The Stage Theory of Theories

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by Cenderawasih, Jan 27, 2022.

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  1. gmilam Valued Senior Member

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    Maybe this should be called the Stage Hypothesis in Theory Evolution - or SHITE for short.
     
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  3. Cenderawasih Registered Member

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    Tee hee

    Well, this stage theory of theories is manifest codswallop, wildly at odds with the facts . . . that is, if anyone actually bothers to check.

    But I do get the feeling it's just an attempt to impress Creationists with fake washboard abs.

    Since we're on the topic, here's another gem I often hear from the same kind of factually-blind blowhards trying to impress benighted religious wackos (as they see things): "A theory is as good as it gets in science".

    Heard that one?

    Well, how are we to understand "as good as it gets"? Most likely to be true?

    If that's the case, then it's as false as STOT (now known as SHITE): scientific theories tend to be here today and gone by next Chinese new year at the latest. On the other hand, a simple scientific statement such as "Saturn is bigger than the Earth" is likely to outlive us all.

    If that's not the case, what does "as good as it gets" mean?
     
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  5. Cenderawasih Registered Member

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    Well, here's our old pal Richard Dawkins again . . .

    "Gravity is not a version of the truth. It is the truth. Anyone who doubts it is invited to jump out a tenth-storey window."


    Hmm, I wonder which theory of gravity he had in mind. There have been quite a few, ya know.

    Anyway, the point to note is, he does not say careful things like "consistent with the evidence".
     
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  7. Cenderawasih Registered Member

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    "Thus a true theory is not a theory which gives an explanation of physical appearances in conformity with reality; it is a theory which represents in a satisfactory manner a group of experimental laws. A false theory is not an attempt at an explanation based on assumptions contrary to reality; it is a group of propositions which do not agree with the experimental laws. Agreement with experiment is the sole criterion of truth for a physical theory."
    - Pierre Duhem

    Need I go on?
     
  8. Cenderawasih Registered Member

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    Ok, I checked out your link. Here's what it says:

    "Scientific truth is based on facts. Philosophy, religion, feelings, and prejudice have nothing to do with science. Only facts matter. Verified, reproducible facts are the bedrock of scientific truth. The facts are used to construct theories which describe the detailed relations among large numbers of facts and their origin from common roots. Each element of a theory corresponds to some part of nature and, in this sense, scientific theories describe nature."


    Points to note:

    1. Didn't you tell us scientists never use silly words like "truth", but careful words like "consistent with the evidence"?

    2. Philosophy and feelings and prejudice have nothing to do with science? Er, how do you keep them out? Have you read S. J. Gould's "The Mismeasure of Man"? It was little more than a century ago that the finest scientific minds were telling us (with scientific proof!) that white males are intellectually superior to Eskimos, hottentots, women . . . and blacks at the bottom of the list, needless to say.

    3. Each element of a theory corresponds to some part of nature? Er, how about ideal gases? How about point masses? How about phlogiston, caloric fluid, and the luminiferous ether for that matter?


    Gosh, I could go on all night.

    Do we live on the same planet, pal?
     
  9. Cenderawasih Registered Member

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    Do you believe phlogiston theory is a "model of reality"? I don't know anyone who thinks phlogiston has any bearing on reality whatsoever.

    Or would you like to revise the above claim?
     
  10. Cenderawasih Registered Member

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    Just by way of reminder, what I've been calling the "stage theory of theories" (or STOT) goes something like this:

    "The scientist begins by proposing a hypothesis. The hypothesis is then tested. If the hypothesis fails the test(s) it is rejected. On the other hand, if the hypothesis passes testing, and thus is now supported by evidence, it may be upgraded to the status of a theory. All theories begin life as a hypothesis."




