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

Moorad Alexanian (alexanian@UNCWIL.EDU)
Tue, 02 Dec 1997 09:34:01 -0500 (EST)

At 10:26 AM 11/25/97 +0000, Richard Dimery wrote:
>> 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.

Dear Richard,

Sorry for the long delay in answering you. I often think of birds who fly
and know nothing about aerodynamics. I believe humans are like that when it
comes to the issues you are raising, specially reasoning. One can add to
what you are saying the whole notion of measurement within the area of
quantum mechanics. Perhaps for the Christian there is some solace that God
created and what we experience is indeed real. Of course, the pursuit of
science brings us into contact with instrumentation which are an extension
of our sense organs. But in the final analysis, experimental science is
indeed recording data which may be done solely by apparatus other than man.
It is such data whose generalization give rise to our laws. The mystery of
theory and how mathematics comes into play is hard to fathom.

Take care,