Re: [asa] Re: Scientific stupidities part 2

From: Bill Powers <wjp@swcp.com>
Date: Thu Mar 26 2009 - 23:01:13 EDT

Just a question. How do we know when a "theory" or a suggestion is
"nutty"? Is it "too metaphysical," meaning much more than we think is
required to explain the phenomena (Ockham's razor type nutty)? I think
the String theory and multiverses are "nutty." Why? Suppose String
theory actually suggests some new phenomena? What then? Will it then be
viewed by me as not or less "nutty"?

It occurred to me today that if causal properties, or forces (or whatever
you consider fundamental) always came mixed up, we would never have
discovered them. We depend upon the possibility of demonstrating the
properties of causal forces in isolated and simple situations and
experimental designs. Nancy Cartwright calls such demonstrable
regularities nomological machines. What if nomological machines were not
possible? What if, e.g., the effects of gravity could not be "sensibly"
isolated from the electromagnetic effects or even the gravitational
effects of other bodies, then we would never be able to observe or confirm
the existence of such forces and their force laws (fortunately we have a
nearly ideal gravitational machine in the earth-sun system)?

Having said this, a further doubt arises. Modern physics has advanced on
the ladder of simple idealized models (i.e., they may not ever exactly
exist in nature -- there is no hydrogen model in nature because a hydrogen
atom never exists alone). How do we know that we have chosen the
"correct" building blocks? Why believe there are four fundamental forces?
Perhaps all of this is "nutty."

I frankly do not know how to know. My model for how science progresses is
that it keeps throwing out its net, further than would seem reasonable by
most conservative estimations (i.e., anyone interested in certain truth),
sort of like inching out along a branch in the dark. We keep proceeding
unless something really comes up and hits us in the face, something that
snaps off the branch, and we fall to the ground. But we don't at that
point burn the whole tree down. We climb back up into the tree, closer to
the trunk and try again.

So, I guess would say that anything is "nutty" only within the context of
a given branch. Often, or at least possibly, what appears "nutty" will in
some future realization produce a new branch as the neo-nutty.

I'm certain there are examples of such occurrences.

Anyone got any?

bill powers
White, SD

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Received on Thu Mar 26 23:01:37 2009

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