russ_watters
Mentor
In order to have a scientific theory it must be falsifiable. That means that you must be able to make specific predictions about the outcome of experimental measurements whose result will either validate or falsify a theory. This is central to the scientific method. I see no way to do that without math.

Evolution was not a scientific theory in that sense for quite some time after it was developed.
I see no problem with that. Evolution is like "gravity" - it is primarily a name for an observed phenomena in nature. Darwin noticed the phenomena exists and came up with a partial explanation for how it worked. Which is great, but still limited.
But the predictions do not have to be quantitative - they can be simple observations.
I disagree. Even a "simple observation" can usually be made quantitative, e.g. X>0. I don't know what sort of valid scientific evidence would not be mathematical/quantitative.
So in your opinion, everything in the list below is quantitative, not qualitative?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evidence_of_common_descent
How do you connect observations to hypothesis without at least some math? I see lots of math/implied math in that link. Let's be specific.

One key facet of evolution is how traits are passed along from parent to child. It's known that the same trait can be generated independently along different evolutionary paths. So just showing that two animals have the same trait doesn't prove they are related, much less make the relationship clear. But with genetics you can prove quantitatively how traits are passed down and figure out the actual links between species.

The simplest (simplistic/oversimplified) common first example is eye color: One parent has blue eyes and the other brown. What are the odds of their kids having blue/brown eyes? This may be easy math, but its math nonetheless.

BillTre
Gold Member
[Moderator's Note: Most of the content in this post has been moved to a new thread:

https://www.physicsforums.com/threa...ion-and-blood-circulation.994788/post-6404335

Moved content has been deleted below.]

Hmm, I think you are confusing feasibility with falsifiability. For example, even before the technology to detect gravitational waves was developed, the existence of gravitational waves was a falsifiable prediction.
If LIGO did not find gravitational waves, would that have proven they don't exist? (I am not convinced, maybe it wasn't sensitive enough).

You appear to not recognize that different models make different specific predictions about the energy range of a given particle. If they do not see it in a particular range then yes they will continue looking elsewhere, but that non-observation already eliminates some of the theories.
Do you really want to restrict all science to be dependent upon using math?
• Not all data has to be presented as math,
• Not all advances in science have been driven strictly by hypothesis testing
• There are inductive methods that don't require (but of course can use) math

BWV
Mentor
2019 Award
Do you really want to restrict all science to be dependent upon using math?
Nobody is saying that any time anyone does any kind of science, they have to use math.

We are saying that, in order to compare the predictions of a scientific theory with data and thereby establish whether the theory is falsified or confirmed, you need to use math.

Please focus discussion on that specific claim instead of responding to straw main claims that nobody is actually making.

bhobba, weirdoguy, russ_watters and 1 other person
BillTre
Gold Member
We are saying that, in order to compare the predictions of a scientific theory with data and thereby establish whether the theory is falsified or confirmed, you need to use math.
What I wrote about analyzing phylogenetic trees using methods like cladistics in fact can do this.

Please focus discussion on that specific claim instead of responding to straw main claims that nobody is actually making.
This is not a straw man claim.
It can certainly be done math free (in simple cases).
You seem to be ignoring it, but it directly refutes this claim.

Mentor
2019 Award
What I wrote about analyzing phylogenetic trees using methods like cladistics in fact can do this.
With math, yes, as @Dale has already pointed out.

This is not a straw man claim.
The claim you are making now, which appears to be simply that some scientific theories can so have their predictions compared with data without using math, is not responding to a straw man claim, no.

But you have shifted your ground from what I quoted from you before. Before, you were claiming that we are saying nobody can do any science at all without using math. "Do any science at all" is much broader than "compare the predictions of a scientific theory with data". Nobody has made any such claim, so that claim is a straw man. If you are no longer saying anyone has made such a claim, good.

It can certainly be done math free (in simple cases).
So far you have failed to give any case which can be done math free; every example you have proposed has been refuted.

Mentor
2019 Award
If LIGO did not find gravitational waves, would that have proven they don't exist?
No, because we already had other indirect evidence for gravitational waves: observations of the orbital parameters of binary pulsars changing over decades, for example. Those observations were consistent with GR predictions for how orbital parameters of such systems should change over time due to gravitational wave emissions. If those observations had been different, GR's model of such systems would have been falsified.

And the comparison of observations with predictions of course required math.

russ_watters
Mentor
I feel like the search for vague yet specific examples of qualitative science has at best inadvertently conceded the point. If 500 years ago we could have said "species evolve" or "apples fall" and called them scientific predictions, that doesn't provide much value or hold much relevance to the modern scientific process. Today we model/prove such things with math/mathematical logic.

Also, I'll claim that the value of the "softer" sciences is still best expressed/proven with math. Behavioral sciences come to mind, there. The fact that they are often practiced without it is more a bug than a feature.

Imager, Motore, bhobba and 1 other person
I don't see why. Knowing enough about the subject matter of a theory to know whether one is interested in it, is a lot easier than knowing enough about the details of the math to have a valid opinion, based on your own knowledge, about whether the theory is correct.
The target audience is all PF members. The article is not trying to persuade anyone of anything.
And you are, of course, entitled to your opinion. But note that your opinion stated here is not about any scientific theory, but about a non-scientific statement that I made--basically, my opinion, which is also not about any scientific theory. So neither of those opinions fall into the category I was talking about in the article.
This is not a substantive response. I have been making specific arguments, and so have others. Vague complaints are not a valid response to specific arguments.
I'm confused. So this is a thread about a vague (not necessarily) persuasive opinion about what a valid opinion is? And now we are trying to make it clear enough to have a debate about it with valid arguments?

Motore
Mentor
2019 Award
So this is a thread about a vague non-persuasive opinion about what a valid opinion is? And now we are trying to make it clear enough to have a debate about it with valid arguments?
Please read my posts in context. The last quote you gave was in a particular subthread, in which you are not currently participating, about a particular scientific theory being discussed (evolutionary theory). The other quotes were in response to you in a different subthread which was about the topic of the article as a whole.

Mentor
2019 Award
I'm confused.
So am I. Do you have particular points to make and you're not sure whether they are appropriate to make in this thread? If that's not the case, I'm not sure what the point of your remarks is.

So am I. Do you have particular points to make and you're not sure whether they are appropriate to make in this thread? If that's not the case, I'm not sure what the point of your remarks is.
It's just ironic, that the thread is about an opinion of what a valid opinion is. The OP opinion was not intended to be persuasive, which seems to imply it wasn't constructed with valid arguments (at least not deliberately). So we are left with a presumably invalid opinion about what a valid opinion is. And this has stemmed a debate that is now to the point of requiring valid, persuasive arguments. I don't even think we've laid down any definitions yet. It's kind of an ironic mess. Maybe we should be using math instead of natural language to figure this all out?

Seriously though, if I am to weigh in on the sub-thread debate, I think there is a constantly shifting goal post. First someone was arguing that some scientific fields are largely or predominantly qualitative. And now it's about whether any math at all is required in those fields. To me there seems to be truth in both. It seems like people are now just competing against one another to claim a victory rather than to develop insight.

Mentor
2019 Award
@Jarvis323, all I can really glean from your posts is that you disagree with me. Ok, noted.

@Jarvis323, all I can really glean from your posts is that you disagree with me. Ok, noted.
Not really, I guess I'm just trying to point out what I think has gone wrong in this thread. You're one of the best physicists at PF, and I rely on your opinions frequently, especially about new physics theories and such. I basically agree, or rather I gain some insight from what you are saying, and also from what the people debating you are saying. Without precise definitions and clear logical arguments though, it's all just opinion. There is middle ground, not everything is black and white, and nobody needs to come out of the discussion as the victor.

Mentor
2019 Award
I guess I'm just trying to point out what I think has gone wrong in this thread.
I don't think anything has "gone wrong". This is a General Discussion thread, and that's what we are having, a general discussion based on the general topic of the article.

Without precise definitions and clear logical arguments though, it's all just opinion.
Yes, that's what tends to happen in General Discussion threads.

Perhaps you are confused by the fact that this is a comment thread on an Insights article, and those are more typically in one of the physics subforums. That's because most Insights articles are about particular physics topics where the point of the article is to give the current mainstream science on the topic, not to just express the author's own opinions. This article is unusual in that it is the latter, not the former; but that's why the discussion thread is in General Discussion.

That does raise another point, though: the specific subthread you quoted from is about a more specific topic that arguably should be spun off to a separate thread in one of the science subforums. I'll bring that up with the other moderators.

Mentor
2019 Award
bhobba
Mentor
I am reading Wittgenstein's Lectures on Mathematics right now:
http://positivists.org/blog/archives/5425

In it there is a debate between Wittenstein who thinks mathematics is just a convention, not actually about anything, and Turing who thinks mathematics is about reality and if it wasn't correct bridges would fall down etc. I think when used in applications it is about models that use mathematical concepts. The logical consequences are tested experimentally to determine if it is a good or bad model. Models are neither right or wrong - simply in good accord with experiment or not. Arguing about what the things in the models are ie reality or just a convention is equally as useless as arguing what reality itself is - philosophers like that sort of thing - but scientists mostly are not that interested. That it will lead nowhere seems pretty common. Feynman's views are quite prevalent. The easiest answer IMHO is models are the best description we have of reality. We can describe reality, but what it actually is - who knows. Guys like me would also say - who cares - that we can describe it is the best we can do - whether we use math or english. Asking - I know the math says so - but is it really true is not a good question. Much better to ask - I know the math says so - but is it in accord with experiment ie is it a good model or not.

I know in discussing science we use concepts like right or wrong - real or not real - and even think physics may be heading towards an ultimate truth. That's fine in everyday speech, which is full of 'sloppiness', and people generally do not get confused or worried. But when looked at carefully all sorts of issues arise that require care in answering.

Thanks
Bill

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weirdoguy and Averagesupernova
bhobba
Mentor
I don't see the problem with some individual not believing something in physics. Anyone is free to disbelieve. Why not?
Of course. But you are not free to be unchallenged, nor for people to consider it equally as valid as theories in accord with experiment.

Thanks
Bill

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BWV
Against my better judgement, here is another quibble to
"If you don’t understand the math, you’re not entitled to an opinion about the theory."

The piece does a good job of attacking 'common sense' or pop-science arguments against standard physical theories, however it completely possible to have an informed opinion on complex ideas in mathematical physics without knowing the math. You can not do physics without mastering the math, but you can be an informed observer. The corollary to the 'not entitled to an opinion' argument is that the people who actually fund and hire scientists cannot evaluate the fruits of their investment? Good science journalists must have PhDs in physics to knowledgably write on the topic?

For example, there are two answers to the question in the article
I don’t understand how black holes can actually exist. Doesn’t it take an infinite time for anything to fall in?

1: Learn the math of GR and really understand the issue
2:Trust science as there is no debate among physicists who do understand the math and the theory is over 100 years old, just accept it is so.

If you use the word 'opinion' literally, it is defined as
a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.

Can anyone, scientist or layman, really have a valid opinion on General Relativity? What is there to have an opinion about? If it is math, then you might as well ask someone's opinion on the associativity of addition. The only areas where one can have an opinion are issues currently disputed within science. There I can develop a quite informed opinion on a disputed hypothesis, MOND for example, from good science journalism which focuses on key points of contention, some of the experimental evidence for and against and how well the model is accepted relative to others. Of course I wont understand it well enough to be able to add anything to the debate within physics, but that is not what 'having an opinion' means.

Mentor
2019 Award
it completely possible to have an informed opinion on complex ideas in mathematical physics without knowing the math
I assume you mean this:

2:Trust science as there is no debate among physicists who do understand the math and the theory is over 100 years old, just accept it is so.
That is not having an informed opinion. That is accepting the word of someone else on their authority.

Can anyone, scientist or layman, really have a valid opinion on General Relativity? What is there to have an opinion about?
Whether or not GR is an accurate scientific theory: whether it makes accurate predictions in its domain. Having an informed opinion about that means being able to check those predictions for yourself, instead of just taking someone else's word for it when they claim the predictions are accurate.

mattt and bhobba
Mentor
2019 Award
the people who actually fund and hire scientists cannot evaluate the fruits of their investment?
In many cases, no, they can't. Many people who fund and hire scientists have no idea whether or not the science those scientists are doing makes accurate predictions. They are not funding the scientists to get accurate predictions from them; they are funding the scientists for other reasons, such as prestige or politics.

Good science journalists must have PhDs in physics to knowledgably write on the topic?
No. I have nowhere claimed that having a PhD is either necessary or sufficient for having an informed opinion about a scientific theory, nor has anyone else in this thread. You are attacking a straw man.

That said, I think it is true that most science journalists do not have informed opinions on the topics they write about; they are just accepting the word of their favorite scientists as authoritative.

mattt and bhobba
Going back to the original post I have a slightly different viewpoint. As someone who doesn't understand the maths, I am perfectly happy accepting that I cannot have a "full picture" understanding of the events at hand without a detailed maths knowledge. What I try and do is compile information from various sources, learning concepts from pop-sci videos (PBS Spacetime / Science Asylum type level)and then reading about them on PF to fill out the picture as much as possible which as worked very well for me. In my opinion I feel I have a "better than most" people's understand of concepts based on the "plain english" explanations.

What frustrates me are the posts where we have people asking questions on concepts. They appear to struggle to understand the concepts so they recieve replies stating that "if they knew the maths it would make sense" only for them to reply that "they have studied and understand the maths, can perform the required calculations"......but struggle with the concepts still.

I would love to get a grip on the maths behind the concepts and feel some envy that they understand the maths where I do not yet they don't seem to understand the concepts.

I just don't get it!

bhobba
Mentor
I just don't get it!
Susskind is doing his best with the Theoretical Minimum series of books. He has done 3 already - but none for a while. I do hope he finds the time to finish them. Here the general public will find a correct account, but they must be willing to put in the effort to understand a bit of calculus. At the end though they will understand things far better than the usual pop-sci accounts. As to what the concepts mean, when using the language of math, you will find most of the time that is all that is needed. Going beyond that can, and often is, hard.

Thanks
Bill

BWV
How many hours of study does it take to become proficient in, say, QFT at a professional level? Thinking one can casually learn these topics is like believing that tinkering on the piano a few hours a day can make you a concert pianist. I watched the Susskind Stanford videos years back and they were great, but after that, I did not 'know' these topics, but I understood better what I did not know

Thinking one can casually learn these topics is like believing that tinkering on the piano a few hours a day can make you a concert pianist.
Well that's an interesting observation. I have enjoyed music my whole life without ever playing piano, guitar, or anything. I believe musicians appreciate some of the details more than I do. But, nobody is promoting the idea that concert-going is a waste of time for non-musicians.

BillTre