Thursday, June 14, 2007

Necessary But Not Sufficient Part II

Sometimes people believe that sheer intelligence will yield a correct theory in physics, people believe that intelligence gives people the ability to "derive" or "see" the correct theory of physics.

Though ability does help, the biggest problem with this belief is that there are many internally consistent, plausible, and complex theories that can describe or hopefully describe the same phenomena and yet can recover the classical theories of physics. Sometimes plausible theories require much work to develop, sometimes they are developed to the point where an insurmountable problem arises or a contradiction arises, this is another problem. Sometimes the theories yield falsifiable predictions which require new technologies or funding to test. As one can see without the benefit of future knowledge as to which theory will lead to correct predictions, even the most intelligent person on earth can spend his/her days working on a theory that will turn out to be false.

If there was only one logically, mathematically possible theory, it would be easier to develop the "right" theory. The problem is that we tend to view progress in science as a linear process where each proceeding theory is seen, in a loose manner, as obvious and as the only theory logically consistent with the older theory. So we fall under the impression that nearly every theory was obvious, if only the people back then could "reason" or "think" correctly. This is only possible with hindsight for the criteria for correct reasoning, in a certain field, is constrained by the knowledge/insights/results available at the time. The reason the "correct" path was not obvious to people of the past is that at the time what was considered obvious was completely different.

John G.


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