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

Where Theories come from

  1. Mar 23, 2006 #1
    Is every scientific theory developed based on the facts obtained from careful observations/ experiments?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 24, 2006 #2


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    I think that it would depend upon your definition of 'developed'. The initial inspiration for a theory can come from anywhere, and it can be brought along just by thinking about it. Refining it, and proving the possibility of it being correct, require evidence. That also, I believe, would depend upon what sort of theory, in what branch of science, is involved.
  4. Mar 24, 2006 #3


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Pretty much. Basically people started with observations, e.g. celestial observations, then thought of ways to explain what was observed.

    We build instruments like telescopes, microscopes, etc. We make extremely large structures like bridges and dams, or complicated systems like aircraft turbines and nuclear reactors, and we construct mathematical models to analyze or model their behavior. Similar, we make very small things like transistors and micro or integrated circuits, and we devise mathematical models to analyze and model their behavior.

    We manipulate nature, e.g. extracting metals from ores, and making alloys.

    It all started with observing nature.
  5. Mar 24, 2006 #4
    The term "theory" has a specific meaning in science. Here is the definition from the National Academy of Sciences--"a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world than can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses". I have put in bold the key term -- a theory is an explanation.
  6. Apr 8, 2006 #5
    This is a philosophical division of a supposedly scientific forum and I think there are serious logical issues which should be considered from a rational perspective here. Though physicists as a whole do not worry about such things, a rational person must admit that every theory extant is based upon an assumption that the explanation of its experiences arrived at by the unconscious mind constitutes a valid explanation of those experiences (except for illusions).

    I am of the opinion that scientists make the major mistake in relegating the problem of miss-perception to parlor games. Against all evidence to the contrary, it is the standard assumption of the scientific community that our perceptions are absolutely and incontrovertibly correct. In all cases, our perceptions are taken as "Truth" unless we can absolutely prove they are in error. In actual fact it seems much more rational to assume our perceptions are in error until we can prove they are correct!

    From a fundamental perspective, the absolute best one can hope from a rational explanation is to predict the probability of observing a given set of data as a function of time. Certainly that proposal is both testable and meaningful when seen against the observations examined prior to the test. Thus it is that the only meaningful solution to the problem of understanding the universe constitutes finding an algorithm which, for any given pattern of data, yields the probability of observing that data at time t. This solution must begin with absolutely undefined information as, contrary to the common presumptions made by the scientific community, defining the information itself is part of the proposed solution and not actually part of any real given problem.

    Thus, the problem becomes one of constructing a rational model of a totally unknown universe given nothing but a totally undefined stream of data which has been transcribed by a totally undefined process (clearly our senses are undefined until we provide a definition which is, again, part of the solution). A problem which, on the surface, seems rather intractable. Clearly, it is not a problem which any scientist concerned with his reputation would wish to attack. Being a scientist with little regard for his reputation, I have taken the problem very seriously and I have uncovered a very powerful mode of attack which I believe is worthy of examination.

    One needs an algorithm which will yield up rational expectations for a totally undefined stream of data. The algorithm being searched for may vary from time to time but it must depend on the data received to date and the method of determining it must solely dependent on the received data itself and must be independent of time. I hold that the above is the only valid statement of the fundamental problem confronting the scientific community no matter what his field of study might be.

    Any attempt to bestow structure on the universe beyond that contained in the above statement is to presume facts neither evident nor defendable!

    If you can comprehend the perspective of the above analysis and find it reasonably rational, please examine a subtle but profound deduction I have prepared in my paper entitled "http://home.jam.rr.com/dicksfiles/Explain/Explain.htm [Broken]"

    Have fun -- Dick
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  7. Apr 8, 2006 #6
    Dear Dr. Dick--your post above, while interesting, adds little to address the question of the OP--e.g., is "theory" based on facts, observations, experiments obtained carefully. Your comments above on your new concept of "explanation" seems best suited to a new thread on the topic that you may wish to begin ? As to OP, my point was that "theory" is a term used by scientists to "explain" facts, observations, experiments (plus laws). Why is this important ? Because many scientists falsely elevate "laws" as being derived from fact then theory--but this is incorrect viewpoint.
  8. Apr 8, 2006 #7
    I think you misinterpret what I was saying. It is my opinion that my comments are exactly on point. The original question was, "is every scientific theory developed based on the facts obtained from careful observations/ experiments?" The answer is no. Every scientific theory developed is based on certain unjustified beliefs. As I said, "against all evidence to the contrary, it is the standard assumption of the scientific community that our perceptions are absolutely and incontrovertibly correct". That issue, fundamental to everything they do, certainly is not based on facts obtained from careful observation and/or experiments.
    All I am doing is supporting the fact that their viewpoint is incorrect. The only difficulty seems to be that you think my complaint is based on an analysis too fundamental for your blood.

    You have stated that my "new concept of explanation" has no bearing on your statements. I would counter that there is nothing new about my concept other than the fact that I have exactly defined it. Please explain to me how my definition of "an explanation" differs from your definition of the same: i.e., please either show me something you would accept as an explanation which would not provide you with expectations of future events or show me something which would provide you with rational consistent expectations of future events which you would not classify as an explanation.

    Have fun -- Dick
  9. Apr 9, 2006 #8
    Science is not based on faith or belief--this issue has been discussed at length at this forum thread:https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=96363. Here is my argument from that thread to show that science is not based on faith (or belief):

    faith = belief without proof (Merriam Webster)
    science = knowledge without proof, or "uncertain knowledge" (Unabridged Webster)
    therefore, by elimination of constant "proof"
    faith = belief
    science = knowledge
    conclusion, science is not faith (e.g. belief) based, it is based on knowledge

    And where did you read that 100% of scientists hold a notion that facts gained via perception are 100% correct :confused: By definition all science results in truth without certainty.
  10. Apr 10, 2006 #9


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Interesting. I've never met ANY scientist who believed "our perceptions are absolutely and incontrovertibly correct"!
  11. Apr 10, 2006 #10
    I think they can also be from logic. Some theories cant be correctly formed based off of observations. It is like before Gregor Mendel discovered genetics, people beleived inb spontaneous creation, where things like tadpoles were born from the water, bugs were born from the Earth, stuff like that. That is based off of observations, but obviously life spouting from inanimate objects is rediculous. Maybe a mix of observations and logic makes the best theories....^.^
  12. Apr 10, 2006 #11
    I think you have faith in that belief! :rofl:
    You had better explain the difference between belief and knowledge! I apologize if I am underestimating the thought that went into that but the above appears to me to be little more than meanderings of an undisciplined mind. :yuck:
    I didn't read it anywhere. It is the only explanation of their behavior that makes any sense. I seldom read much opinion any more. At my advanced age, I have come to the conclusion that the amount of original thought in human communications verges on negligible. A person can consider themselves lucky if the human race has a single original thought during their lifetime. From my perspective, they just keep stirring the same worthless trash over and over again hoping something meaningful will fall out. Sorry for my rather cynical perspective on scientific research. (When I was young I used to wonder why that "re-" was there; now I realize it's there because no one even considers doing anything original.) :biggrin:

    The field of intellectual study called science is supposed to be based on rational thought but it isn't. It is based on the fundamental belief that the image of the "real world" achieved by the unconscious mind by the age of three is a valid representation of what is. This is a major problem constraining the acceptable attacks on the issue of the foundations of science. It should be clear to any thinking person that a very large part of their view of the universe is essentially established and presumed valid long before they begin any objective examination of the universe. One could say that science, as conceived of by the scientific academy is little more than justification of the view they came into their studies with. A normal human being has a fundamentally complete mental image of the basic structure of the world before even beginning any formal education. It is utterly ridiculous to consider that image as well thought out. Any rational attack must admit the possibility that thousands upon thousands of insupportable presumptions could have already taken place. :wink:

    The utter failure of the scientific community to even consider this issue is exactly the same as the religionist's adamant insistence that the concept of God is the basis of all explanations of anything. Unless you understand the that particular failure in the "scientific" position, you don't even comprehend the problem which confronts you from a "scientific" perspective. :grumpy:
    No, you never met any scientist who would admit he believed his perceptions were valid except for known illusions. First, I need to point out that this quote is taken out of context; nevertheless, I will answer it as you have presented it. If what you say is true then point out a single one of them who has taken the trouble to overcome the difficulty I have just discussed above. Just exactly how did they come to the conclusion that the basis of their world view was valid? From careful examination? I think not! :cool:

    Human intelligence is totally isolated from the outside world in the sense that we don't know, a-priori, how any information is acquired. The only contact with reality exists via interactions, the real meaning of which simply cannot be known a-priori. Our mental image of the universe is constructed from data received through mechanisms (our senses) which are also part of that image. It seems to me that any scientist in the world should hold it as obvious that one could not possibly model the universe until after some information about that universe were obtained. The problem with this position is that we cannot possibly model our senses (the fundamental source of that information) until after we have modeled the universe. :confused:

    Thus, the problem becomes one of constructing a rational model of a totally unknown universe given nothing but a totally undefined stream of data which has been transcribed by a totally undefined process. This is a problem which, on the surface at least, seems rather intractable. Clearly, it is not a problem which any scientist concerned with his reputation would care to attack and, as far as I am aware, none save myself never has. That very issue was made quite clear to me when I was no more than a graduate student; however, being unconcerned with my reputation, I did attack it and I found a solution. Now, having no reputation, I have discovered they don't even want to talk about the subject. Now isn't that the very definition of Dogma? :yuck:

    And you all want me to concede that the "scientific" approach, as used, can be described as a careful examination? Get real! :biggrin:

    Have fun -- Dick

    "The simplest and most necessary truths are the very last to be believed."
    by Anonymous
  13. Apr 10, 2006 #12
    Aren't you just stirring that same pot I talked about in my previous post? Nevertheless, you cause me to expound on logic as it concerns further issues in my harangue. :grumpy:

    Yes, science is supposedly based on logic. Since logic is the procedure of extending truths from axioms (presumed truths), if we want to discuss the subject of logic, we must first establish what we mean by "truth". Notice that I did not say, "how we determine what is true"; as logic IS the science of deducing truth values. For the fun of it, take a read of Manfred Kerber's presentation on formal logic. You will find that the presentation contains a lot of words. One of the problems with this presentation (and all others) is that we must figure out what these words mean before we can understand what he is saying. How do you suggest we approach such a problem? In essence, how do we "know" when we understand what he means by any given word, phrase or sentence? :confused:

    Could I possibly suggest that the central issue here is that we should eventually reach a stage where we are not surprised by his usage of those words? That is, when a collection of words he uses constitute a collection of words we would expect to find in the circumstances where he uses them, we can begin to conclude that we understand him. What I am saying is that our expectations are the central determining factor when it comes to the issue of understanding anything. Until we are no longer surprised by anything he says, we must presume the possibility exists that we are misunderstanding what he is saying. This is exactly what I was referring to when I said scientists hold their perceptions as valid unless proved false. The scientific community takes 99% of their beliefs about reality to be true without question and they don't even realize it. :wink:

    I found it interesting that Kerber makes the comment,"This way it was possible to build a safe area, which is free of paradoxes." It seems that being free of paradoxes can be seen as central in the definition of truth! In fact, it appears to me that finding our interpretation of Mr. Kerber's words to be "free of paradoxes" can be seen as an issue central to concluding that we understand what Mr. Kerber is talking about. So "paradoxes", what ever they are, seem to be a very important issue to understand. :tongue:

    Thus it seems to me that we need to understand what is meant by "a paradox". All I really have to go on there is all the examples I have found in my life with the usage of the word "paradox". It seems, at least on the surface, that a paradox is a case which yields "true" and "not true" for the interpretation of the same expression. If that is indeed what is meant by the word "paradox" (and it should be clear that the correct meaning is something I must leave to after I understand everything so I must only use this as a hypothesis) then it becomes very clear as to why paradoxes are to be avoided in our logic. They are to be avoided because they fail to provide us with any understanding: i.e., they fail to yield those "expectations" we use to determine if we understand or not. :yuck:

