Empirical knowledge is knowledge accumulated using human senses, from observation or experiment. For example, when a scientist obtains data from an experiment or observations in nature, he is acquiring empirical knowledge.
Another example of this type of knowledge can be the process of learning different colors during childhood. For this reason, it is argued that empirical knowledge is not only used by scientists and researchers; it is also applied by almost all people throughout their lives.
In conclusion, it can be said that empirical knowledge is the basis for the acquisition of any new teaching; However, in certain scientific situations, theoretical support (ie the study of written works) is needed to understand and explain the observations made.
Characteristics of empirical knowledge
– It is acquired through experience
Experience is an important feature of empirical knowledge because it is what makes it possible to obtain it. In other words, this type of knowledge is acquired through practice or actions taken daily.
For example, learning to ride a bicycle is considered empirical knowledge, as it is only achieved through practice.
– is subjective
The acquisition of this knowledge depends on each person, which can be influenced by social demands and daily needs. For example, learning about how food is prepared varies across societies and cultures.
– May be accidental
In most cases, empirical knowledge occurs accidentally and is not related to a previous test. All these characteristics give empirical knowledge a dominant and basic place; in fact, this is how scientists usually begin their writing work.
For example, scientist Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) observed – by chance – in his laboratory that the growth of the fungus called Penicilliun notatum prevented the development of a bacterium known as Staphylococcus aureus .
From this empirical observation, Fleming developed an entire scientific study that allowed him to discover the antibiotic called penicillin, which saved millions of lives.
Likewise, empirical knowledge does not just happen accidentally in laboratories; It can also happen at any time in life. That was the case when humans discovered fire: an accidental event that allowed the evolution of the human species.
Types of empirical knowledge
It is important to note that, during any learning, two or more types of empirical knowledge can be used; that is, they can unite and support each other.
The most common are listed below:
– Empirical knowledge through observation
For example, through a microscope, an investigator can put into practice the discovery of empirical knowledge, as he is acquiring knowledge through the sense of sight.
On the other hand, a simpler example of everyday life can be found when children are learning to draw; Through observation, a child tries to copy and capture the reality he perceives through vision.
– Empirical knowledge through experimentation
Experimentation can be defined as the view you have of a phenomenon or event from your own experience. Within the scientific method, this type of knowledge is developed in laboratories: for example, when a researcher decides to unite two different substances to find out what happens after linking them (change in color, texture, among others).
On the other hand, experimentation is applied in everyday life – for example – when a chef wants to make a new dish. In this process, the cook runs the risk of combining different ingredients to obtain a different flavor.
For this reason, it can be said that the chef is acquiring new knowledge by experimenting with food.
– Empirical knowledge through repetition
Repetition is one of the most used methods by human beings to obtain new knowledge. In fact, on many occasions a person learns in this way without realizing it.
The most common example of empirical learning through repetition can be seen when young children begin to memorize their first words; they hear the sounds adults make and try to imitate them.
Thanks to the constant repetition of these sounds, the child is able to pronounce the words and is able to communicate with the elders.
Some authors consider that the performance of certain physical activities is also achieved through repetition. For example, to learn to ride a bike, you need to practice often and repeat the same movements over and over again.
Differences with scientific knowledge
Empirical knowledge is fundamental in the emergence of the concept of science, since people experience and learn through their senses since the beginning of humanity. For this reason, it is said that the birth of the sciences would not have been possible without the application of empirical knowledge.
In fact, scientific methodology starts from observation and experimentation to realize its hypotheses. However, although science and empirical knowledge aim to understand and analyze what surrounds us, empirical and scientific knowledge are not the same.
Scientific knowledge requires hypotheses and methodologies
The main difference between these two types of knowledge is found in the fact that scientific knowledge arises through hypotheses; in other words, it is structured around approaches and theories. It is worth mentioning that a hypothesis can be defined as the anticipation of a possible outcome of the investigation.
On the other hand, empirical knowledge responds only to immediate experiences; they do not require analysis or methodology.
In this sense, they are basic learnings that can be applied in life almost daily and are carried out by people of all ages and circumstances (that is, they are not applied only by the scientific community).
Advantages and disadvantages
Advantages of empirical knowledge
– It is immediate: it provides practical knowledge without having to compare it with other experiences.
– It is essential: it is obtained directly from observation and experience, which is why it connects directly to reality.
Disadvantages of empirical knowledge
– It does not open space for discussion: in general, empirical knowledge does not follow the academic norms that give rise to the discussion about what is proposed.
For example, learning to walk does not create space for debate; however, the elaboration of an article about art can open discussions among researchers.
Examples of empirical knowledge
– One of the most important examples of empirical knowledge is the discovery of fire. This understanding was obtained by man through direct observation of nature. Then, based on that observation, he was able to generate and maintain fire as per his convenience.
– Another example of empirical knowledge is language learning, done through continuous repetition and experience; as in the case of children who learn to speak the language of the family environment.
– As explained earlier, empirical knowledge is sometimes the base point for the development of scientific knowledge. An example of this is the famous situation that describes the fall of an apple, which culminated in the postulation of the law of universal gravitation by Isaac Newton (1642-1727).
According to Newton’s biographer (William Stukeley), in 1666 the researcher was under an apple tree, when he observed an apple falling.
Newton quickly wondered why does the fruit fall perpendicular to the ground? From this experience, the scientist developed the idea of gravitation.
– Learning to cook is an example of empirical knowledge, as one requires experimentation and observation to master culinary techniques. Also, it can sometimes be a personal acquaintance, as the flavors of the dishes are manipulated by the cook’s tastes and expectations.
– Scientists and experts can verify that glaciers are melting at a faster rate than before. In this way, they can create verification theories about global warming and make estimates of the degree of pollution that will exist in the future.
– Everyone knows that ice floats on water, even if they don’t know the exact scientific explanation behind the process.
– Although humans of ancient civilizations did not know the explanation, it was clear to them that the sun rose every day at approximately the same time and also every day always kept at approximately the same time.