How are scintific theories produced?

How does science work? And what's all this about quantum mechanics?

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effie
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How are scintific theories produced?

Post by effie » Fri Nov 14, 2008 10:01 am

First of all, I think it's wonderful that people focus their efforts on creating theories regarding various subjects and spend time discussing about them with other people . Nevertheless, I have a qustion to pose: every day we produce several theories during our effort to understand the universe that surrounds us. Depending on our studies and our interests we elaborate on specific topics, trying to reveal some of the mysteries that "provoke"our mind. But does anyone know (and can tell the rest of us) HOW are theories produced? Many philosophers have tried to answer this question, but the answers that they have given have left me unsatisfied. Production of theories has been attributed to immagination, logics, accumulation of evidence, etc., but no one has EVER provided the scientific community with an accurate, precise mechanism. How can we evaluate whether a theory is right or wrong,complete or incomplete, if we don't even know how it was produced? How can we expect science as a whole to create well- founded opinions (theories) if there is no established mechanism? In order to produce any kind of product (theories are one of the intellectual- mental
product) a well established procedure is essential. Otherwise, when the procedure is not known, the theoretical activity is empiric and NOT scientific. I agree that on one hand we do know how to produce theories ,given the infinite number of theories that have been produced during the history of science. On the other hand, how can we explain the fact that no one has expressed at east a rudimentary method? Is it enough for scientists to produce theories without realizing how they manage to do it or should focus our efforts on trying to solve this problem? I simply remind
you that many theories , some of which were considered equivalent to scientific knowledge, have been proved wrong or inadequate, despite the fact that they were accepted by the entire scientific community. Is there any chance that such loss of time would have been avoided if we knew how theories are produced and evaluated?

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Post by Richard Baron » Fri Nov 14, 2008 11:47 am

Hi Effie

You may find it helpful to draw the long-standing distinction between:

1. the context of discovery - how people come up with the ideas;

2. the context of justification (sometimes called the context of verification) - checking that those ideas are right, or at least testing them and being provisionally happy if they pass the tests we have tried so far.

The boundary between the two may not be watertight: if you google the two terms, you will find a range of views on this point. But even if the one shades into the other, the distinction is a useful starting-point.

I think that your comment is concerned with the context of discovery rather than with the context of justification. A firm believer in the distinction would say "who cares where the ideas come from, we just have to test them".

But you may also have meant that because we don't know how we generate the ideas, we don't know how we generate our ideas on how to test theories, so we cannot have much confidence that we have thought of the right tests to use in the context of justification.

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Aetixintro
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How are scintific theories produced?

Post by Aetixintro » Fri Nov 14, 2008 12:42 pm

Hi Effie. Welcome to the forum! :)

You can check out the two outstanding authorities in Philosophy of Science, Carl Hempel (confirmation) and Karl Popper (falsification), and you may want to keep an eye on epistemology for the formation of theories. Philosophy of Science is more about the life of theories, how they compare, and their limitations to metaphysics and religion.

I can recommend Philosophy of Science - The Central Issues, by Martin Curd and J. A. Cover with the ISBN 978-0-393-97175-0. It contains a number of original contributions, papers, on the central issues.

The making of science can be seen as a big evolution of thinking, but also the development of technology to help it along. All of this has taken a few thousand years as you well know. Have fun with the philosophy! :)

I want to include a quote from the book by Karl Popper:
From a new idea, put up tentatively, and not yet justified in any way - an anticipation, a hypothesis, a theoretical system, or what you will - conclusions are drawn by means of logical deduction. These conclusions are then compared with one another and with other relevant statements, so as to find what logical relations (such as equivalence, derivability, compatibility, or incompatibility) exist between them.
A.

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Post by mark black » Fri Nov 14, 2008 12:51 pm

effie,

It's an interesting question, but it's not how a theory is arrived at that's important, but that afterward it is treated and tested scientifically. For example, Newton was hit on the head by a falling apple and in a moment of inspiration concieved of gravitation as an explanation for planetary motion. Darwin, on the other hand, collected evidence during his voyage aboard the Beagle, and gradually built up a picture of the evolutionary nature and origin of species.

What's interesting about your question, for me, is that both the question Newton answered and the question Darwin answered were already 'out there' - if not quite in the terms in which they were framed by the scientists themselves. One can find 'answers' to these questions in the Bible. According to the Bible, the earth is stationary at the center of the universe, and species were created by God. Though not scientifically valid answers, still it shows that these questions have been on people's minds for thousands of years.

This puts me in mind of a possibly apochyphal tale where Socrates showed that an uneducated slave already knew that the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the square of the other two sides of a right angled triangle. He just didn't know that he knew until led to the conclusion.