    Right now, among other daunting tomes, I'm struggling through Carl Zimmer and Douglas J. Emlen's epic 700-page "Evolution: Making Sense of Life". As luck would have it, I just now stumbled upon the following passage, relating to sex in the biological realm:


    "Yet sex is everywhere. Evolutionary biologists have developed a number of competing hypotheses to explain why sex is so common, despite its steep cost. They've tested these explanations on animals, plants, and microbes. They've made their models more complex and tested them yet again. After decades of research, a few hypotheses have emerged as particularly promising." (pp 321-322)


    Now, according to the stage theory of theories, since the writers leave us in no doubt that these few emergent "promising" hypotheses have been subject to extensive and successful testing, they should now have reached maturity and been upgraded to the status of "theory".

    Curiously, however, Zimmer and Emlem continue to refer to them as "hypotheses".

    It would appear, then, that either Mr Zimmer and Emlen are confused. Their scientific credentials, however, do seem beyond reproach . . .

    . . . or else the stage theory of theories is a load of bollocks.
     
  11. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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    Cenderawasih:

    I'd like to make a few points with reference to your opening post.

    The first thing to say is that many scientists are not also philosophers of science. Therefore, their usage of the word "theory" (in particular) is not always as careful or nuanced as the usage of that word by people who study the philosophy of science. In common usage, as you're no doubt aware, "theory" and "hypothesis" tend to be used interchangeably. While a lot of scientists will probably be able to explain the difference if it is made an issue, they may well use the word "theory" to mean "hypothesis", and vice versa.

    Secondly, even among scientists who recognise the importance of clearly distinguishing theory and hypothesis, there are still two quite separate usages of the word "theory". One is the theory/hypothesis distinction. The other is the theory/experiment distinction. In regards to the second distinction, many scientists think of "theory" as something that is written on paper or simulated on a computer, as opposed to experiment or observation, which is done using instruments that examine the real world.

    Given both of these things, one needs to be careful when a scientist mentions "theory". Is she referring to the theory/hypothesis distinction, or the theory/experiment distinction? Is she trying to be careful about the theory/hypothesis distinction, if that is the context?

    You seem to be worried about apparent inconsistency from scientists. However, as a student of language, you should be aware that people don't always express exactly what they mean to say, and they aren't always careful to make the fine distinctions that you might prefer to see in their communications. That is why, if you're in doubt, it is good idea to dig deeper and ask for clarification.

    The next observation I'd like to make is to note that the actual way that science is conducted does not follow a neat trajectory from hypothesis to experiment to theory. Theory/hypothesis and experiment tend to interact in the history of science. Sometimes experimental results prompt the development of new hypotheses; sometimes theoretical predictions prompt experimental tests. There is a lot more back and forth than you might imagine. Experimental results, for example, are often used to refine and develop hypotheses/theories.

    The last observation I'd make is that expecting Einstein or Darwin to use today's language retrospectively (100 years ago, say) is a bit unrealistic. Science, and the philosophy of science, have both come a long way in 100 years. Neither Darwin nor Einstein had the benefit of that 100 years of progress, obviously. So, you need to put their writings and pronouncements into the appropriate historical context, rather than judging them with the benefit of hindsight.

    I will respond to some specific comments you made in follow-up posts.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2022
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  12. Cenderawasih Registered Member

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    Gosh, you're clever. I could listen to you all day

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  13. Cenderawasih Registered Member

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    Hard to think of anything to critique in your very intelligent post, sir, except . . .

    Whenever anyone says "Science is all about X" or "Science has nothing to do with Y" it may be time to go to the pub.

    They're an eclectic bunch, ya know

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  14. Cenderawasih Registered Member

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    This is my third day here (or something), James, but that was far and away the most intelligent post I've seen.

    Bravo, sir.
     
  15. Cenderawasih Registered Member

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    What I would say in response is . . . not unlike yourself, but a lil different, is . . .

    The two terms hypothesis and theory are largely interchangeable . . . except that we are under pressure these days to conform to the strictures of linguistic pedants.

    And as I said earlier, who gives a shit what we call it? All I care about is its truth.
     
