A rose by any other name would smell as sweet
April 10, 2012 3:17 PM   Subscribe

The Knight’s Song, or What is a [scientific] theory?(via)
posted by AElfwine Evenstar (4 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I really enjoyed this, but found it frustrating how much the author almost totally neglects the most unifying, and I think most important, aspect of what theories are. That is, the things that make any theory a good theory.

A good theory is validated by diverse approaches and/or solid data from diverse sources, it explains phenomena, and is useful for making verifiable predictions of what those phenomena will do. For example, the theory of evolution by natural selection is all of these things while the theory of Intelligent Design is only able to explain phenomena based on unrepeatable and subjective reasoning. That does not mean that creationism is stupid, bad, or even unreasonable. However it does mean that Intelligent Design is unverifiable, as well as more importantly, un-useful. Intelligent Design is thus a really bad theory in a scientific sense.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:26 PM on April 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks for this post, AElfwine Evenstar; I've added this guy to the list of blogs I check regularly.
posted by stebulus at 7:06 PM on April 10, 2012


A good theory is validated by diverse approaches and/or solid data from diverse sources, it explains phenomena, and is useful for making verifiable predictions of what those phenomena will do.

I think that is a nice little set of criteria (a useful set) for "useful theories," Blasdelb.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 2:58 AM on April 11, 2012


A good theory is validated by diverse approaches and/or solid data from diverse sources, it explains phenomena, and is useful for making verifiable predictions of what those phenomena will do.

As a scientist, this single sentence does more for me than that entire article. Trouble is, it can be damnably hard to get a philosopher to speak in terms of evidence, or to acknowledge that most of what we "know" in science is merely a statistical construct, rather than an axiomatic truth.

Modern philosophy remains stubbornly wedded to the proposition that if your vocabulary and grammar are sufficiently precise, you can move the words around and make discoveries. That puts them in a squeeze between the counter-intuitiveness of demonstrably true phenomena in quantum physics and general relativity on the one hand, and the enormous complexity of the phenomena of interest in genetics, neuroscience, and climatology on the other.

I'm all for using language in a disciplined way, but I have trouble seeing what formal, rational philosophy can contribute to an endeavor where the fuzzy flexibility of language makes it insufficiently precise to operate in isolation from evidence and statistics.
posted by belarius at 7:39 AM on April 11, 2012


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