    Whoa, the thing has just gotten circular: we can't know what he means if what he says is paradoxical! That seems to be a good reason to conclude paradoxes are not acceptable in our interpretations. How about the other side of the coin? What happens if we say, "anything totally without paradox is an acceptable explanation"? The scientific community's total refusal to consider such a thing is the direct evidence of a religious indoctrination. :surprised

    What I am getting at is the fact that everything comes down to explaining things and our problem is to understand the explanation. The only possible way of judging our understanding of any explanation is by our ability to make accurate judgments of expectations regarding further discussion. A decent prediction of the future is the central issue of understanding anything. Anyone who can't comprehend that can't comprehend very much. :devil:

    Have fun -- Dick

    "The simplest and most necessary truths are the very last to be believed."
    by Anonymous
  14. Apr 10, 2006 #13
    Yes, as we read from above how true the meandering kettle calls the pot black. You do not know the difference between belief and knowledge ? How then can you know the difference between <science> and <not-science> that you discuss above ? May I suggest Latin--scientia = knowledge. There is 0.0 % belief in knowledge, thus science. If knowledge (science) does not derive from "careful observation" as you claim above--then logically you must hold that science derives from "uncareful observation". So, just for grins, how about you post a thread on the nuclear physics section of the forum with your claim that the experiments and theories of nuclear physics derive from "uncareful observation".
  15. Apr 11, 2006 #14
    Now I sincerely doubt you read much of what I said; I think you just emotionally reacted to it without the first thought about anything there. :yuck:
    Deep and through logic if I have ever seen it. :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:

    You seem to have missed the entire thrust of my post. What I was pointing out was the fact that everyone out there is wasting their time trying to justify a paradigm that they achieved unconsciously by the age of two. They think they are being careful when in fact they are ignoring the very basis of their beliefs. :zzz:

    Have fun -- Dick

    "The simplest and most necessary truths are the very last to be believed."
    by Anonymous
  16. Apr 11, 2006 #15
    But doc, isn't it so that most people have the same definitions of what words mean?
    Hopefully I'm not missunderstanding you, you are correct in that everything comes from explanations, but what if someone had a language where it was impossible to missunderstand?

    Maybe only god could create such a language.. I don't know.
    I do know however, that it is the consciousness which creates these problems, in nature itself, everything is logical and perfect, therefore it must seem like it is us who don't have the complete view.

    And yes, I even include something abstract as language into nature itself.
  17. Apr 11, 2006 #16
    Now I know you won't believe it but that is an unwarranted assumption. The issues here are quite deep and subtle but I assure you that you need to comprehend the underlying nature of the solution I have discovered before you will comprehend the range of the possibilities here. The apparent agreements can not be taken to imply their mental image is identical to yours. Let me say simply that it is a very subtle illusion arising from the nature of the problem we have all solved: the problem of "constructing a rational model of a totally unknown universe given nothing but a totally undefined stream of data which has been transcribed by a totally undefined process". In fact, understanding your first language is an excellent example of that process. :smile:
    One would still have to learn that language and that is exactly the problem of "constructing a rational model of a totally unknown universe given nothing but a totally undefined stream of data which has been transcribed by a totally undefined process". :yuck:
    Maybe god has created that language and it IS that "totally unknown universe" we are all trying to comprehend. :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:
    Now that sounds more like an explanation than a basis for a solution to our problem. Language is just another mental construct created by our subconscious during the first twelve months of your life. No one has ever successfully established a conscious method of solving the problem of "creating a language" from a stream of undefined sounds (something millions of children do every year). If they could solve that problem, don't you think our computers would be talking to us? :wink:

    Funny thing is, I think I could point out a route to solving that problem; if I weren't so old as to be on the edge of Alzheimer's that is. If a computer could create a verbal "explanation" of most of the inputs it received since it was powered up I suspect it would pass most AI tests don't you? :surprised But I'm a certified crackpot and it isn't likely to happen. :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:

    Have fun -- Dick

    "The simplest and most necessary truths are the very last to be believed."
    by Anonymous
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook