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Maybe we should just stop using the word Theory.

by Chi Meson
Tags: stop, theory, word
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Chi Meson
#1
Mar16-12, 04:53 AM
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This is a lost battle. Everyone uses it incorrectly. Even those of us who know what a "theory" is, as opposed to an "hypothesis" or even an "idea," will go back to saying "theory" occasionally.

This is a lost battle in an important war!

Meanwhile we have two words for the top step: "law" and "principle." We should be using "principle" where we mean "theory." C'mon, admit it, it sounds right. "The Principle of Evolution, It's not just a theory anymore!"
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lisab
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Mar16-12, 07:48 AM
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I like that - it has a nice ring to it.

But you're right, "theory" is pretty much a casualty. I think we lost it because for so long, we (the STEM team) didn't even know we were at war.
Ryan_m_b
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Mar16-12, 07:50 AM
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Cue apologist:

"But evolution is only a principle! You don't have to follow it just like you don't have to follow the principles of women's rights. It's just something they want you to believe. The bible however..."

chiro
#4
Mar16-12, 08:23 AM
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Maybe we should just stop using the word Theory.

Quote Quote by Chi Meson View Post
This is a lost battle. Everyone uses it incorrectly. Even those of us who know what a "theory" is, as opposed to an "hypothesis" or even an "idea," will go back to saying "theory" occasionally.

This is a lost battle in an important war!

Meanwhile we have two words for the top step: "law" and "principle." We should be using "principle" where we mean "theory." C'mon, admit it, it sounds right. "The Principle of Evolution, It's not just a theory anymore!"
Can't agree with you there.

As successful as the inductive method in science is and all the applications of it, it's still important to be balanced on the way that one doesn't become too anal about pointing out linguistic and mathematical, and philosophical inconsistencies about statements about science (like connotations of theory, law, and otherwise) but at the same time also doesn't get too arrogant or careless in taking what really is a theory and making it out to be more than it is.

I mean honestly, we've been doing this science thing for what? Less than 400 years for real physics? About a hundred years for psychology? Maybe 200 years for chemistry?

That's absolutely nothing in terms of time. What makes you think things won't change in the next hundred years let alone the next ten thousand or hundred thousand years in terms of accuracy of our theories and in terms of the actual understanding that comes with new ideas and results?
Curious3141
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Mar16-12, 10:32 AM
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Quote Quote by Ryan_m_b View Post
Cue apologist:

"But evolution is only a principle! You don't have to follow it just like you don't have to follow the principles of women's rights. It's just something they want you to believe. The bible however..."
The bible is a teacher, but evolution is the principle.
fuzzyfelt
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Mar16-12, 10:46 AM
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It seems a good theory about not using that word :)
ArcanaNoir
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Mar16-12, 12:26 PM
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In math we use the word theorem. Is that what "theory" means in science? In math something is only a theorem if we can prove it. My vague notion of a scientific theory is something that you have a strong reason(s) to believe is true, but you can't really prove it yet. Like, it's too far away or we don't have a time machine or it's too small or whatever, but we'll probably figure it out eventually. Right? I don't know.
russ_watters
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Mar16-12, 01:30 PM
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I absolutely agree with the OP.

Also, laypeople are always misusing work, power, energy, momentum and force. We should eliminate all of them and replace them with "effort".
collinsmark
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Mar16-12, 01:55 PM
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I can't say that I agree either.

A principle is something that's a given from which other things are derived. Principles might be backed up by simple observation, but they often don't have any underlying proof. They're taken as a given, without requiring deductive logic. Theories, which do use deductive logic, are often based on principles (but which principles and by how much depends on the theory in question).

For example, it is a principle that gravitational mass and inertial mass are equivalent. There's really nothing in physics that says it has to be that way (btw, general relativity -- a theory -- is based on this equivalence principle, so that one doesn't count).

It's also principle that at the scales larger than galaxy clusters, the universe is homogenous and isotropic. Yes, that's backed up by observation, but there's nothing in cosmology that says it really has to be that way. It's just taken as a given. It could turn out tomorrow that the cosmological principle is proved wrong. [Edit: I doubt it will be proved wrong. I'm just sayin' it could be, for the purposes of an example.]

