Say a farmer tries a new method on farming, and he realizes that this method makes all of his plants die. The next season, he tries again, with experience from the last season, he modifies the method a little bit. He keeps doing this until success. But he doesn't have a controlled sample during each iteration. In each step he only test with one sample.

My questions are: is it called experiment as well?

On one hand, I see of course they are the same. The farmer does form hypothesis, collect evidence, test and analyze newfound hypothesis. Without these tasks his experience cannot be formed. So perhaps experience is just an unaware experiment. But on the other hand, his test doesn't involve controlling the variable, and his analysis isn't back up with statistics.

So I'm not sure how experience playing a role in science. It is important, but can it make a scientific statement? I have a feeling that we can say the method is falsifiable and unfalsifiable at the same time.

Or to ask a similar question: would trial and error be considered as controlling the variable? Both of the methods can reveal dependent and independent variables I think.

  • 3
    To quote Adam Savage "The Only Difference Between Screwing Around and Science Is Writing It Down".
    – Shadowzee
    Aug 21, 2019 at 6:10
  • Science takes place on many levels. Informal experiments are experiments. And things other than experiments are also science. We know to some degree what approaches provide the best statistical power, but we are not obligated to consider the power of our decision criteria unless we have other hypotheses that we are competing with, and we are worried about comparing them fairly. A lot of times, there is only one option being considered, another has not arisen. Then, as the above suggests it is science if you make an observation and write it down (exposing it to review).
    – user9166
    Aug 21, 2019 at 17:08
  • 1
    The practice of science is a distilled and concentrated version of learning from experience (as Husserl and others emphasized), so this is hardly surprising. But even in science we do not always have the luxury of staging experiments and controlling the variables: astronomers can not do it with the stars they observe, and neither can economists, sociologists or psychologists in many contexts where experiments are unethical and/or impractical. Massive data aggregation (which the farmer can not do) can make up for it somewhat, but only somewhat.
    – Conifold
    Aug 22, 2019 at 7:30

2 Answers 2


To answer your question, experience and empiricism are very strongly related, but not exactly the same thing. The sciences (whether biological, chemical, physical, psychological, etc.) each rely on the the doctrine of empiricism in their respective philosophies. That is to say, the philosophy of science invokes empirical philosophy as a justification of knowledge.

So the question is, what is the relationship between experience and science? Experience is a label in language for what might be called awareness. In Robert Audi's introduction to epistemology, he cites 5 general sources of knowledge: perception, memory, consciousness, reason, and testimony. What you are calling experience might be understood as a catch-all term for these sources of knowledge. The difference between science and experience, however, is that science is more rigorous and follows some time-tested rules.

Science starts with experience, but then adds philosophical, mathematical, and technical practices. Science requires skepticism, which requires him to doubt his own conclusions. A farmer who sees an entire crop fail might come to the conclusion that supernatural forces are at play, and prays next season and then has a bumper crop. He could conclude that gods were responsible, but science would require him to doubt his own conclusion and find a way to test it. Failures to do so would be experience, but not science.

If that same farmer suspected it might be that a disease were responsible, he might plant two small lots, and rub the leaves of the failed crop on one lot, but keep the other lot isolated and see if there were a difference in results. The farmer might also ask his neighbor about his crop, and compare and contrast the differences in experiences between his neighbor and himself. The farmer could purchase a book on botany and read it to compare his experience to the experience of botanists. The scientific farmer would certainly take detailed notes, make measurements, and attempt to reason through his experience.

So the role of experience in science might best be understood as the collection and reflection on the planting and failure of the crop. If the farmer then chooses science over pure metaphysical speculation or prayer, then he would be attempting to problem solve according to a combination of thinking and experimenting developed over 500 years. This is the role of experience in science.

  • What happens if he doesn't have control variable? I suspect that a typical farmer would just optimize his job by trial and error (that's why I choose that job as an example). If he fails this season, then he would try in the next season. But in each season he will apply the new method to all of his plants. So he does test his theory, but that test isn't able to show the dependent and independent variables. That's why I don't know if that's considered science or not.
    – Ooker
    Aug 21, 2019 at 18:24
  • @Ooker, first, there is no one "science", and even if there were, it would be tough to pin it down. (See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demarcation_problem) You're presuming there is a definition of monolithic science that rests on sufficiency and necessity. There isn't. Whether or not a test shows dependent and independent variables isn't what determines if it is in or out of some crisp definition of science. The crisp definition doesn't exist. If he uses empirical methods other than a mathematical construct of variables to show correlation or causality, it is still scientific to a degree.
    – J D
    Aug 22, 2019 at 0:14
  • @Ooker, consider whether or not the practices of the farmer are scientific as a question of fuzzy logic rather than traditional logic that uses the Law of Excluded Middle for membership. (See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuzzy_set). Break free from the Law of Excluded Middle! (See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_excluded_middle).
    – J D
    Aug 22, 2019 at 0:16

Shadowzee's comment is on point: Adam Savage said "The Only Difference Between Screwing Around and Science Is Writing It Down".

We all observe the world around us, do stuff, observe consequences, and come up with explanations for how the actions and consequences are related. Science is simply a formalized process for using experience to learn about the world around you.

The scientific method (as practiced by professional scientists) is:

  1. Observe some phenomena.
  2. Formulate multiple explanations (called "theories") for the phenomena.
  3. Analyze the theories to see how they differ, to see what predictions they make that differ from each other.
  4. Design experiment(s) to test those differences.
  5. Perform the experiment(s).
  6. Discard the theories that do not correlate with reality.
  7. Repeat the whole process as necessary to reach the desired level of refinement.

So, to go back to your example: suppose the new technique the farmer tried is "flood the fields by diverting a stream." Sadly, all his plants died.

The next year, he tries flooding the fields in a controlled fashion, rather than simply diverting the stream. Furthermore, he has one acre that he completely floods, another acre he does not flood at all, and several acres in between that receive different levels of flooding. He observes that in the acres at the extremes, all the plants died, but in the middle, they did better. He then concludes that "flooding with X amount of water is best."

That would be science.

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