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Same physics, two theories?

  1. Jun 10, 2015 #1
    Was just thinking, is it ever possible that the same phenomenon can be fully explained by two theories that are not subset of each other?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 10, 2015 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    Of course. It's just extremely unlikely that both theories are equally simple with the same amount of assumptions. One would almost inevitably fall under Occam's Razor.
  4. Jun 10, 2015 #3
    true. Thanks. Now I have to think more... o_O
  5. Jun 10, 2015 #4
    Physical theories are mathematical models and for any set of given data there are an infinite number of models that fit that data. As the other poster said, one usually chooses the simplest.
  6. Jun 10, 2015 #5


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    Staff Emeritus
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    But we need to make a distinction here between "research-front" areas versus well-known, well-accepted concepts. In the latter, overwhelmingly, there is only one description that works.

    In research-front areas, we may have several competing theories trying to explain what is still unfolding. It's like you are trying to guess what's inside an opaque box. First you propose a bunch of things based simply on the observed size. Then when someone managed to pick it up, then the rough estimate of the weight will narrow down to the list of possible objects inside of it. Then someone shakes the box and listens to how it rattles, and you narrow it down some more... and so on. But eventually, practically everything settles on one, consistent description that fits and explains all the known observations.

    Now it doesn't mean, later on, that description doesn't evolve as new observations and ideas come along, but the evolution of our knowledge very often leads to a single concept, not multiple, non-"subset" descriptions.

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