Notices
Results 1 to 14 of 14

Thread: The definition of theory

  1. #1 The definition of theory 
    Forum Freshman
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Posts
    12
    Ok, I was browsing the internet and came across a site that made me confused about the scientific use of the word theory. This has probably came up before, but try to bear with me. According to this site http://wilstar.com/theories.htm, a scientific theory is something that has been proven.
    "But in scientific terms, a theory implies that something has been proven."

    However it says differently in my college physics textbook.
    "One important deifference is that science requires testing of its ideas or theories to see if their predictions are borne out by experiment. But theories are not "proved" by testing." "Physics" -by Giancoli page 2

    The site also makes note that a scientific theory is just a more complicated scientific law. I always thought the main difference is that theories are something that cannot be derived directly from observation, while scientific laws can. IE. Theories are more of a creative inspiration that comes from our minds to explain phenomona.

    Also i have learned that it is not that simple. I thought there are different degrees in which the theory is credible. Some theories are accepted by most scientists(such as the atomic theory), and some theories that are debated by many scientists(such as the string theory). Well point in being, is this site false, or am i just crazy. I know it's just a kids science site, but my friend tried to use it to tell me i was wrong, and its second on the google search "scientific theories."

    PS, do you guys think the theory of evolution can be turned into a law after millions of years of observations? That after so long it becomes a direct observation, hm tell me what you guys think. Thanks.


    Reply With Quote  
     

  2.  
     

  3. #2  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    14,169
    This is an interesting and important question. I shall do my best to answer it, but please ask for clarification of any point.

    First, as to the matter of Laws. (I posted something on this a few days ago, but I am not sure if it was on this or another forum.) From the time of Newton up until the early twentieth century their was something of a belief amongst scientists that we could eventually define everything quite precisely. This was a mechanistic view. Then along came Einstein where reality was different for different observers, and Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. It became clear that it was not very scientific to call a description of some aspect of how the world was believed to work a Law. Pretty much the only Law's you will encounter now are one's that were formulated back in the times when science had that mechanistic take on the Universe.

    Now to the heart of your question. The site you mention is wrong - but only by the merest of whiskers. Science now takes the view that one cannot prove anything, only disprove. Thus even the best validated theories might still be disproven if a single exception were to turn up tomorrow. These theories are, for all practical purposes, facts. And that is what your site is meaning.

    But technically science is saying "Well, we can't really be sure. We shall always keep an open mind." Just as your physics text says, you can't prove a theory. What you can do is validate it. That means you can make lots of observations and conduct lots of experiments, looking for behaviour or results that are contrary to the theory. The more of these that you make without those exceptions occuring, the more confident you can feel in that theory.

    Consequently, today, a theory is as solid as you can get in science. The forerunner of a theory is a hypothesis. It will have some substantiatin evidence, but it just hasn't been subjected to enough rigorous testing to confirm its validity. Below that, and matching what the general public might call a theory, you have conjecture, or speculation.

    Hope that helps.


    Reply With Quote  
     

  4. #3  
    Forum Freshman
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Posts
    12
    Alright that explains quite a bit. But i have a couple more questions. Can a Theory turn into something like a law such as the theory that the Earth was round can now be proven by direct observation from space. Or cell theory, which we can now be seen directly through a microscope. Or even Evolution, will it become more than a theory after millions of years of observation of the planets species.

    Or is it that everything in science that is solid is considered a theory? Such as all the physics laws and chemistry laws.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  5. #4  
    Forum Freshman 11 73 3 33's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Location
    In front of the laptop
    Posts
    36
    As well as I know, the definition given by your college course book is the correct one.
    "In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite." (Paul Dirac)
    Reply With Quote  
     

  6. #5  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    14,169
    Quote Originally Posted by rudeboyokuma
    Can a Theory turn into something like a law such as the theory that the Earth was round can now be proven by direct observation from space.
    This is a good example. Yes, we might begin with a hypothesis - "the world is round". Move onto some observations that appear to support it - "ships hulls disappear from view before their masts". Do this with enough observations that we feel is is likely true and is therefore a sound theory. Finally, we are able to directly observe the condition we had theorised was the case. This is an observation, clear cut, unquestioned, and is therefore now a fact. However some theories will never be able to be directly observed in this way.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  7. #6  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard SkinWalker's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Location
    Grand Prairie, TX
    Posts
    2,377
    To put is short and to the point, theories in science are not the same as the colloquial "theory," which means to the average person something akin to "best guess."

    A scientific theory is comprised of facts and hypotheses and often incorporates laws to present an over-arching explanation for a concept in science. This is why there are things in science that can be both "facts" and "theories." Gravity is a fact, but there is also gravitational theory. The same is true for evolution: a fact -it has happened as evidenced by fossils, DNA, etc.; but there is also evolutionary theory, which provides a theory for the mechanisms by which evolution occurred.

