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View Diary: The Science President ... ? (239 comments)

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  •  You are conflating the two usages (4.00)
    of the term "theory." One means a guess, while in science "theory" means a collection of confirmed tested and proven data that coalesce into an argument that can only be refuted by a superior theory. IOW, the ball will never fall up. What actually makes the ball fall is an unknown, yet it nevertheless subscribes to the laws of gravity. The Theory of Gravity is not a guess, nor is the Theory of Natural Selection, though the actual mechanisms whereby each phenomenon works may not be discovered yet or fully understood. As far as I understand it, I'm sure the science types will be chiming in soon enough to clarify my clunky attempt to distinguish between guesses and "Theories."
    •  Chiming in... (none)
      Your description of what makes a "theory" a scientific theory is mostly right.  You're absolutely wrong where you explained that gravity is no such theory

      First, the two theories given as examples:

      "Theory" in the sense that we have a shitload of data, and some formulae that fit the data.

      Big Bang:
      "Theory" in the sense that we have a shitload of data, and some formulae that fit the data.

      The major difference between the two theories is that since the mid-seventeenth century, we've had one serious advance in the theory of gravity - Isaac Newton's equations only work in low acceleration fields.  Albert Einstein came out of left field with that one, and shocked the hell out of us all.  Since then, nothing.  Which isn't too surprising - gravity is actually very hard to observe in detail.  

      The search for the graviton is promising to be the "next big thing" in gravity research.  At present,  there's serious speculation as to whether the research will lead anywhere.  We really have no idea.

      But we still have no idea how gravity actually works, if it'll keep working this way for the life of the universe, if it works the same way everywhere in the universe, or ...

      So, yes, you've never seen a ball fall up.  And the current theory says you never will.  The details of that theory aren't all cemented down, however.

      This is the point of science - to have the courage to say "I don't know".  And "wouldn't it be interesting to find out?"  I'm sending this note thanks to people who said those things.  In its day, quantum mechanics was interesting to the field of analytic chemistry.  Nobody dreamed it would lead to solid-state electronics.  Which led to the modern computer, which led to you reading this, no matter where you are in the world.

      It is all theories.  Good reliable theories.  So good we haven't thought of something better.  So good we can use them to make stuff, predict stuff, etc.

      "Why, a child of five could figure this out! Someone fetch me a child of five." -Groucho Marx

      by kiwifruit on Sun Feb 05, 2006 at 03:13:59 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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