  16. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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    This is a fair comment., but keep in mind what I wrote above.
    I think this is an example of language being used differently 100 years ago, compared to today. Or perhaps just a lack of precision. See above.
    And again...
    This one, I think, falls under the umbrella of the word "theory" being in contrast to "experiment", rather than being in contrast to "hypothesis". String theorists are experts who work on paper and computers, rather than doing experiments in the lab.
    Do you have any particular proponents of STOT in mind? You haven't been very specific about who it is that you're criticising, so far.
    One key text you should read is Kuhn's The structure of scientific revolutions, if you're not already aware of it. A lot of work in the philosophy of science follows from that.
    It's an understandable response to the erroneous Creationist idea that the theory of evolution is not supported by overwhelming evidence. Some silly Creationists get into their heads that because the term "theory of evolution" is used in science, that means it is no better than a wild guess, or similar. Being uneducated in the language distinctions that concern you, they mistake the terms "theory" and "hypothesis" and "wild guess" to be approximately equivalent, while ignoring the scientific context.
     
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  17. Cenderawasih Registered Member

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    Only 600 times. What was your fave bit?

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  18. Cenderawasih Registered Member

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    (my bold emphasis)

    To that I would say there is no such thing as "THE theory of evolution".

    Evolutionary biologists say all manner of things on the topic of evolution and they agree on almost nothing.

    But if we understand "THE theory of evolution" to be anything evolutionary biologists say on the topic then it is immediately falsified on grounds of internal inconsistency.
     
  19. Cenderawasih Registered Member

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    I was afraid someone might ask that LOL. The answer is no but I see it a lot. I'll keep a record from now on. Deal?
     
  20. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

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    I guess you'd have to ask them - whoever they are.

    Speaking for myself, I'm not very familiar with the arguments that were historically used to support the phlogiston hypothesis. If we take "theory" in the modern sense to mean a body of knowledge that is well supported by (experimental) evidence, then do you think there ever was a "phlogiston theory", as opposed to a hypothesis? (How much do you know about the history?)

    Suppose that for the sake of argument we agree that the phlogiston "theory" was the hypothesis that best explained the relevant observations at the time - i.e. it was the most successful scientific model then available. Then, perhaps we could retrospectively call it the Phlogiston Theory.

    Does a Theory have to be "true" to count as a theory? Can we say that the Phlogiston Theory should not have deserved that label in the past because, with the benefit of present hindsight, we now know that it is not "true", in the sense that the model is flawed in light of current knowledge? I don't know. Would it be acceptable, instead, to say that the Phlogiston Theory has been falsified and superceded by a better Theory? Is there really a problem here?

    I guess it is still supported by the same evidence that supported it in the past. The problem, I think, is that we now have more evidence that doesn't support the phlogiston idea. Moreover, we have better theories, in the sense that they explain a wider range of phenomena, while still covering all the bases that the discredited theory covered in the past.
    Does it have to be all or nothing? Ask yourself: is there anything of value in this "STOT" idea?
    That seems sensible enough. Bear in mind, though, that we never have access to The Truth, as such, because we can never have the Full Picture. New data is always coming along.
    As above, I think there should be a caveat on the claims that scientists make (and everybody else's claims, while we're at it). What does a scientist (or anyone) mean when they claim something is "true"? Given what we have discussed, the answers should be fairly obvious, at least in the case of the scientist.
     
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  21. Cenderawasih Registered Member

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    First of all, I have never once heard it referred to as "The hypothesis of phlogiston". Have you?

    Second of all, you mentioned "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions". Thomas Kuhn gives a nice account of the predictive and explanatory power of phlogiston theory therein.

    Does a theory have to be true? Of course not. None of them are true. Unless you have a counterexample . . .
     
  22. Cenderawasih Registered Member

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    Do you have any doubt that Saturn is larger than the Earth? I don't.

    Chalk one up for the truth freaks

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  23. Cenderawasih Registered Member

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    James, I hope I don't come across the wrong way. You're wonderfully clever and just made my day. Please keep typing.
     
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