    We know for a fact that there are atoms and we know many "facts" about atoms. But every nuclear physicist starts his or her education with a class called "atomic theory."

    There's another good explanation for "theory" in science at this blog entry: Respectful Insolence, at Science Blogs.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  8. #7  
    Forum Ph.D. william's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    Location
    Wherever I go, there I am
    Posts
    935
    Skinwalker wrote:
    To put is short and to the point, theories in science are not the same as the colloquial "theory," which means to the average person something akin to "best guess."
    I couldn't agree more. It is soooooo frustrating talking to someone who thinks a theory is nothing more than a 'guess.'
    Reply With Quote  
     

  9. #8  
    Forum Sophomore CaveatLector's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Location
    Turn left at the second light, three houses down on the right. You can't miss it.
    Posts
    152
    The hallmark of science is falsibiability, as Ophiolite eloquently mentioned.
    If I hypothesize that the moon is made of green cheese, is that a valid scientific argument.
    Indeed it is. It contains the opportunity to be falsified, which it most certainly would.
    It is a rather unusual way to think and that's precisely the reason many people don't understand how science, or at least the scientific method, work.
    Personally, I think the term should be; like our distant newly dwarfed celestial friend, Pluto; downgraded to be at a level somewhere synonymous with the term hypothesis, or my least favorite term, educated guess. Let’s see the LAW of evolution, atomic LAW, gravitational theory will easily make the transition to the LAWS of gravity. Dissolve the language barrier of the intellectual dishonest and the ignorant.
    Us, in the subaqueous depths of learnedness, will know the difference and secretly mock the rest of the world with our large oversized brains working overtime at other devious deceptive vernacular schemes.
    And the uneducated drips will drown as their unearned sense of accomplishment will be unable to keep them afloat in our swells of ubiquitous empirical subterfuge.

    It is our laugh which will be loudest, and it is ours that will be last.
    .
    .
    .
    Cogito, ergo doleo.

    There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.
    Oscar Levant
    Reply With Quote  
     

  10. #9  
    Forum Freshman
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Posts
    12
    Quote Originally Posted by SkinWalker
    To put is short and to the point, theories in science are not the same as the colloquial "theory," which means to the average person something akin to "best guess."

    A scientific theory is comprised of facts and hypotheses and often incorporates laws to present an over-arching explanation for a concept in science. This is why there are things in science that can be both "facts" and "theories." Gravity is a fact, but there is also gravitational theory. The same is true for evolution: a fact -it has happened as evidenced by fossils, DNA, etc.; but there is also evolutionary theory, which provides a theory for the mechanisms by which evolution occurred.

    We know for a fact that there are atoms and we know many "facts" about atoms. But every nuclear physicist starts his or her education with a class called "atomic theory."

    There's another good explanation for "theory" in science at this blog entry: Respectful Insolence, at Science Blogs.
    Ok, i know that it does not mean the same as a "best guess," however from everyones definition it seems to me that theory is a very broad term. If i were to define it, it would be "our best educated guess according to our current knowledge." Because theories are proven wrong all the time and are always subject to change. For example i do not think the theory of general relativity and quantum theory as facts. This is mainly because when emerged serious problems occur. However to our current knowledge these are our best theories. So i do not think theories can be considered proven facts. What does everyone else think?
    Reply With Quote  
     

  11. #10  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard SkinWalker's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Location
    Grand Prairie, TX
    Posts
    2,377
    Theories are best described as:

    a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world; an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena; "theories can incorporate facts and laws and tested hypotheses;" an established and experimentally verified fact or collection of facts about the world.

    And, while they are, indeed, provisional -as all things in science are- they are hardly "proven wrong all the time." It is actually a rare occurrence that a theory will be shown to be wrong, and when it is, it usually only takes a minor change or the incorporation of new data to correct it.

    And Special Relativity and Quantum Mechanics do not contradict each other as you suggest when you say "problems occur" when they are merged. They are simply different explanations for different phenomena.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  12. #11  
    Guest
    In my day it (that is 'theory') was simply a framework to explain some phenomina.

    Where a 'phenomina' was merely an observation or perceived fact where the mechanism for such was not [fully] understood.

    'Simply' - just meant 'In terms anyone could understand'

    Being a framework meant it was incomplete and could be refuted, modified or accepted in the light of supporting evidence.

    We had a couple of sayings back then...

    "If it looks wrong it IS wrong"
    "If it's incomprehensible it's B'locks"
    "Bullshit baffles brains"
    "Empty vessels make the most noise"
    Reply With Quote  
     

  13. #12  
    Forum Freshman
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Posts
    12
    Quote Originally Posted by SkinWalker
    Theories are best described as:
    a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world; an organized system of accepted knowledge that applies in a variety of circumstances to explain a specific set of phenomena; "theories can incorporate facts and laws and tested hypotheses;" an established and experimentally verified fact or collection of facts about the world.
    In modern science a theory cannot be considered a fact. Theories cannot be proven. However they can incorporate facts. The reliability of the theory can vary some may be backed up by lots of evidence and some may just explain one aspect of the subject. Read Ophiolite's posts, they explain it well. Or look theory up on wikipedia. It's a little hard to understand but it does the job.

