements, stating that every instance of the phenomenon has a particular characteristic.
Any useful hypothesis will enable predictions by reasoning (including deductive reasoning). It might predict the outcome of an experiment in a laboratory setting or the observation of a phenomenon in nature. The prediction may also invoke statistics and only talk about probabilities. Karl Popper, following others, has argued that a hypothesis must be falsifiable, and that one cannot regard a proposition or theory as scientific if it does not admit the possibility of being shown false. Other philosophers of science have rejected the criterion of falsifiability or supplemented it with other criteria, such as verifiability (e.g., verificationism) or coherence (e.g., confirmation holism). The scientific method involves experimentation on the basis of hypotheses to answer questions and explore observations.
In framing a hypothesis, the investigator must not currently know the outcome of a test or that it remains reasonably under continuing investigation. Only in such cases does the experiment, test or study potentially increase the probability of showing the truth of a hypothesis. If the researcher already knows the outcome, it counts as a "consequence" — and the researcher should have already considered this while formulating the hypothesis. If one cannot assess the predictions by observation or by experience, the hypothesis classes as not yet useful, and must wait for others who might come afterward to make possible the needed observations. For example, a new technology or theory might make the necessary experiments feasible.
People refer to a trial solution to a problem as a hypothesis, often called an "educated guess" because it provides a suggested solution based on the evidence. Experimenters may test and reject several hypotheses before solving the problem.
According to Schick and Vaughn, researchers weighing up alternative hypotheses may take into consideration:
- Testability (compare falsifiability as discussed above)
- Parsimony (as in the application of "Occam's razor", discouraging the postulation of excessive numbers of entities)
- Scope – the apparent application of the hypothesis to multiple cases of phenomena
- Fruitfulness – the prospect that a hypothesis may explain further phenomena in the future
- Conservatism – the degree of "fit" with existing recognized knowledge-systems.
- Case study
- Conceptual framework
- Confirmation holism
- Ecological fallacy
- Hypothesis theory, a research area in cognitive psychology
- Logical positivism
- Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica for Newton's position on hypotheses
- Research design
- Scientific method
- Scientific theory
- Sociology of scientific knowledge
- Thought experiment
- Working hypothesis