The Truth

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating. Part of the problem that many people have is that they have a fundamental misunderstanding of what science and the scientific method is trying to do. There is this notion that science is the search for The Truth®. That’s simply not the case. Science is nothing more than our attempt to understand how the natural world works. That’s all. Nothing more. Unfortunately I think even a lot of scientists forget this, in part because science has been so effective that it’s easy to become overconfident.

Science deals only with what is in some way verifiable. No matter how awesome an idea is, if you can’t verify it in some way shape or form, it’s useless to science. String Theory is a perfect example of this. It’s an awesome theory that elegantly explains a lot of what we see in our universe, and hints at a lot more that we don’t see. Many if not most things explained by current theories are explained by String Theory, in many cases more simply, and it explains many other things that aren’t currently explained by any known theory. It’s everything that scientists love to see in a theory. It is very nearly perfect, except for one crucial detail.

There’s currently no way to verify it.

The predictions of string theory differ from current theory only at scales and energy levels that are unreachable now and for the foreseeable future. As awesome as the theory is in so many ways it is now recognized by most of the scientific community as essentially useless, and it has been abandoned by many for that simple reason. Those scientists who are continuing to work on it are trying desperately to eek out some method by which it could be even potentially falsified.

It looks and acts like science in many fundamental ways, but for now it simply isn’t science because it simply isn’t verifiable.

To summarize my point: Science is not a search for The Truth®. Science is a search for a very narrow subset of the truth known as The Verifiable Truth®. No, less than that it’s a search The Reasonably Verifiable Truth®. Actually, even less than that, it’s a search for The Minimally Verifiable Truth®.

2 thoughts on “The Truth

  1. Laura Potts says:

    Great point Venture. Never thought of it that way. Do you suppose scientists try to combat religious ideas? And perhaps that’s where some of this comes from?

    • Venture Free says:

      For the most part I think scientists are too busy doing science to worry about religion. In many cases the scientists are religious themselves.

      Having said that, there are certainly scientists out there that actively pick fights with religious people over their ideas. As with any group they’re the ones that tend to get attention, even though they’re generally not representative of the group as a whole. Unfortunately I think these are the ones most likely to think of science as a search for The Truth® (which is why they’re probably the most vocal…they have the strongest feelings on the subject).

      More often, though, I think it comes from religious people pushing their ideas into arenas where it doesn’t belong. The easiest example of this is the myriad attempts at getting Creationism taught in schools over the years, though there are many other examples.

      I’ll leave it at that. Every time I attempt to elaborate, this turns into some kind of treatise on epistemology and NOMA. To paraphrase the internet (who claims to be quoting Mark Twain) “I didn’t have time to write a short comment, so I wrote a long one instead.” (actually this is my short comment).

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