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a method of cognition by means of which the phenomena of reality are investigated under controlled and regulated conditions. The difference between an experiment and an observation is that, in the former, certain operations are performed on the object under study. An experiment is based on a theory that determines the experimental procedure and interpretation of the results. The chief goal of many experiments (known as crucial experiments) is to test hypotheses and theoretical predictions that are of fundamental significance. As a form of praxis, an experiment thus functions as a criterion of the truth of scientific knowledge in general.
The experimental method of research was first used in modern times in the natural sciences (for example, by W. Gilbert and Galileo). It was first given a philosophical interpretation in the works of F. Bacon, who also worked out the earliest classification of types of experiments (see Soch., vol. 1, Moscow, 1971, pp. 299–310). The development of experimental scientific activity was accompanied by the epistemological struggle between rationalism and empiricism, which differed in their interpretation of the relationship between empirical and theoretical knowledge. The attempt to overcome the one-sidedness of these two schools of thought was first made by classical German philosophy; it culminated in dialectical materialism, in which the thesis of the unity of theory and experimental praxis expresses in concrete terms the general proposition about the unity of the sensory and the rational, or of the empirical and theoretical levels, in the process of cognition.
Various types of experiments are used in modern science. In the realm of basic research, the simplest type of experiment is the qualitative experiment, which aims at establishing the presence or absence of a theoretically postulated phenomenon. In a measurement experiment, which is more complex, some property of the object is defined in quantitative terms. Still another type of experiment that is commonly used in basic research is called the hypothetical, or mental, experiment. Such an experiment, which belongs to the realm of theoretical knowledge, consists of a set of mental procedures that are unrealizable in practice and are applied to ideal objects. As theoretical models of actual experimental situations, hypothetical experiments seek to determine whether the basic principles of a theory are in agreement.
Applied research makes use of all these different types of experiments, which are designed to test specific theoretical models. Simulation experiments are characteristic of the applied sciences; such experiments use material models that reproduce the essential features of the natural situation or technical system under study. This type of experiment is closely related to the production experiment. Mathematical statistical methods are applied in processing experimental results; a special branch of mathematical statistics investigates the principles underlying the analysis and design of experiments.
Social experimentation, which began in the 1920’s, facilitates the adoption of new forms of social organization and optimal management. Social experiments thus perform a cognitive function and fall within the sphere of social management. A social experiment must take into account the interests of the particular group of people who are the object of the experiment, this object being one of the participants in the experiment, and the investigator himself being part of the situation he is investigating. The content and procedures of social experimentation are also conditioned by society’s legal and ethical norms.
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Engels, F. Dialektika prirody. Ibid.
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I. S. ALEKSEEV