Jeremiah Bourque here. This is my first attempt to answer a difficult problem for more and more English language learners: an unfamiliarity with academic English. That is, an unfamiliarity with words used in scientific concepts, since these are not words that come up in daily conversation.

What is a hypothesis?

flasksA hypothesis is a proposal.

Tom picks up a baseball. Tom proposes that, if he throws the ball, it will eventually stop rising into the air and fall back to earth.

Tom picks up a baseball. Tom hypothesizes that, if he throws the ball, it will eventually stop rising into the air and fall back to earth.

We have two ways of responding to Tom’s hypothesis.

  1. Can you prove that, Tom?
  2. Every other ball falls to earth, so of course your ball will, too.

Response #1 expresses a common approach: unless you can prove something is true, we will not assume that it is true and correct. We will assume that it is false and wrong.

In response to this skepticism, Tom throws the ball into the air. The ball goes up into the air, gradually slowing. Then, the ball stops rising and begins to fall back to earth. Finally, the ball falls to the ground, bouncing before coming to a complete stop.

Tom has tested his hypothesis. He has put his proposal to the test, demonstrating (showing) that his proposal was correct… in this case.

If Tom throws the ball into the air ten more times, and the ball falls back to earth ten more times, Tom can safely call his hypothesis proven. He has gained proof that it is true through observing the test.

Response #2 tells us that no one has ever observed a human being throwing a ball that does not fall back to earth. All balls thrown, fall back to the ground.

Whether we rely on Tom’s test, or the history of ball throwing (going back thousands of years), it is a fact that a thrown ball will fall back to the ground. To the extent that any human being can know anything about any subject, we know that this is a fact; we know that it is true.

A hypothesis is a tentative explanation. It is a proposal. For the purposes of scientific inquiry (asking questions to explore reality and truth), it is an assumption; the one making the hypothesis assumes it to be true. He then tests to see whether it can be proven true or false.

This is the foundation of the scientific method.