Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Empirical models

  1. Dec 29, 2014 #1
    Hello all,

    Could someone offer an example of case where an empirical model was developed first due to absence of theoretical models and later (possibly years later), the theoretical models caught up and were able to explain the mechanistic detail that the empirical model could not?

    Thank you,
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 30, 2014 #2

    Stephen Tashi

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    If you consider a formula to be a model, there are examples of empirical formulas for predicting spectral lines, such as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rydberg_formula.

    What kind of empirical models did you have in mind?
  4. Dec 30, 2014 #3
    I may be completely misunderstanding the question but isn't that basically how most of our scientific knowledge has developed?
  5. Dec 30, 2014 #4
    ST: Rydberg's empirical relationship was a great example. Exactly the kind I had in mind.
    Alan: You are right, experimentation, empirical modeling and mechanistic understanding is how scientific knowledge has developed for the most part. However, most landmark publications give a complete story along with the underlying physics, chemistry or biology as the case maybe. I was going after examples where empirical models were the only mode of understanding for a long period before theory could offer more details. With this and Stephen's example would it be possible for you to offer another example? Thank you!
  6. Dec 30, 2014 #5

    Stephen Tashi

    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    There are the models of the solar system that used epicycles, then the Copernican model, then Kepler's attempt based on the geometry of regular solids.
  7. Jan 1, 2015 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member
    2017 Award

    Good examples would be any famous experiments and famous failed theories. Michelson Morley comes to mind. Also, the orbits of planets. Those types of examples show how the struggle for a valid theory proceeded based on empirical evidence.

    I agree with @alan2. It seems like almost all our knowledge comes from empirical evidence. There are more failed theories than successful (so far) theories and it is empirical evidence that sorts them out.
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2015
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook