Scientific theories and reality:

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by paddoboy, Jul 6, 2014.

  1. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    This question was prompted when a mate of mine came around last night at 2030hrs, after being kicked out by his Mrs after an argument.
    We had a beer together, and after seeing me on this forum, started asking questions about scientific theories.
    His question was simply...
    "If Scientific Theories keep changing, then how can we [lay people] trust science?"

    What a great question I thought!

    I informed him that scientific theories are always open, because as technology advances, and as we are able to make more and more observations, things may change. A new unexpected observation may lead us to modify a theory
    I used the fact that the "advance in the perihelion of Mercury" which was unpredicted by Newtonian gravity.
    I told him that Einstein and GR being a more precise theory, was able to explain it.
    I explained that Newtonian mechanics was still correct, and still used everyday on Earth and even in relation to space probes etc.
    I explained that GR, even though it is more precise, [on large scales] was lacking at quantum/Planck scales.
    I explained the fact that as scientific theories continue to make correct predictions and match further and further observations, they become more and more certain.
    I gave a couple of examples.
    I named six scientific theories so well supported that all we can expect in the future is some tinkering and additions with the main theoretical application not changing.
    I explained how the BB, GR particle physics fit well together without contradiction.
    I explained the incompatibility of probably our two greatest theories, GR and QM.
    I explained the fact, that limitations in our observations, just means that some scientific theories are incomplete.
    Finally, I gave him two old books of mine by Hawking and Sagan..."A Brief History of Time" and "Cosmos"
    I then sent him home to his Mrs at 2200hrs, went to bed contented in what I had achieved.
    He is 64 years old, but you are never to young to learn!

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  3. andy1033 Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    I think the universe adapts to us finding out stuff. So the universe will never ever give up its answers, and science will never get to the truth. So the irony of science, is that the further science goes, the more it will become a religion.

    I think the universe is aware of mankind trying to find out answers, and it adapts to it.

    Science never ever gets that one answer.
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  5. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    But did you talk to him about scientific theories being models of reality? This in my opinion is the most important thing of all to grasp.
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  7. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    Yeah, sure exchemist.... That was mentioned with the fact regarding how certain some theories become over time.
    I actually used two examples: Told him to jump up in the air and see what happens, and the heliocentric solar system one.

    I also informed him that the two books I gave him, although being quite good and full of knowledge, are somewhat outdated today.
  8. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Good. He's only 4 years older than me, so I think he should be able to handle it!
  9. krash661 [MK6] transitioning scifi to reality Valued Senior Member

    i have learned over time is,
    even religious individuals do not understand any religion.
    just like anything that evolves from humans has bullshit involved.
    and these so called religious individuals only know(notice how i did not mention understand) of the bullshit.

    in my opinion, religion from all religions or ancient text is great philosophy.
    but only if the bullshit can be filtered out.
  10. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    I also gave him some good marital advice.

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  11. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    The Universe is not aware of anything. It [spacetime] is just the geometrical structure of the Universe, against which the equations of GR are calculated, and in which matter in the form of planets and stars have formed.

    Science IS knowledge: That is the actual meaning of the word.
    Scientists are searching for that knowledge.
    It is not religion. Science is real: Religion is based on a false, unscientific mythical deity.
  12. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    I think that is a bit sweeping. What we call in everyday parlance "science" is really a contraction of "natural science" i.e. knowledge of the natural world. There are also many other types of knowledge, in the Humanities, that are not about the study of the natural world. Theology is one of these and respected universities have flourishing theology faculties. Whereas no respected university has, say, an astrology faculty. In the judgement of academics therefore, it seems there is more substance to theology than to astrology.
  13. Motor Daddy Valued Senior Member

    Academics takes money from people with a thirst for knowledge.
    Religion takes money from people with a thirst for spirit.
    Astrology takes money from people with a thirst for magic.

    In reality, all 3 are filled with "magic" and "money."
  14. paddoboy Valued Senior Member


    Science (from Latin scientia, meaning "knowledge"[1]) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.[2][3] In an older and closely related meaning, "science" also refers to a body of knowledge itself, of the type that can be rationally explained and reliably applied. A practitioner of science is known as a scientist.

    Hi exchemist,
    After comments of mine in many posts, you maybe surprised that in reality I have nothing really against religion, religious people and/or Creationists.
    I just get mighty upset when some under the guise of a mathematical problem, or discussing limitations of Evolution and/or the BB, start to deride science and want to slip in their deity of choice.
    My Mrs is a fully practising Christian and choir singer and once a month her group are around my house and I entertain them quite openly. Actually a nice group of people and I enjoy immensely a bowl or two of Kava with them.
    My Mrs and I practise tolerance with each other, and our now grown up Son, went to a Catholic school as I did.
    I see Astrology as complete nonsense and other than knowing I'm a Cancer, cannot really tell you much about it.

    I don't believe religion should be taught in government schools, and if parents so wish to indocrinate their kids, then do so at home and at a religious school of choice
    BTW, I chose my Son to be educated at a Catholic school, not simply because I was, but also because the top echelon of Catholic schools, in my country at least, have very high educational standards and among top overall results.

    I've been called a science cheer leader on this forum, now by three or four people, and funny you know, all are rather anti mainstream.
    Also, most probably I have crossed swords with more of the crazy pseudoscience/Alternative pushers, then with religious fanatics. Although that may need checking up on.

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    Science is the reason we are here today I believe, and it has taken us in great bounds to the brink of manned solar system exploration and settlement.

    I also find nothing wrong if someone sees the need to study Theology.
    Finally my near 5000 posts [I'll need to check that number out with someone first

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    ] on this forum have mostly I think [again I may need to check with someone

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    ] been posted in Cosmology, P+M and general science.....I may have two or three in the religious sections, not sure, but the point is I don't go there to antagonise them as sometimes others do. In fact, A while ago, I told someone in that section of my Mrs and recommended the same amount of tolerance be shown there.
    I hope that spells out where I'm coming from.
  15. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    Thanks paddoboy for the background to your thinking. I don't think our views are far apart. I was only concerned to try to fly the flag for aspects of human knowledge (also "scientia", but not called science in modern parlance) which are other than those concerning the natural world. Many of these are allowed - encouraged even - to have a subjective element to them, whereas a distinctive feature of the scientific method is to try to eliminate subjectivity.

    In my opinion there is a need for both in human knowledge, that's all. So if I want to appreciate a Beethoven string quartet I can reach for a different intellectual toolkit from the one I use for atomic spectra.
  16. wellwisher Banned Banned

    There are two basic type of theory, one is pure and the other is applied theory, with both types of theories leading to useful results in science and engineering. Confusion often results when applied theory is mistaken for pure theory or vice versa. As an example, the idea of the sun moving around the earth, from east to south to west, although not technically true, can nevertheless lead to useful results and predictions. This is an example of applied theory; It is easy to see, it fits the data, and it can be used to make independent predictions, like time of day and year.

    The pure version of the theory will have the earth moving around are sun. This is more complicated to visualize. This too will fit the data and can be used to make predictions by independent scientists. Changes in theory are often applied theory, changing in the direction of pure theory, but not always in one step. Newtons to Einstein is applied changing closer to pure, with Newton still having practical uses.

    Math has an impact on theory, that can sometimes blur the line between applied and pure theory. Say we assume the sun moves around the earth and we have data that can plot the sun over hundreds of years. It is a good applied theory. Next, we model the data plot with math, to get a solid set of equations. Since the math leads to good results, regardless of our original premise, some will look at the math closer, and find subtle connections within the math. These might be used to extrapolate deeper meaning. This may result in even more math, that becomes the assumptions of other spin-off theory. It is all still applied theory, but with a twist; the math extrapolations are assumed to reflect reality. Now we are extrapolating with math, while being anchored on an applied theory. No matter how you build on a swamp, the house will sag eventually. This typically leads to constant revision and addenda to repair the cracks.

    There is a branch of math called statistics, which is very useful for a wide range of applied applications. We can use it to make predictions even in places where a useful applied or pure theory may be lacking; black box. This approach can run into the same problem, since extrapolation begins with the assumptions of the math. This may not have a solid theoretical foundation beyond the math itself; everything is random, period. These types of theories tend to change their mind the most frequent like coffee is good then it is bad.

    What science should do is define the theory hierarchy from black box statistical, to math extrapolated, to applied, to pure, so people will not treat all theory the same, but can anticipate which are the most trustworthy as their personal working set.

    In modern times, we have the theory of dark matter and dark energy, but we have never seen these in the lab to make sure it has the right stuff. This tells us this is applied theory, which can lead to useful results, but it is not pure like snow. Like the chariot of Helios moving the sun around the earth, the theory does have practical value but we can't see Helios up close.

    This is modeled and extrapolated with math, which then sets the premises for further relationships; if X is true then the math implies Y. But that one problem of not being able to see Helios in the lab, is like building an elaborate house on sand, but without concrete footings. Expect changes as the dark matter/energy building gets large and starts to develop cracks and may even begins to sag. New scaffolding will be added, if too much has been invested, to where one can only go forward until there is a catastrophic fall. It wastes time and resources, simply because all theory is assumed equal and not part of a scale of purity.
  17. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    No problem. Just quickly, the nature of your posts do reflect your obvious professionalism.

    Just a point on subjectivity, which I raised in another thread that has been rightly cesspooled.
    Although science is objective knowledge, it should be remembered that subjective opinions are part and parcel of most scientific disciplines.
    All scientific theories start off as just Ideas and speculative assumptions.
    The scientific methodology and peer review though, do keep a reign on things and sorts the wheat from the chaf, so to speak.
  18. Layman Totally Internally Reflected Valued Senior Member

    GR did accurately account for all bodies in the solar system, but when you take a scale larger than the solar system GR becomes inaccurate, hence the dark matter problem. It cannot explain the motions of the galaxies, but professionals still loosely state that it is an accurate depiction of the very large. Then why do so many people trust it so much when it breaks down just outside of our solar system? It should be appallingly obvious that it is insufficient due to the limitations on observations when the theory was developed.
  19. Russ_Watters Not a Trump supporter... Valued Senior Member

    You have the issue backwards: since you cannot directly see mass, you must use GR to calculate it for many/most cases, not the other way around (using known mass to verify GR). The same issue holds true in the solar system as well: the masses of the objects are calculated from GR, not measured by another means and used to verify GR.
  20. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    The whole of modern cosmology rests on GR. Do you REALLY suppose that, if there were any evidence that it did not work outside our own solar system, cosmologists would be so stupid as to use it for the universe as a whole?

    Or is your position that everyone is more stupid than you?
  21. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

    Because it does change.

    Its errors aren't permanent. It isn't carved in stone. Erosion can't destroy it because it keeps rebuilding itself.
  22. forrest noble Registered Senior Member

    "Scientific Theories and Reality"
    Yes, a good question.

    "If Scientific Theories keep changing, then how can we [lay people] trust science?"

    Believing that most theories in modern physics are conceptually wrong, I would have given a somewhat different answer to this question.

    I would say that we are not trusting in the theories themselves, or the scientists in those fields necessarily, we are trusting in the "scientific method." That in time science is self correcting in that new observations, experiments, and insights keep coming in. Of course the scientific method can vary depending upon how it is applied, and different individuals and groups can come up with opposite conclusions from the same data and observations. Science does not always advance in its concepts either. Sometimes one step backwards is taken before two steps forward can be taken. But since the Renaissance, considering intervals of about 200 years, science in general has always advanced.

    Concepts are different from the math of a theory. Most-often the math/physics of a theory has been derived from a long history of observations. The concepts and theories might completely change over many decades, or in one swoop, while the math could remain the same or change little.

    The prime example IMO of mostly wrong theory and concepts is Quantum Mechanics. Quantum theory, like the Copenhagen interpretation, the Many-Worlds interpretation and many other quantum interpretations, are counter-intuitive and I believe nearly completely wrong. On the other hand an interpretation such as the De Broglie-Bohm hypothesis (Pilot-wave theory) is intuitive, and totally logical. All of these theorems propose nearly all the same math which has been very successful in making predictions, called Quantum Mechanics so why are there so many followers of IMO illogical interpretations of the theory/concepts?

    The second example IMO of a highly speculative and unlikely theory is the standard model of particle physics. Although we have much evidence to support the existence of atomic and many other particles, the function of the many non-atomic particles IMO is speculative at best. Are there really such things as quarks even though we have strong evidence that a proton is made up of smaller particles, do they have the characteristics of quarks? After all lone quarks cannot exist according to theory (conveniently) so their true existence cannot be tested. Are untestable theories really valid theory or would they better be considered hypothesis? We do have a pretty good mathematical system of quark mechanics that enables us to make predictions concerning particle colliders and particle interactions, but does this prove quarks exist? I think not. Are there really such things as fundamental (magical) forces? Theory says that nucleons are held together by forces involving particles called gluons and the Strong and Weak nuclear forces. Is there instead a much simpler explanation for nucleons holding together. Einstein theorized that gravity was not a force but was the result of the warping of space. Even if he was wrong about the warping of space he may have been correct that gravity is not a force. How about magnetism? Maxwell proposed, resulting in his equations, that magnetism was not a force but could be explained by pressure differentials and flows in an aether field. The universe would seemingly be much simpler and more "realistic" without "magical" forces to explain things.

    A third example is the Big Bang model. For the BB theory to work they have had to incorporate Inflation theory, dark matter, and dark energy, to explain many well-confirmed observations. Accordingly the universe is expanding from a much denser past yet there are no observations that provide evidence that galaxies in the past were closer together. In the local group of galaxies some galaxies appear to be very old. They contain mostly old appearing red stars and little or no detection of newly forming stars. The problem is that we also find such large, old-appearing, red galaxies in the very distant past at the edge of the presently observable universe where such galaxies should not exist if the universe were only 13.8 billion years old.

    Although the Theory of General Relativity (and Newtonian gravity) works well concerning calculations at solar system distances the theory fails greatly at galactic distances without the ad hoc inclusion of dark matter. Even with the inclusion of dark matter many galactic stellar motions cannot be explained unless the dark matter mostly surrounded the galaxy instead of within it. Therefore practitioners sometimes have to place dark matter wherever it might be needed within, without, or not at all, to explain what is being observed. Since dark matter is supposed to be gravity creating and gravity interactive, it should behave like matter as far as its location and densities. Observations are contrary to these requirement.

    Special Relativity is based upon no absolute reference frame, with no background physical field such as an aether. The math of the theory is generally identical to Lorentz Transforms. Today we have theories of dark matter, gravitons, Higgs field, quantum foam, Zero Point field, etc. All relate to a background physical field. Then there are real and theoretical energy fields such as the Micro-wave background radiation and dark energy, etc. All physical and energy fields can be considered a background field which could be considered an absolute reference frame to measure the magnitude of relative motion (inertia). If any of these hypothesis were valid, or if some type of aether existed in whatever form, then Special Relativity would be discredited and IMO eventually discarded in favor of Lorentz Transforms.

    These are all the theories in Modern Physics, all of which I expect will eventually be replaced by new theories which IMO will also be more logical.

    So the bottom line is whether we should trust science if there are serious doubts about present theory. IMO the answer is absolutely yes. I think we should not trust theories in general for the reasons that I gave above, but we should trust the scientific method involving international efforts, better future observations, interpretations, experiments and insights, to eventually get it right

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    Last edited: Jul 16, 2014
  23. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    That's the biggest bunch of crank nonsense since the likes of chinglu, Farsight, Reality Check, Reiku, and ... wellwisher. (And apologies to the crank wannabe's who didn't leave a lasting impression on me.)

    You obviously never had a decent education. Too bad about that. But the purpose of this board isn't to glorify ignorance. Maybe you should try taking your insights to a Creationist site. I'm sure they would be glad to accommodate you. I'm sure they need fresh bullshit and who but you to shovel it?

    I suggest that the next time you post on a SciForums science thread that you bring EVIDENCE instead of this endless rant that you seem to think is the same as substance.

    I won't bother responding to the content of your post since it's so stupid, other than to tell you it really sucks. Go get some facts if you intend to post here and save all the bullshit for your creationist friends.

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