Re: Expt & theory (was Separation of science and religion)

Richard Dimery (
Tue, 25 Nov 1997 10:26:12 +0000 (GMT)

> Of course, there is an interplay between theory and experiment. The real
> question is whether the experimental results can stand on their own without
> the aid of a theory. That ought to be so since then, how can a theory be
> invalidated by experimental results? Surely there is some underlying
> assumptions we must make so that our sense perceptions indicate some sort of
> external reality. If such assumptions are not made, there is no knowledge to
> be obtained.
> Moorad

I believe strongly in an external reality. I believe strongly that there
is knowledge to be obtained. You referred to Kant? Kant believed that
(crudely) the world is made up of a numina which we can't perceive
directly at all, and a mind-contribution which largely consists of
structuring systems such as time, space, dimensionality, and other
properties. Our experience, said Kant, was a combination, an overlap of
the two. If you're going to bring Kant into it, then I think he'd agree
with me and George that you're trying to make your raw data part of the
numina, and like it or not, there's some structuring in there too.
Whether you do your interpretation in your head or out loud, you're still
wedging into the flickering galvanometer needle a whole couple of hundred
years of theory of electricity, in your interpretation. This doesn't make
the needle's movement not mean anything. On the contrary, you couldn't
make any sense of the movement without the theory.
As for falsification, I like that too (though it has its problems) and I
don't think theory-laden data are much of a problem here. You can still
have numbers coming out of your instruments made sense of by a theory that
don't agree with the predictions of the theory (or more likely, the
predictions of another theory). By means of modernish physics I understand
what the flickering galvanometer needle is telling me about my apparatus.
That doesn't mean that the numbers are what I expected to come out of the
theory I'm using my apparatus to test.

Richard Dimery,
HPS Cambridge.