Why is a scientific theory called a theory?
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05-01-2014, 06:04 AM
RE: Why is a scientific theory called a theory?
(04-01-2014 10:05 PM)Lightvader Wrote:  Who is using the word "theory" correctly? We in everyday language or the scientists?
That's a loaded question because it assumes that there is only one correct way to use a term. There are many polysemous words out there; "theory" is one of them.

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05-01-2014, 06:50 AM
RE: Why is a scientific theory called a theory?
I dislike the term. I think it does nothing but muddy the waters. I prefer "model". We have a model of gravity from relativity, not a theory of gravity. We have a model of subatomic physics from quantum physics. We have many overlapping models that we constantly seek to reconcile and to improve.

Good models produce reliable predictions about the universe. Bad models fail to provide reliable predictions. Evolution, relativity, and quantum physics are some of the big complex reliable models we have at our disposal.

Here's my best source on the origin of the term in its scientific sense:
Quote:1590s, "conception, mental scheme," from Late Latin theoria (Jerome), from Greek theoria "contemplation, speculation, a looking at, things looked at," from theorein "to consider, speculate, look at," from theoros "spectator," from thea "a view" + horan "to see" (see warrant (n.)). Sense of "principles or methods of a science or art (rather than its practice)" is first recorded 1610s. That of "an explanation based on observation and reasoning" is from 1630s.
http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term...in_frame=0

Give me your argument in the form of a published paper, and then we can start to talk.
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05-01-2014, 10:07 PM (This post was last modified: 06-01-2014 12:02 AM by Chippy.)
RE: Why is a scientific theory called a theory?
(05-01-2014 06:50 AM)Hafnof Wrote:  I dislike the term. I think it does nothing but muddy the waters. I prefer "model". We have a model of gravity from relativity, not a theory of gravity. We have a model of subatomic physics from quantum physics. We have many overlapping models that we constantly seek to reconcile and to improve.

Strictly speaking a model is different from a theory (although it is sometimes used as synonym). See also here.

It is wrong to say that we don't have a theory of gravity or that evolution by natural selection is a model.

The Bohr Model is called a model and not a theory for good reason, namely that it is only an approximation of actual atomic structure that is useful for heuristic and pedagogical purposes.

I think you are muddying the waters by developing your own private lexicon of science.
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07-01-2014, 07:14 AM
RE: Why is a scientific theory called a theory?
I think the waters are already muddled. The only things worth talking about are the models, and their correspondence or lack thereof to reality. Some have excellent predictive power. Others have known limitations to their predictive power and are taught as stepping stones rather than as the actual best practice most accurate model, Bohr's model of the atom included of course.

Seriously, we don't have a theory of gravity. I think it's a bit odd to claim that we do. To me theory is a term like gnosticism. Who says we know? What do we mean by know? I'm only interested in what is actually proposed and whether that proposal works. We don't have a theory of gravity. We have a model of gravity under relativity. Likewise we have models of gravity through quantum loop gravity or the various string models. These different models have varying predictive power and varying levels of falsifiability.

So why talk about a theory of gravity? What is it supposed to mean beyond being some superset of the various models that we might refer to when describing the behaviour of objects under the influence of gravity? Is it so that we can say that we "know"? We don't know. We don't have that theory of everything just yet. Gravity could be an emergent property of wormholes created every time a pair of quantum particles become entangled for all we know.

We have models that have varying predictive power and varying levels of falsifiability. To say more is hubris, or is to reduce the level of precision in our argument to unacceptably low levels. "Evolution through natural selection" as proposed by Darwin is a model. Evolution more broadly and more colloquially covers the entire development of past and modern species from their abiogenetic roots and can include any number of different models but here I think we are talking about something broad and imprecise. It's a colloquialism - a useful one but one none the less.

Everything in science is only an approximation of the actual universe it is describing. Hopefully we get to or are getting to infinitely good approximations for various specific physical states and models that can correspondingly describe them in many cases.

Give me your argument in the form of a published paper, and then we can start to talk.
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07-01-2014, 11:58 AM
Re: RE: Why is a scientific theory called a theory?
(07-01-2014 07:14 AM)Hafnof Wrote:  I think the waters are already muddled. The only things worth talking about are the models, and their correspondence or lack thereof to reality. Some have excellent predictive power. Others have known limitations to their predictive power and are taught as stepping stones rather than as the actual best practice most accurate model, Bohr's model of the atom included of course.

Seriously, we don't have a theory of gravity. I think it's a bit odd to claim that we do. To me theory is a term like gnosticism. Who says we know? What do we mean by know? I'm only interested in what is actually proposed and whether that proposal works. We don't have a theory of gravity. We have a model of gravity under relativity. Likewise we have models of gravity through quantum loop gravity or the various string models. These different models have varying predictive power and varying levels of falsifiability.

So why talk about a theory of gravity? What is it supposed to mean beyond being some superset of the various models that we might refer to when describing the behaviour of objects under the influence of gravity? Is it so that we can say that we "know"? We don't know. We don't have that theory of everything just yet. Gravity could be an emergent property of wormholes created every time a pair of quantum particles become entangled for all we know.

We have models that have varying predictive power and varying levels of falsifiability. To say more is hubris, or is to reduce the level of precision in our argument to unacceptably low levels. "Evolution through natural selection" as proposed by Darwin is a model. Evolution more broadly and more colloquially covers the entire development of past and modern species from their abiogenetic roots and can include any number of different models but here I think we are talking about something broad and imprecise. It's a colloquialism - a useful one but one none the less.

Everything in science is only an approximation of the actual universe it is describing. Hopefully we get to or are getting to infinitely good approximations for various specific physical states and models that can correspondingly describe them in many cases.

You're responding negatively to theory as if the term was propping up having a close to absolute knowledge. It doesn't and isn't thought of in that manner of use.

Altering those concepts to model would just create the same common misconceptions but KY would be with the term model instead of theory.

"Allow there to be a spectrum in all that you see" - Neil Degrasse Tyson
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