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The Boundaries of Science

by ranfuchs (writer), CT, USA, July 04, 2011

Credit: Museum of Natural Science
Einstein presenting the Theory of Relativity

Contrary to the common belief, being 'scientific' is not necessarily equivalent to being true.

This post is a continuation of The Origin of Evolution Theory

As strange as it may sound, modern science is not directly concerned with reality, but rather with models of it. Reality is the realm of philosophy. The essence of science is the scientific theory, whose purpose is to provide coherent explanations to observations; an objective aptly summed up by the physics Nobel laureate, Richard Feynman (1918–1988):

No one has ever seen the inside of a brick. Every time you break the brick, you only see the surface. That the brick has an inside is a simple theory which helps us understand things better. The theory of electrons is analogous … The electron is a theory that we use; it is so useful in understanding the way nature works that we can almost call it real.

Although theory is at the heart of science, not every theory is scientific. For a theory to be scientific it must first be internally consistent, that is, it should lead to no logical or mathematical paradoxes. If, for instance, a theory could lead to a conclusion that an object may simultaneously exist in two different places, the theory would not be consistent and cannot be deemed scientific. (This example is a paradox that contradicts the principle of space and time: a physical object exists separately in space and time in such a way that they are localizable and countable.)

Unlike mathematical models – which being the creation of the human mind require internal consistency only – scientific theories based on these models must be testable: that is, it does not matter how elegant or internally consistent a theory may be, if it does not agree with observations external to the theory, it is wrong. This requirement means that a theory can be considered scientific only after test criteria can be defined. That is, every theory is potentially refutable. Contrary to the common belief, turning an idea into a scientific theory does not necessarily improve it or make it more reliable. In many cases, it will lead, inadvertently, to the refutation of the idea.



About the Writer

ranfuchs is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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7 comments on The Boundaries of Science

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By MUGISHO N.THEOPHILE on July 05, 2011 at 03:59 am

Nice and inspirational article, Ranfuchs. You are right, some times the truth is different from what science believes. And theories, if they are consistent they support science of course.

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By ranfuchs on July 05, 2011 at 05:34 pm

Hi Melody, they can only as probabilities, before your observation. That is, they can be 30% here and 70% there. But once you have observed them, they are 100% where you found them. Or at least this is what is known so far.

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By Anastasia on July 05, 2011 at 06:10 pm

Ranfuchs, this is really interesting. Amongst other things I happen to be reading Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1920s by Otto Friedrich, one chapter of which – God does not Play at Dice - touches on developments in science, with particular regard to Einstein. He was quite a celebrity, pursued by the press, chiefly, it would seem, because nobody could understand what he was on about, not even Einstein on the basis of the 1929 Unified Field Theory! I particularly liked the author’s observation that the new models of science - that the universe was not a reality but a theory about a theory – meant that the whole universe became a Dada universe, as arbitrary as one of Hans Arp’s montages .

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By ranfuchs on July 06, 2011 at 04:39 am

Thanks Anastasia. I am not familiar with the book, so just ordered it today. I am curious as today, nearly 100 years later, the unified field theory seems as far as it was at Einstein's time.

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By Anastasia on July 06, 2011 at 08:47 am

Actually it seems to have been something of a defensive reaction to the ideas being advanced by people like Heisenberg.

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By ranfuchs on July 06, 2011 at 08:53 am

@Anastasia. I will tell you once I have read it

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By ranfuchs on July 06, 2011 at 09:49 pm

you are not alone :) Even Schrödinger himself, in his later years, complained that he should have never invented the cat

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