I am a scientist. Not by profession (I don’t get paid to do research) but by nature. And a bit because I have a fancy piece of paper with my name on it that says “Master of Science”, but mostly by nature. And because of this, I want to share my view on science, and why I love it.
Science is, in essence, a method to learn more about something. In its essence, it boils down to the following three steps, repeated over and over again:
- Have an idea (usually about the world, but anything you can observe is fine)
- Make an observation that does not fit your idea. In other words: find out that you are wrong. This can happen by accident, or because you are looking really hard for it.
- Come up with an idea that does match your observation. In other words: try to be less wrong. You can either adjust your existing ideas, or throw them away completely and start from scratch.
In essence, this is all scientists do. Some also try to unify all ideas into one unifying idea, but that also boils down to this same method where observations consist of “ideas you want to cover with your big idea”.
You might notice that there is no such thing as being right here, only being wrong. And I think therein lies the beauty of science: we know we are wrong, we just do our best to be less wrong. There is no “this is true”, there is just “we tried really really hard, but we could not find anything to prove this wrong”. It’s like a very strong bridge: it is not unbreakable, but we just haven’t figured out how to break it yet. The more you tried, the more confident you are in the strength of the bridge. Until, at some point, you decide that any further attempts to break it would be ludicrous and you deem the bridge practically unbreakable. And whatever is practical depends on the application you have for it: ten thousand years ago, a bridge would be considered practically unbreakable if the whole bridge was filled with people and it would hold. That same bridge might now be considered obsolete because it cannot hold the weight of a car or a truck.
To illustrate this principle, I would like to tell the tale of my kitchen tap.
- My ideas: my kitchen tap is fine (1), and if a tap is fine it does not leak (2)
- Observation: my kitchen tap leaks sometimes.
- My ideas: there is something wrong with my kitchen tap (3), because if it was fine it would not leak (see idea (2)).
- Observation: the leaking seems unrelated to when we opened the tap.
- My ideas: there is something wrong with my kitchen tap (see 3). Because there is nothing in the tap triggering the leaking (4), there must be some external event triggering the leaking (5).
- Observation: the leaking is sometimes accompanied by some noise coming from the cupboard under the sink that is similar to a kettle boiling water. There is a boiler in the cupboard, delivering hot water to the tap.
- My ideas: There is an external event triggering the leaking (see 5), namely the boiler heating up the water supply (6). This causes an increase in pressure (7) which forces water out of the tap (8). This might be a safety feature to prevent damage elsewhere (9). If (6) is correct, I should be able to trigger the dripping by turning up the temperature of the boiler.
- Observation: one time I turned up the temperature on the boiler and the tap started leaking within a minute. When I then turned the temperature back down, it stopped leaking within seconds (I actually performed this experiment while writing this post).
- My ideas: My tap leaks due to an external event(5), namely the boiler heating its water (6). This heating causes a pressure increase (7), which forces water out of the tap (8). Now there are two conflicting sets of ideas that I think are quite likely:
- This is a safety feature (9), meaning that a normal tap can sometimes leak (conflicting with idea 2) and my tap is fine (idea 1, conflicting with idea 3).
- There is no such safety feature and taps should never leak (idea 2, conflicting with idea 9). This means that my tap is indeed faulty (idea 3, conflicting with idea 1).
For now, this idea is good enough for me to work with. It has been fun and quite gratifying to get to learn the underlying causes, but any further investigation will take more time than I am willing to invest. I would rather ask an expert, who has invested this time because they can apply their knowledge many times over (or were just more curious about taps than I am). However, if conditions were different (if it would be more annoying, if it would drip more often, or if water was way more expensive than it is now) I might consider another option.
Thank you for reading, and stay curious.
Update: I just learned about water heater designs, thanks to a YouTube video of BigClive explaining waterheaters. He usually does electronics stuff, which is why subscribed to his channel, and I came across this video where he talks about his broken heating element. In the meantime, he explains how his water heater works: the water input is controlled by the tap, which lets cold water into the heater to displace the warm water already in there, pushing it out of the tap. This means two things: firstly, there is no external pressure on the water heater (which is safer: in case of failure there’s only the water in the tank to cope with), and secondly, there is an open connection between the water heater and the tap’s outlet.
If my water heater is similar to this design, this would mean that idea 9 is correct, and this is indeed (part of) a safety feature. However, this would also mean that the tap would have three connections: one water inlet (both hot and cold), one water outlet to the water heater, and one water inlet coming from the water heater. A quick look in the cupboard under the sink learns that this is indeed the case. Therefore, there is no evidence against this set of ideas, and it seems likely enough to accept it. At least until evidence to the contrary comes in.
Once again: thank you for reading, and stay curious.