XXVI. Inductive Reasoning

Inductive reason is based on the belief that what is true of a specific instance can be applied in general. That is, we recognize that one bird is capable of flight, then induce that this behavior must be true of any other creature that is called a bird.

This axiom is based on man's belief in the uniformity of nature - that all things of a class are the same as one another, and any given thing is the same from one moment to the next.

Atkinson proposes a four-step process for inductive reasoning.

Step 1: Observation

The first step is the observation of nature, which leads to the recognition of particular classes of things. We observe many creatures that we consider to be birds, separate them from non-birds, and determine what are the essential characteristics of that class.

In essence, we form and refine our concept of "bird" to define it as a category of things - the process is described in a previous chapter and will not be repeated here.

Step 2: Hypothesis

The second step is the formation of a hypothesis, which is a working theory that is believed to be a possible explanation for a class or set of facts, which are gathered through observation of actual characteristics and behaviors or the reasoning as to what might be the plausible ones.

We observer, then, that all birds are feathered creatures, that they have a certain shape, that they have behaviors that commonly include flight, that they build nests, etc. If we happened to discover a bird that did not build a nest, then nest-building would be qualified as an inessential criterion - some birds build nests, but others don't, and therefore nest-building is a behavior that does not qualify or disqualify a creature from being classified as a bird.

The difference between a hypothesis and a theory is that a theory has been tested. We might hypothesize that all birds fly, and we would then check our store of memories to confirm that a sufficient number of birds had been witnessed in flying to consider that behavior to be a qualifying characteristic of a class. But again, if we encountered a bird that did not fly, the theory would be disproven.

A hypothesis is a guess, but there is a significant difference between a blind guess, based on insufficient data, and a scientific guess that is based on a volume of data. And so, a hypothesis is more than a "lively fantasy" in that it is based on a sufficient quantity of information for an individual to consider it reliable.

Step 3: Testing

A hypothesis relies upon memory of past observations and secondary research that has not been directly witnessed. Our confidence in a hypothesis is shaky until we have tested it in reality.

That is, even if we have seen something happen hundreds of times and assume that we understand the causal connection, we remain unsure of assumptions made before the hypothesis was formed until it is demonstrated by experience that occurs afterward.

This is likely because we distrust in memory, and are aware that once we have formed a hypothesis we are likely to remember only those incidents it which the properties of the hypothesis are supported. Therefore original experience, which can be observed with a focused and objective mind, are necessary to test our hypotheses regardless of how strongly they are supported by memory.

Step 4: Verification

Verification occurs after testing - the test is merely to pay close attention to a phenomenon and gather data. The data is then analyzed in comparison to the hypothesis to validate it - or to invalidate it.

A hypothesis is considered to be verified when the facts of the test are properly related to it - which should also include accounting for associated facts as well as considering alternate explanations that may cause the test to be unreliable or invalid.

Where all the facts "fit" the hypothesis and we are confident that the test matches the conditions of the hypothesis, we feel that the hypothesis has been sufficiently proven to become a theory based on the observation of the test.


Once a hypothesis has been verified and accepted as theory, the theory comes to shape our beliefs. That is, if we hypothesized that all birds were warm blooded, tested enough to ensure that this held true, and accepted that all birds are warm blooded, we then engage in inductive reasoning: when any object is identified as being a bird, we believe it to be warm-blooded.

The danger, naturally, is that this belief then begins to filter our perception, causing us to ignore all evidence to the contrary. We believe that all birds are warm-blooded and cease to evaluate whether they really are - and if we encounter a cold-blooded bird we are likely to dismiss it as an anomaly or a flawed or exceptional instance.

Once hypotheses have become beliefs, they are very difficult to shake. It requires a particularly strong incident or series of incidents to cause us to question the belief and return to hypothesizing - searching out more examples to re-test the hypothesis so that it can be upheld or amended.