WHY EINSTEIN WILL NEVER BE WRONG:

Discussion in 'General Science & Technology' started by paddoboy, Dec 31, 2015.

  1. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    Yazata - "It looks like the author is opting for an instrumental account of scientific theories, conceiving of them as calculating instruments that allow us to predict observations, rather than as true descriptions of the nature of the world such that it behaves as it is observed to do."

    Brucep - "What are you talking about?"

    I'm talking about what's traditionally been called "Saving the Appearances". It was a major issue in the Scientific Revolution.

    Yazata - " You could make the same kind of remarks about ancient and medieval cosmologies as well. Given enough tweaks in the form of epicycles and whatever, assuming the Earth as a fixed reference frame in the center of the observed universe enables observers to make very precise predictions of the movements of bodies in the heavens above as observed from the surface of the Earth."

    Brucep - "You can make such a claim but you don't know what you are talking about."

    http://www.polaris.iastate.edu/EveningStar/Unit2/unit2_sub1.htm

    Interestingly, the old Ptolemaic scheme remains so accurate in portraying the movements of the heavens that it forms the basis of planetarium projectors today.

    http://www.astronomy.ohio-state.edu/~dhw/A161/lecture5.html

    http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/vstenger/Briefs/Copernicus &Galileo.pdf

    These lecture notes discuss saving the appearances.

    http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/science-...ll-2010/lecture-notes/MITSTS_003F10_lec17.pdf

    Osiander stated the issues neatly in his preface to Copernicus' De Revolutionibus -

    "The duty of the astronomer is to adopt whatever suppositions enable the motions to be computed correctly from the principles of geometry. These hypotheses need not be true or even probable. On the contrary, if they provide a calculus consistent with the observations, that alone is enough."

    The issue, as Exchemist and I tossed around earlier in the thread, is whether science should aim at truth or merely at usefulness.

    My observation in this thread is that the author of the OP seems to be arguing with Osiander that saving the appearances is enough. If Einstein's theories are consistent with a large body of observations now, they will presumably always be consistent with those kind of observations and hence Einstein will never be wrong. My observation was that the same thing can be said of Geocentric cosmology, but most scientists today stubbornly continue to believe that geocentric cosmology is fundamentally wrong. It may 'save the appearances', but it does so in a way that doesn't accurately depict what's actually happening in physical reality.

    Interestingly, this is an issue that currently plagues quantum mechanics, which possesses a mathematical formalism (actually more than one) that seemingly works very well in saving the appearances, but where there are multiple interpretations of what physical reality must be like on the microscale in order to make that so.
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2016
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  3. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

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    It aims at "usefulness" which as accuracy and precision improves, aligns more and more with truth.
    Let me say again.......
    Scientific theories do not deal in proof: But if by any accident any scientific theory should actually describe reality as it really is, then all well and good. [Evolution fits that category]

    Copernican, Kepler, Galileo and Co with their Sun centered model of the solar system and orbital data, improved and gave a truer picture of reality then the geocentric system.
    Newton's theory of gravity gave really accurate results for Earth based speeds until the Mercury orbital anomaly was noticed. Einstein came along and solved that with a new model that encompassed Newtonian while giving far more precise results and solving the Mercury anomaly in the process.
    Quantum theory has shown that the Universe at sub atomic scales is not as we would normally imagine.

    While all models may be useful [even the flat Earth] the later models give more accurate results, and are able to extend those results beyond that which the previous models gave.
     
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  5. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    For what it is worth, I have always taken the view that the geocentric formulation of the motion of the stars and planets is not "wrong" but just unnecessarily complicated and limited. All motion is relative, after all, so you can choose whatever origin you like for your coordinate system. Ptolemy's system was I gather quite accurate but relied on all these epicycles to achieve what could be far more elegantly described by a Galilean system. And then of course Newtonian gravitation makes sense of the whole thing if you put the sun at the centre, whereas Ptolemy's system does not lend itself to that. So the explanatory power of a geocentric system is inferior.

    In chemistry we explain bonding naively by the tendency for atoms to "complete the octet" of electrons in the valence shell. This works fine in the first short period of the Periodic Table, i.e. for common light elements such as carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen etc. But it fails to explain how sulphur can form 6 bonds or phosphorus 5. For that we need to put on long trousers and talk about d orbitals. But we do not say that "completing the octet" is "wrong" - just that it is a limited approach. Science is full of such things. As I've mentioned before, Newtonian gravitation vs General Relativity is another. Science has no quarrel with these different representations of reality co-existing. You choose the model appropriate to the task. Of course we all think the more sophisticated and complete model is closer to the ultimate reality that we are modelling. But we avoid like the plague terms such as "truth", because of the sense of absoluteness that they convey. "Truth" we leave to the philosophers

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  7. river

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    To post # 43

    What is water? All I get are the bonds.. This bonds thinking limits the understanding of the liquid..water.
     