The theory of evolution? I'd call that a theory rather than a principle.

By the way, in many/most cases a theory is stronger term than principle. Sure, if the equivalence principle was proved wrong general relativity would be in a world of hurt, but if the cosmological principle was proved wrong, eh, cosmology would still get by. Some cosmological theories might need to be modified, but they'd still work.
Borek
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Mar16-12, 02:20 PM
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Quote Quote by ArcanaNoir View Post
In math we use the word theorem. Is that what "theory" means in science? In math something is only a theorem if we can prove it. My vague notion of a scientific theory is something that you have a strong reason(s) to believe is true, but you can't really prove it yet. Like, it's too far away or we don't have a time machine or it's too small or whatever, but we'll probably figure it out eventually. Right? I don't know.
In science theory is something that we yet don't know it is wrong.
TheStatutoryApe
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Mar17-12, 06:36 AM
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The term "theory" originally meant more or less the same as the current general use definition. Scientists took the word and refined its meaning for use in their jargon. It is not incorrect to use it other than in the scientific sense.
chiro
#13
Mar17-12, 07:22 AM
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Quote Quote by TheStatutoryApe View Post
The term "theory" originally meant more or less the same as the current general use definition. Scientists took the word and refined its meaning for use in their jargon. It is not incorrect to use it other than in the scientific sense.
A thought just came to me that maybe one extension of creating theories should be that some kind of statistical or probabilistic information should be attached to it.

Of course coming to a consensus of what that information should be needs to be openly discussed, debated, and ratified but I think different probabilistic and statistical measures in a given context for some theory if the procedures to calculate such things were in the public domain, would be a step forward for differentiating the different theories IMO.
Jimmy Snyder
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Mar17-12, 07:33 AM
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It might help if we started using feet, inches, pounds, ounces, gallons and pints too.
D H
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Mar17-12, 10:52 AM
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Quote Quote by ArcanaNoir View Post
In math we use the word theorem. Is that what "theory" means in science? In math something is only a theorem if we can prove it. My vague notion of a scientific theory is something that you have a strong reason(s) to believe is true, but you can't really prove it yet. Like, it's too far away or we don't have a time machine or it's too small or whatever, but we'll probably figure it out eventually. Right? I don't know.
Quote Quote by Borek View Post
In science theory is something that we yet don't know it is wrong.
I don't quite agree with Borek's answer. I would say that a scientific theory is a broad explanation of some scientific phenomena that we think is right and for which science has accumulated mountains of experimental evidence indicating that it is right, at least in a limited domain.

A theory is not a theorem. Mathematical theorems can be proven correct for all time. Scientific theories can not be proven to be true, even if the underlying math or logic is proven to be true. All it takes to disprove a scientific theory is one lousy experiment that shows that the universe operates otherwise.

A scientific theory is not just a hypothesis. A hypothesis is closer to the lay meaning of the word theory than is the term "scientific theory". A scientific theory is not just a law. Laws are narrow in scope and (at least in physics) are stated mathematically. Theories are broad, often too broad to be stated in the form of one simple mathematical equation.

There is one meaning of the word theory in science that is also used in mathematics, and that meaning is "body of knowledge". In mathematics there are knot theory, group theory, Galois theory, set theory. The most important scientific theories are these broad, unifying bodies of knowledge. Backed up by evidence, of course.

A scientific theory is the pinnacles of science. We should not give that term up lightly.
Ivan Seeking
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Mar17-12, 10:58 AM
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Quote Quote by D H View Post
Mathematical theorems can be proven correct for all time.
... given the truth of various assumptions.
mheslep
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Mar17-12, 01:53 PM
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Quote Quote by russ_watters View Post
I absolutely agree with the OP.

Also, laypeople are always misusing work, power, energy, momentum and force. We should eliminate all of them and replace them with "effort".
Not just laypeople, the main stream media frequently misuse power and energy.


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