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Protoscience is a field of study that appears to conform to the initial phase of the scientific method, with information gathering and formulation of a hypothesis, but involves speculation that is either not yet experimentally falsifiable or not yet verified or accepted by a consensus of scientists. Protoscience is distinguished from other forms of speculation in that its formulation strives to remain coherent with all relevant fields of scientific research so as to achieve to falsifiability and verification as soon as possible.

History of the term

The philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn first used the word in an essay first published in 1970:

In any case, there are many fields — I shall call them proto-sciences — in which practice does generate testable conclusions but which nevertheless resemble philosophy and the arts rather than the established sciences in their developmental patterns. I think, for example, of fields like chemistry and electricity before the mid-eighteenth century, of the study of heredity and phylogeny before the mid-nineteenth, or of many of the social sciences today. In these fields, too, though they satisfy Sir Karl's demarcation criterion, incessant criticism and continual striving for a fresh start are primary forces, and need to be. No more than in philosophy and the arts, however, do they result in clear-cut progress.
I conclude, in short, that the proto-sciences, like the arts and philosophy, lack some element which, in the mature sciences, permits the more obvious forms of progress. It is not, however, anything that a methodological prescription can provide. Unlike my present critics, Lakatos at this point included, I claim no therapy to assist the transformation of a proto-science to a science, nor do I suppose anything of this sort is to be had.

— Thomas Kuhn, Criticism and the growth of knowledge[1]


Scientific intuition is protoscience, being the detection of new patterns — the eureka moment that allows the breakthrough in problem solving — which initiates a new line of fruitful scientific inquiry.

  • Isaac Newton is often said to have conceived of the acceleration of gravity while sitting under an apple tree and being hit on the head by a falling apple, whose height inflicted some pain. Should this story be true, this moment of insight into acceleration initiated a phase of protoscience until a hypothesis could be formulated with careful measurements and calculations that allowed experimental falsifiability, (repeatability) and verification.
  • Charles Darwin conceived of his concept of evolution when on his journey in the ship Beagle to the Galápagos Islands he noticed that mockingbirds differed from one island to another. He strongly suspected that the different species of mockingbirds must have descended from a single species that was their common ancestor. The protoscientific hypothesis continued to prove useful when other forms of animals, including apes and humans, could be explained as sharing common descent. Only recently, with other scientific fields - especially DNA analysis which verified many of his speculations - did the concept move from protoscience to science with the Theory of Evolution accepted by the consensus of the scientific community today.

Early philosophical disciplines that later evolved into branches of modern science are considered to be protosciences.

See also: List of protosciences

Science itself evolved from the protoscience of the Renaissance Period that was then called "occult science" (Latin: scientia occulta ), literally meaning "hidden knowledge".[2] Humans were understood to acquire true knowledge directly from God through Divine revelation. However the concept of "hidden knowledge" held that there was also true knowledge that God hid and would not reveal and intended for humans to discover on their own by human reason and effort. Thus the protoscientists of their day employed every method of pattern recognition available to them. As time went on, the term "occult" (hidden) came to refer to the unverified claims (generally psychologically symbolic or simply discredited) whereas "science" (knowledge) came to refer to the verified claims (generally mechanically predictable).


  1. Speekenbrink, Maarten (2003-10-28). "De Ongegronde Eis tot Consensus in de Psychologische" (PDF). Retrieved on 2006-08-02.
  2. Richard Kieckhefer, Magic in the Middle Ages (Illinois: Northewestern University) 2000. ISBN 0-521-78576-6.

See also

External links

es:Protociencia fr:Protoscience sv:Protovetenskap

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