  8. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    Last edited: Jan 9, 2016
  9. river

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    As I figured . yet you say ;

    From your post # 43; exchemist;

    This extents into the through understanding of water as well.
     
  10. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

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    exchemist is known for his rather cool and patient manner in dealing with cranks and nuts.
    It appears in your case, as usual, he has recognised you as totally over the top.
    His quote above has nailed you exactly and quite deservedly so.
    If the cap fits wear it.
     
  11. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    Yet scientists continue to use words like 'true' and 'truth' all the time. There's a widespread assumption both among scientists and the general public that science somehow results in 'knowledge'.

    Exchemist, let me introduce you to exchemist, who wrote in an earlier post:

    'Truth' is typically interpreted to mean something like 'correspondence to reality', or something like that. I don't know what you mean by "logical truth", though I suspect it's what you call an "aunt Sally" (I had to look that one up when you used it before). A straw man erected just so it can be knocked down.

    There's no need for true statements to be tautologies, such that their falsity implies a logical contradiction. In fact one could argue that the propositions of science can't be tautologies if they are supposed to be informative about the world (which presumably is the whole point of science). Even assuming that our scientific theories are expressed in formal mathematical terms (outside physics they often aren't) about the only kind of logical necessity you are apt to find is consistency of conclusions with whatever the theory's initial assumptions were. Those assumptions might well be questionable.

    Agreed. That doesn't make truth and falsity irrelevant though.

    That's where the 'saving the appearances' problem arises.

    Medieval geocentric cosmology was very good at saving the appearances. If new and better observations were made that an earlier version of the theory didn't accurately predict, then the theory could be made consistent with the new observations by addition of new epicycles, eccentrics and equants.

    Yet as you say, there's that physical REALITY thing. Though these dodges might make it possible to calculate the movements of heavenly bodies seen in the night sky from the surface of the Earth to any desired accuracy, do all of the heavenly bodies including the Sun really orbit the Earth? Do the epicycles have any physical reality?

    As Osiander suggested his preface to Copernicus' De Revolutionibus, should astronomy rest content in merely inventing a calculating system to predict the observed positions of the heavenly bodies in the Earth's sky at night? Or should it try to unravel how astronomical bodies actually move in physical reality?

    Shouldn't our models seek to predict the results of observations for the right reasons and hence to truthfully correspond to how physical reality actually behaves?

    In the context of this thread, it might hypothetically be the case that future physics acknowledges that Einstein's theories are very good at predicting the results of certain kinds of observations, much as geocentric cosmology was, but those future scientists might conceivably discover that Einstein was right (observationally) for very wrong reasons (physically).
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2016
  12. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    I feel you are trying to be difficult, for some reason. I hope I am wrong and that it is merely a communication issue. Let me try again:-

    By logical truth I mean truth as in the truth of a statement that can be proved true in logic or mathematics. Such "truth" is absolute, is it not? What I am trying to say is that science does not deal in such absolute certainties where its models of reality are concerned. Of course the scientist may use maths or logic in his working processes and will use logical or mathematical truths as part of those processes, but the models of reality he builds do not make that kind of absolute claim to certainty. Is that a controversial statement? I would not have expected it to be.

    For the avoidance of doubt, I am not in any way espousing relativism here. As I have previously said, I think the scientist must believe there is an objective physical reality to be modelled. But all our experience is that whenever we get comfortable with one model, some blighter makes a new type of observation that causes us to have to go back and correct our picture. That is why "truth" is - in my view - a word to be wary of, in the context of scientific theories. My picture of science, which I have reason to believe is shared by others, is that we sort of asymptotically approach an absolutely correct picture of reality. (Asymptotic means we only get there at infinity, if you see what I mean.)

    By the way if you google "truth science" as a pair of words, it is notable that the first few references you get are mostly to creationist organisations - plus one from Dawkins saying that science does not equal truth, and this: http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/truth
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2016
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  13. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

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    Nicely put: Although in more simplistic layman's language, I would put it this way.
    "Scientific theories are an attempt to describe and model what we see as close as possible: The more observations made that align with that current theory or model, the more certain it becomes...the more observations made that contradict the model, the more the model needs to be modified. If by chance scientists in their attempts to model hit upon the "absolute truth" all well and good."
    An example of that truth of course is "Evolution"

    Not trying to steal your thunder exchemist, but I do have a knack for stating things as simply as possible...I think!

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  14. Yazata Valued Senior Member

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    In logic, one doesn't typically prove statements true. One demonstrates that they are logically implied by other statements. If A is true, then B must be true too, if the relation between A and B is one of logical implication. That isn't the same thing as proving B true, since B is only true if A is, and we are exploring the implications of that possibility.

    The exception would seem to be logical tautologies, statements with a form such that their falsity would be a logical contradiction. The problem there is that the truth of these statements is simply a function of their logical form and hence are true for all interpretations of their variables. That suggests that they aren't informative about the world.

    I guess that it would be, if we think of it that way.

    Perhaps Aristotle said it most elegantly in his Metaphysics (1101 b 25):

    "A statement is true if it says of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not".

    The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy says this (p. 812):

    "Truth, the quality of those propositions that accord with reality, specifying what is in fact the case. Whereas the aim of science is to discover which of the propositions in its domain are true - i.e. which propositions possess the property of truth - the central philosophical concern with truth is to discover the nature of that property. Thus the philosophical question is not 'What is true?' but rather 'What is truth?' "

    My claim is that science is deeply concerned with determining what is and isn't the case, so questions of what is and isn't true can't just be handed off to "the philosophers" as matters of little interest.

    Nor am I convinced that success in predicting observations, 'saving the appearances', can always replace truth.

    I agree with that entirely. That's why I endorsed fallibilism and verisimilitude in an earlier post.

    The Oxford Guide to Philosophy says (p.288):

    "Fallibilism A philosophical doctrine regarding natural science - most closely associated with C.S. Peirce - which maintains that our scientific knowledge-claims are invariably vulnerable and may turn out to be false. On this view, scientific theories cannot be asserted to be true categorically, but can only be maintained as having some probabilty of being true."

    Popper made a similar argument with his idea of 'falsifiability'. This idea of fallibilism has obvious relevance to the subject line: "Why Einstein will never be wrong."

    The Oxford Guide to Philosophy paraphrases Pierce as saying, "We would like to think of our science as 'money in the bank' - as something safe, solid and reliable - but the history of science itself militates decisively against this comfortable view of our scientific theorizing. We should come to terms with the fact that ... each of our accepted beliefs may turn out to be false, and many of our accepted beliefs will turn out to be false. ...

    "As fallibilism sees the matter, we have no assurance that our scientific theories or systems are definitely true; they are simply the best we can do here and now to resolve our question regarding nature's modus operandi."

    I think that I'm largely in agreement with you. Perhaps my argument about saving the appearances was more with the OP and some of the others than with you.

    But I disagree most emphatically with the idea that 'truth' is an idea to be avoided. Abandoning the idea that our beliefs about the world should accord with reality has too high a cost. All that we need to remember is that whenever people (including ourselves) become convinced that they possess a belief that can't possibly be false, a truth immune from error, a grain of skepticism might be called for, its size depending on the circumstances. That doesn't mean that many of our scientific (or common sense) beliefs aren't or can't be true. It just suggests that given our human limitations - complete, final and absolutely certain knowledge is probably going to always remain more of a cognitive ideal than a reality.
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2016
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  15. krash661 [MK6] transitioning scifi to reality Valued Senior Member

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    it appears that you do not acknowledge all of the wikki and google university scholarship link clickers of this new aged fad.
    do you live under a rock?
     
  16. krash661 [MK6] transitioning scifi to reality Valued Senior Member

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    OH my-- look into this one-- no moderator at all.
    https://www.physforum.com/
     
  17. krash661 [MK6] transitioning scifi to reality Valued Senior Member

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    where can i read such a thing?
     
  18. krash661 [MK6] transitioning scifi to reality Valued Senior Member

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    you are not blindally--are you?
     
  19. brucep Valued Senior Member

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    It's David. Happy New Year crash. Don't let this dumbass market mess you up.
     
  20. brucep Valued Senior Member

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    Great post. Very informative.
     
  21. brucep Valued Senior Member

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    The actual empirical measurements can never be considered absolute. That's why some cranks get to hide inside the domain that's considered measurement error bar to folks actually doing the research.
     
  22. exchemist Valued Senior Member

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    I remain puzzled by your persistence in the idea that I am "abandoning the idea that our beliefs about the world should accord with reality". I am not in the least and have tried hard to make that plain. It is just that the use of the word "truth", in the context of scientific theories, has an aura of certainty and absolutism. Asserting or implying certainty is asking for trouble, as history abundantly shows.

    Did you try the googling exercise I suggested by the way, or read any of the links it threw up?
     
  23. krash661 [MK6] transitioning scifi to reality Valued Senior Member

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    now i know why it was familiar-- thanks bruce.
     

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