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Thread: What does it mean to "prove" a theory?

  1. #1 What does it mean to "prove" a theory? 
    Forum Cosmic Wizard
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    What does it mean to "prove" a theory?


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    Forum Radioactive Isotope cosmictraveler's Avatar
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    Many times theories are proven with math or evidence that shows the theory is correct. The supercollider finally proved that there was a Higgs particle but until it was actually found and verified it was only a theory.


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    Forum Radioactive Isotope Paleoichneum's Avatar
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    I would like to disagree with Cosmic travelers terminology.

    In science, theories are not proven, and "only a theory" is not a phrase generally used. Theories, my be reinforced or supplemented by additional data/experiments, but proof is not something that happens.
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  5. #4  
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    Math has proofs, science doesn't. A theory can only be falsified, never proven, I thought this was pretty widely understood.
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  6. #5  
    exchemist
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    Quote Originally Posted by dan hunter View Post
    What does it mean to "prove" a theory?
    Strongly agree with the last two contributors re theories in science.

    For a theory to be "proved", something would have to be done to show that it is logically impossible to obtain a result that did not agree with the theory. But, with the physical world (as opposed to mathematical theorems for example), it is always possible in principle to envisage an observation that does not completely fit whatever the theory may be. You cannot mathematically prove what future observations may reveal.

    Theories are corroborated by repeatable observations that fit, but not proved by them. If people speak of scientific theories being "proved" by such an such an experiment, they are speaking lazily and what they mean is corroborated.
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  7. #6  
    Forum Cosmic Wizard
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    Quote Originally Posted by exchemist View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by dan hunter View Post
    What does it mean to "prove" a theory?
    ...For a theory to be "proved", something would have to be done to show that it is logically impossible to obtain a result that did not agree with the theory. ...
    Which would render any such theory unfalsifiable and basically useless?
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  8. #7  
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    Quote Originally Posted by dan hunter View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by exchemist View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by dan hunter View Post
    What does it mean to "prove" a theory?
    ...For a theory to be "proved", something would have to be done to show that it is logically impossible to obtain a result that did not agree with the theory. ...
    Which would render any such theory unfalsifiable and basically useless?

    Did Churchill say something about how we should beware of the tyranny of consistency?
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    prove a theory means u want people do agree with you
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  10. #9  
    Bullshit Intolerant PhDemon's Avatar
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    More moronic muttering from Mozarc
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  11. #10  
    Moderator Moderator Markus Hanke's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dan hunter View Post
    What does it mean to "prove" a theory?
    You cannot prove a theory; all you can do is subject it to the scientific method, and check whether or not it passes. Also, most models and theories are restricted to a certain domain of applicability - for example, classical mechanics works very well in the world of our human everyday experience, and within that context it will pass the scientific method with flying colours. However, translate this to a relativistic scenario such as a neutron star or a black hole, and classical mechanics fails miserably.
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  12. #11  
    Forum Professor jrmonroe's Avatar
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    Generally

    A "theory" is words or other symbols that are written, read or said that compose a general principle or set of principles, based on considerable evidence, formulated to explain the operation of certain phenomena.

    To "prove" means to demonstrate, substantiate, authenticate etc, specifically, to show the veracity or accuracy of a statement, principle, theory etc beyond a reasonable doubt.



    Ridiculously simple example

    Theory: A bowl of Rice Krispies will snap, crackle and pop when milk is poured into the bowl.

    Prove: Pour milk into a bowl of Rice Krispies and observe/measure and record the results.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jrmonroe View Post
    Generally —

    A "theory" is words or other symbols that are written, read or said that compose a general principle or set of principles, based on considerable evidence, formulated to explain the operation of certain phenomena.

    To "prove" means to demonstrate, substantiate, authenticate etc, specifically, to show the veracity or accuracy of a statement, principle, theory etc beyond a reasonable doubt.



    Ridiculously simple example —

    Theory: A bowl of Rice Krispies will snap, crackle and pop when milk is poured into the bowl.

    Prove: Pour milk into a bowl of Rice Krispies and observe/measure and record the results.
    Sometimes if the Rice Krispies are stale there will be no "snap, crackle and pop" so the theory was "only just a theory".
    Theory falsified start and reformulate a new theory.
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    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dan hunter View Post
    What does it mean to "prove" a theory?
    in the words of Stephen J Gould :

    "In science, 'fact' [as well as 'proof'] can only mean 'confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.'"
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
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    Forum Professor jrmonroe's Avatar
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    A bowl of fresh Rice Krispies will ...
    Grief is the price we pay for love. (CM Parkes) Our postillion has been struck by lightning. (Unknown) War is always the choice of the chosen who will not have to fight. (Bono) The years tell much what the days never knew. (RW Emerson) Reality is not always probable, or likely. (JL Borges)
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  16. #15  
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    Quote Originally Posted by jrmonroe View Post
    A bowl of fresh Rice Krispies will ...
    That sounds like a very nice theory
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