When writing a scientific or engineering paper, how do we choose between hypothesize and postulate?

  • That question seems like it would be best asked of a more local scientifically oriented site, with its own cultural preferences. You should probably rewrite your question so that it is purely about hypothesize/postulate. – Mitch Jan 5 '12 at 14:08
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    @Mitch But postulation outside of a scientific paper sounds a bit pretentious. – z7sg Ѫ Jan 5 '12 at 14:38
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    @z7sgѪ If you mean postulate, you should say postulate. If someone wants to think you're pretentious, so be it. There isn't really an exact synonym. I mean, you could use assume, but it would be imprecise. – slim Jan 5 '12 at 15:10

When you postulate, you're saying "let's all agree for the purposes of this discussion that (something) is true."

When you hypothesise, you're saying "Let's speculate about what would happen if (something) was true".

A hypothesis has some extra status in scientific discourse, in that scientists frequently put forward hypotheses they consider to be plausible, and perform tests to see whether they stand up to them.

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    to hypothesize something (and this is generally how the word is used in academic papers) means roughly the same as to postulate something. At least as far as I can see it does. Perhaps though there is some difference between the two? – z7sg Ѫ Jan 5 '12 at 16:02
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    @z7sgѪ No, as my answer says, hypothesising says "what if this were true?"; postulating says "let's take this as true". – slim Jan 5 '12 at 16:07
  • I mean that in papers it's mostly stuff like: "we hypothesize that beaver dams increase the complexity of storm response..." I did think initially that you test a hypothesis and assume a postulate but looking at actual usage I'm not sure (otherwise I would have answered the question). – z7sg Ѫ Jan 5 '12 at 16:14
  • @z7sgѪ Yep, that's the use described in my third paragraph. If they said "We postulate that beaver dams...", that would mean "we think that's an uncontroversial claim that every reader can agree on without further discussion". – slim Jan 5 '12 at 16:16

Hypothesis is a theory which can after testing be accepted or rejected. A postulate is something that is assumed to be true without proof. Sometimes postulates are also called axioms.


A hypothesis is a posed statement one wants to prove.

If it has been proved it becomes a theorem.
If it has been disproved it will be discarded.

A postulate is a posed statement one doesn't want to prove.

It is used to derive other statements.


A postulate is like the opening bid for cognition--you suggest to yourself, or your scientific research group, a beginning concept for a range of phenomena with a "let's wait and see what follows from the concept" attitude of openness. Further conceptual development then follows until convergence occurs and testing for alignment with experience can begin.

An hypothesis is the outcome of the postulate, signifying a cognitional convergence and readiness for testing of the convergence with as wide a range of experience as possible.

The Greek word hypo means under. Usage as a prefix in the word hypo-thesis suggests that an hypothesis does not rise to the credibility afforded a thesis of work which has been exhaustively examined for credibility and correctness. An hypothesis may thus be regarded as a collection of inferences and conclusions, deduced as the result of an initial proposal or postulate.

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