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Philosophy of Science III


Theory (Icel. kenning) “A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.”
Theory: The coherent story The ability of individuals and groups to create “coherent stories” of how phenomena in the world are connected and produce rigorous models that support the stories is a necessary condition for scientific progress.
Theories Explains the connections between things in the world
Hypothesis (Icel. tilgáta) A prediction about the relationship between a limited set of phenomena, as explained by a particular theory.
Support from evidence The strongest form of evidence is rigorous hypothesis testing using scientific experimentation: clearly thought-out tests of the claims that naturally fall out of the Theory to be tested. It helps if the hypotheses concern unexpected results.

The Nature of Theories

Where theories come from Scientific theories almost never pop out complete and finished. They get assembled piece by piece, until there are so few pieces left that someone figures out a full picture - a complete story to be told, explaining the phenomena at hand.
Scientific theories: Always evolving Although scientific knowledge is the most reliable knowledge there is, most scientific theories (the best ones for any given topic) at any point in time are theories in flux in that they are actively being put to the test.

Theory and Empiricism

“Observable” Philosopher: what you can observe with your senses. Scientist: what you can measure
“Non-observable” hypothetical concept (that may become observable at some point, in the scientists sense).
Empirical laws Rule that relate two or more observables. Example: Color wheel artithmetic - yellow+blue=green.
Theoretical laws Rules that deal with non-observables.
Rule ←→ law Law: Rule that has become established (through experiment).
Empirical laws ←→ facts Empirical laws relate facts about observables.
Empirical law ←→ Theoretical law Similar to empirical ←→ facts relation.
Theoretical example The concept of “atom” would never arise out of observation.
Empirical example The concept of the “heat expands metal” can be measured on observables.
Theoretical laws produce empirical laws E.g. Theory of Relativity predicts bent light in gravitational fields.
Correspondence rules Relate theoretical laws with empirical laws and observables.

Will Science Ever Be Done?

The Big Question Will science ever be “finished”? Will it ever have explained reality to such an extent as we can say “we now have a complete theoretical framework where every theory has been unified (explainable in a single overall theory), everything is understood and everything can be predicted.”
Answer 1 It will not finish because, at the current speed of scientific inquiry, the human race will perish before all things in the universe have been fitted into a complete model/Theory of All.
Answer 2 It is already “finished”, in that its uncovering of big theories is slowing down, inevitably - for all practical purposes - grinding to a halt in the next 100 years.
Answer 3 We will build intelligent machines that can do science at 10k times the speed of humans. Hence we might be done with theoretizing the universe within humanities timeframe.


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