[Martin taylor 2004.02.03.1758]
[From Bill Powers (2004.01.03.1507 MST)]
Martin Taylor 2004.01.03.1137--
As for being "actually" wrong, that's theology. It's in the same
realm as asking whether we perceive what is "actually" out there. My
theology in that respect is that science only approximates, and all
theories are "actually" wrong if not provably wrong.
On a binary scale (1 = right, 0 = wrong) what you say is probably correct
(I can't say it's absolutely correct, can I?), However, there are
continuous scales of wrongness, and we often can say that an idea is
"wrong" meaning that its ability to predict observations is too low to
allow accepting it even provisionally.
Oh, yes, indeed.
Have you ever read an old book "Knowing and Guessing" by Satoshi
Watanabe that discusses this? It was the basis for my Occam's razor
notion <http://www.mmtaylor.net/Academic/ockham.html> that linked the
"rightness" of a theory to three things: its breadth of claim, its
accuracy of prediction, and its complexity when considered in
connection with what one knew before knowing the theory. The greater
the range, the more accurate the prediction, and the less change it
made to one's prior understanding, the more likely it is that one
will accept it (and in a technical sense, the more correct it is
likely to be).
Watanabe does point out that gathering evidence almost (again in the
technical sense of "with probability approaching 1.0") always makes
the relative likelihood of two competing theories diverge without
limit, so that relative to each other, one of them becomes almost
impossible to sustain (i.e. becomes perceived to be wrong). But that
does not make the other correct. It just describes a certain part of
the behaviour of the universe as well as does any other theory you
have yet come up with. The other theories are, in that sense, "wrong."
Newton is "wrong" on gravity because his theory does not predict as
accurately over as wide a range of the behaviour of the universe as
does Einstein's. Not because either is any less dependent on somewhat
"Mr Newton, What's this "gravity" stuff you expect us to believe
in? Oh, you mean it's a computational convenience--if there is this
stuff, then all these falling and orbiting things go correctly? I can
"Mr. Einstein, what on Earth are you talking about, that there's
no "force of gravity". Everyone can feel it, and just look at the
planets doing just what they should. How can you say that things are
only going in straight lines in a space that curves around matter and
energy? Oh, it's only a computational convenience--if space-time is
curved like that, then we would see what we do see? I can dig that!"
"Mr Kishmanovski, what on Earth is this .....[to be filled at some
future time]. Everybody knows it is just the ordinary space-time
Yes, continuous scales of wrongness are important, but they are
relative to the scope and accuracty of the best theory at hand for
the phenomeon under consideration, not absolute.
can be used too easily as a last-ditch defense of an idea when no real
defense has been found. I've heard it used that way. I don't think it's a
good idea to encourage it. As they say, there comes a point where having an
open mind amounts to having a hole in your head.
I don't think my argument can properly be used that way, although it
may have been used so. In fact, it ought to cut the other way (just
as Darwinism is often used to justify cut-throat competition, when it
could as easily, or perhaps better, be used to justify the benefits
of cooperations as opposed to competition). The proper question is
how relatively wrong a theory should be before one discounts the
possibility that further evidence might pull it out of its hole (like
continental drift, for example). Being too quick to discount can be
as dangerous as being too slow to drop a theory.
The real issue comes up when one theory covers a wider range than
another, but the other more precisely predicts the data over its
smaller range of claim. Then it's hard to judge the relative
I know....it's all too abstract to be worth pursuing here. But I
think it is something to be kept in mind by all of us. Especially if
we inadvertently get in these discussions that sometimes give the
more impression of faiths being challenged than of theories being