    Quote Originally Posted by SkinWalker
    And, while they are, indeed, provisional -as all things in science are- they are hardly "proven wrong all the time." It is actually a rare occurrence that a theory will be shown to be wrong, and when it is, it usually only takes a minor change or the incorporation of new data to correct it.
    Actually theories are proven wrong all the time. Just for a small sample list go here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obsolet...tific_theories


    Quote Originally Posted by SkinWalker
    And Special Relativity and Quantum Mechanics do not contradict each other as you suggest when you say "problems occur" when they are merged. They are simply different explanations for different phenomena.
    First, I didnt say special relativity, but general relativity, which just shows you arn't even reading my posts. And secondly you might want to make note to learn more about the subject before posting such assumptions.
    "Since the early days of quantum theory, physicists have made many attempts to combine it with the other highly successful theory of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. While quantum mechanics is entirely consistent with special relativity, serious problems emerge when one tries to join the quantum laws with general relativity, a more elaborate description of spacetime which incorporates gravity. Resolving these inconsistencies has been a major goal of twentieth- and twenty-first-century physics." -Wikipedia go here to learn more http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_mechanics
    Reply With Quote  
     

  14. #13  
    Universal Mind John Galt's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Posts
    14,169
    Once upon a time, in a land far away, lived a young boy called Amuko. He had a wonderful life, for the land was verdant, so rich with fruits and berries, nuts and vegetables, all kinds of game - pheasant, deer, wild pig, antelope, goats and more besides - that there was scarcely any need to plant crops, or herd cattle.

    Amuko was a spirited lad who enjoyed playing with his friends, teasing his neighbours, and running everywhere from dawn to dusk, 'chasing his shadow' as the people of that land said of such energetic children.

    Now Amuko thought he was familiar with all the animals that lived in the land, but one day he chanced upon a strange beast which lay sleeping in the long grass. It looked a little like the pet cat he had, a charming creature whom he would tease by pulling its tail. But it was striped like a badger. Even more puzzling to Amuko the colour of the stripes were like the tawny brown of the antelope, and the almost black that surrounded the eyes of the deer, making them look so surprised.

    Well badgers, and deer, and antelope, and pet cats were not dangerous creatures, so Amuko felt quite safe, Then he chuckled to himself, for he thought how amusing it would be to pull the tail of this beast and startle it out of its sleep.

    And that was how young Amuko came to be eaten by the Tiger called New Silk Ark. Everyone agreed this was a shame, as Amuko had shown such promise of growing into a valued member of the community. On the bright side the story mothers and grandfathers and aunts told to the children about young Amuko's foolish tail pulling doubtless stopped several others from being eaten by tigers. For while a sleeping tiger may have the form of a playful animal, and the colouration of inconsequential creatures, or the patterning of those that hide from man, when its tail is pulled it is quite a different beast altogether.

    Reply With Quote  
     

  15. #14  
    Forum Freshman
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Posts
    12
    Quote Originally Posted by Ophiolite
    Once upon a time, in a land far away, lived a young boy called Amuko. He had a wonderful life, for the land was verdant, so rich with fruits and berries, nuts and vegetables, all kinds of game - pheasant, deer, wild pig, antelope, goats and more besides - that there was scarcely any need to plant crops, or herd cattle.

    Amuko was a spirited lad who enjoyed playing with his friends, teasing his neighbours, and running everywhere from dawn to dusk, 'chasing his shadow' as the people of that land said of such energetic children.

    Now Amuko thought he was familiar with all the animals that lived in the land, but one day he chanced upon a strange beast which lay sleeping in the long grass. It looked a little like the pet cat he had, a charming creature whom he would tease by pulling its tail. But it was striped like a badger. Even more puzzling to Amuko the colour of the stripes were like the tawny brown of the antelope, and the almost black that surrounded the eyes of the deer, making them look so surprised.

    Well badgers, and deer, and antelope, and pet cats were not dangerous creatures, so Amuko felt quite safe, Then he chuckled to himself, for he thought how amusing it would be to pull the tail of this beast and startle it out of its sleep.

    And that was how young Amuko came to be eaten by the Tiger called New Silk Ark. Everyone agreed this was a shame, as Amuko had shown such promise of growing into a valued member of the community. On the bright side the story mothers and grandfathers and aunts told to the children about young Amuko's foolish tail pulling doubtless stopped several others from being eaten by tigers. For while a sleeping tiger may have the form of a playful animal, and the colouration of inconsequential creatures, or the patterning of those that hide from man, when its tail is pulled it is quite a different beast altogether.

    wow i like how you communicated that point.
    Reply With Quote  
     

Bookmarks
Bookmarks
Posting Permissions
  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •