What Is a Hypothesis?
Hypothesis stems from the Greek word which means “to put under” or “to suppose”, and that’s exactly what hypothesizing is – supposing something that would have as a consequence a phenomenon that has been detected but is unexplained. There are many hypotheses for each of the numerous open problems in different areas of science, however, for a hypothesis to become a scientific hypothesis, there must exist some way of testing it, either through observation or experiment. This filters out the either unnecessary or otherwise overcomplicated hypotheses, usually connected to the negative connotation of the “What if” phrase. In science, hypotheses are proposed when there are observations or experiment results that aren’t fully and exactly explained by already existing theories, indicating another cause for the observed phenomenon.
Hypothesis also has its meaning in formal logic. For example, in statements of the form “If A, then B”, A would be the hypothesis. Here, however, I’ll only focus on the scientific hypothesis.
What Is a Theory?
A theory is a generalized principle of how something works or happens, based on rational thinking. The most common type of theory is the scientific theory, which is often confused and used interchangeably with the term “scientific hypothesis”, but they’re actually two distinct terms. A scientific theory is a confirmed and exact explanation of nature, made by following the scientific method. This means that the theory is verifiable and the method used to construct it reproducible. Scientific theories are very rigorous, and provide the most reliable form of scientific knowledge. They are completely different from what the usual connotation of the term “theory” is – a speculative or unproven statement. For that purpose, the term hypothesis, discussed above, is much more adequate. A scientific theory, on the other hand, has been empirically proven, and there were no cases of someone being able to disprove it.
Similarities Between Hypothesis and Theory
As I have mentioned before, these two terms are often used interchangeably, as if they were synonyms, when they really aren’t. There are some noticeable similarities, though. A hypothesis is practically an unproven theory. Any hypothesis can become a theory after it has been proven through empirical evidence (either observation or some sort of experiment). This means that, in most cases, both a theory and hypothesis try to do the same thing – explain a phenomenon. Another similarity is that both are testable – the hypothesis just hasn’t been tested and approved yet, in order to become a theory. A final similarity would be that both a hypothesis and a theory represent a crucial form of scientific knowledge – there are many hypotheses in, for example, mathematics, that are widely accepted to be almost certainly true, but still haven’t been proven due to their nature or the lack of adequate technology (for example, the famous Riemann hypothesis).
Both a hypothesis and a theory represent important forms of scientific knowledge, used to describe the cause for the observed and measured consequences. A hypothesis can become a theory once it has been tested and proven to be verifiable and relevant to reality. However, a theory and a hypothesis are two different things, and by no means can they be used as synonyms. They can be distinguished based on one factor – whether they were proven or not. Apart from that, every other aspect of a hypothesis and a theory is the same.
Author: Dr. Howard Fields
Dr. Howard is a Clinical Psychologist and a Professional Writer and he has been partnering with patients to create positive change in their lives for over fifteen years. Dr. Howard integrates complementary methodologies and techniques to offer a highly personalized approach tailored to each patient.