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Author Topic: What do you call an explanatory theory, as opposed to a theory of observation?  (Read 4816 times)

Offline myself

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General and Special Relativity are theories of observation.  They specify what we must observe of we look carefully at the universe, regardless of how they are causally implemented. There is not yet a theory to explain how they are implemented. If there were, it would be a Theory of [insert appropriate noun].  Causation?

If QM is ever explained, I assume that will be the same type of theory.


 

Offline Phractality

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General and Special Relativity are theories of observation.  They specify what we must observe of we look carefully at the universe, regardless of how they are causally implemented. There is not yet a theory to explain how they are implemented. If there were, it would be a Theory of [insert appropriate noun].  Causation?

If QM is ever explained, I assume that will be the same type of theory.
I prefer the term "model", rather than theory. For example, I have my own model which offers an explanation of why the universe is the way we observe it to be. A good model suggests theories of what we may expect to observe experimentally.

A theory which is spawned by observations is an empirical theory.
A theory which is spawned by a model, is an abstractive theory.
 

Offline Geezer

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I thought theories that are not supported by empirical evidence are not theories at all. For this reason, isn't it a bit dodgy to call "String Theory" a theory?
 

Offline graham.d

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I think you can have a theory that is not supported by anything at all. It is only a valid theory if nothing contradicts it.
 

Offline Geezer

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I think you can have a theory that is not supported by anything at all. It is only a valid theory if nothing contradicts it.

Well, in theory, I'd have to agree  ;D
 

Offline Soul Surfer

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The correct english term for an idea that leads to a model that may be proved or disproved in the future is a hypothesis.  For the best part of one hundred years people have stopped using this term and use the term "theory" which means an idea and a model that has good evidence to support it for both cases. this means that one should say  "string hypotheses" (plural because there are lots of them) instead of string theory.  I think that the reason that this is done now is just laziness because the word hypothesis is a bit clunky and theory is much easier to say.
 

Offline CliffordK

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You might have a Unifying Theory.

Generally one starts with a hypothesis until there is a substantial amount of support for the idea.

You talk about Relativity and Proof.

Yet when Einstein first came up with the idea of relativity, there was no proof.  Since nobody has reached the speed of light, some things still haven't been proven.

Many theories just begin as off the wall ideas.
 

Offline JP

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Yet a scientific theory doesn't require that it predict anything new.  It's a fairly useless theory if it doesn't, but a theory really just needs to explain current observations.
 

Offline burning

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Yet a scientific theory doesn't require that it predict anything new.  It's a fairly useless theory if it doesn't, but a theory really just needs to explain current observations.

Of course philosophy of science is an ongoing discussion, and any definition is open to debate.  However, I have seen fairly broad acceptance of Popper's notion that one of the qualifications of a scientific theory is that it be falsifiable.  While this doesn't require that it predict something that has never been seen, it must predict something that isn't built in.

So if I say "I have an explanation for the existence of waffles," it's not a theory if all it does is explain waffles.  To qualify as a theory it must either make a prediction ("It makes a specific prediction of what will happen if you pour soy sauce on your waffle instead of syrup.") or a "retrodiction" ("I only designed it to explain the existence of waffles, but as a consequence it 'predicts' the existence of pancakes as well.")
 

Offline yor_on

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I would say it all falls back to curiosity, and our need to make sense of something :)
As from the point of a theorist that is.

And Popper is himself one of the big theorists here.

=

But it doesn't necessarily define our curiosity as something defining 'reality'. I read a very interesting piece of work considering bacteria recently, making me consider if one could presume that we are the result from bacterias need of 'host organisms', biologically speaking now. As a proposition, let's consider it. Would that then mean that bacteria had made a 'conscious choice' to produce us? Or does it mean that there is a 'principle' creating an greater complexity? Or should I call that 'simplicity' instead as we evolve? What would a quantum computer be from that point of view?

Bacteria ‘R’ Us.. Read it, it makes my head spin :)
==

Btw: Popper didn't like HUP, not as it was interpreted in the Copenhagen definition at least, where it is depending on the observer to become 'real' from it's possible superpositions. Even though he defined realism as something only belonging to a past event, as I understands it, he also assumed that even though we can't 'set' a future measurement there is still needed to be 'something' existing making it fall out the way we find it in the measurement.
« Last Edit: 11/06/2011 16:46:23 by yor_on »
 

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