I don't think this is quite the case with science - but there is an intergenerational dynamic to scientific discovery, that we only see so far because we stand upon the shoulders of giants.

mb.

effie
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Nice to meet you all, thank you for the reception :-)

Post by effie » Fri Nov 14, 2008 2:37 pm

My point was exactly what Richard wrote: how do we come up with ideas? What made Newton, for example, see what all the other scinetist couldn't? The un- known stands right in front of us, giving us clues, hints etc, but most of us cannot see it. Understanding the "mechanism"we use to produce ideas (which aim to aid us approach the un-known) is essential for comrehension: if we know how we do it, we drammatically raise our chances to do it well, don't you agree? Otherwise, our effort may not be fruitful. Knowledge always makes things easier and points the right direction!
PS. My question was a bit rhetorical. I have read many (I mean MANY) books about philosophy of science, but all (except those written by T.Kuhn) seem to me descriptive. They tend to merely record the history of science. I can give you many examples in order to prove what I am saying, but there is no point Popper begin their analysis from the verification of a theory. I.E. Popper has written that the important thing for science is to be able to verify a theory, not telling how it was produced. For me, reality is exactly the opposite: Since we create theories, we must be sure that we know exactly how we do it in order to produce correct theories! If a theory is complete (if it reresents reality and isn't an illfounded intellectual product, verification will come, sooner or later. On the contrary, a false theory will never be verified, no matter which research techniques we have developed!

In other words, my initial quote can be summarised to the following question: How do we use our knowledge in order to approach the un-known, via theories, hypothesis etc? What's the difference between Newton (and other "pioneers") and other people who have dedicated teir life to science but haven't been able to produce new knowledge and change the history of science?

Ps2: I would like to apologize for my mistakes in English. I am Greek and we aren't famous for our good handling of foreign languages :-)

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Psychonaut
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Post by Psychonaut » Fri Nov 14, 2008 3:36 pm

I think it is a mistake to think that Newton had something that other scientists didn't, aside perhaps from luck.

Our memories are inevitably selective, and we remember when our theories are verified and quickly forget when they are not.

For every theory created which turns out to be correct there are millions that do not make the grade, and it is all too easy when we discover that our theory is correct to say "Oh well but ofcourse, I knew it was right all along".
Within memory suspicion becomes distorted into certainty, due to the later certainy post-confirmation.

I read recently about a british tourist who was kidnapped and murdered by Congolese rebels. It mentioned how the mother had heard the news of 16 tourists being abducted, with 8 of them later murdered. The article stated "Ofcourse she knew as only a mother can that her son was amongst the murdered".

I would be willing to bet large sums of money that the mothers of every british tourist in Congo had 'known' in this exact same manner that their child was amongst the dead, but they forgot this 'knowing' as soon as it turned out that their children were safe and sound.


I do agree, though, that the manner in which we produce our theories is important, and something that should be examined.

It is by the theories which we have that we then conduct our experiments, and there are probably plenty of important discoveries out there waiting for us, missed only because of the blinkered manner in which our minds drive us forward.

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Post by Gustaf » Fri Nov 14, 2008 8:04 pm

What chemists do cannot be described in terms of chemistry.

Could it be that what scientists, in general, do cannot be described in terms of science?

effie
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Post by effie » Sat Nov 15, 2008 12:46 pm

"For every theory created which turns out to be correct there are millions that do not make the grade"

That was my point exactly!!!!! Science cannot afford to lose precious time trying to verify inadequate theories- that's why we ought to do something. After all, we all use our mind in order to produce theories- we definitely know more than we conciously are aware that we know :-) Maybe if we try, we will realize that the way in which we produce opinions (theories, hypothesis etc) is so common that it often remains unnoticed- like all thing that we do on a daily basis.
I have a suggestion to make, but it requires a lot of writing in English- not exactly my favourite hobby! I will soon post my proposal, and i think that you will realize that it is so simple, that it is very strange that no one has expressed verbally yet. Then, I will wait for your comments :-)

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Post by Psychonaut » Sat Nov 15, 2008 4:27 pm

The problem I have with any system which determines how we produce our theories is that I think that it will inevitably ignore some area that, to the system, is counter-intuitive, but which may well produce results.

It may seem a waste of time, but I think that it is a necessary one.

What we have at the moment is a number of different people working from their own intuitions, which allows us a broad spread.

Though vastly imperfect, it seems the best possible way.

Having said this, I think there is potential room for improvement, and am looking forward to your suggestion.

mark black
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Post by mark black » Sat Nov 15, 2008 7:52 pm

This is all wrong. I'm sorry, and I'm interested to hear what effie has come up with - but the problem is not in where scientific theories come from - for a wide range of ideas are filtered through a process that very quickly weeds out those that won't fly. There's little wasted effort. It's patently obvious - almost from the outset what a theory has to show in order to be considered valid - and it either does explain the facts or it doesn't.

effie
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Post by effie » Sun Nov 16, 2008 1:58 pm

"There's little wasted effort. It's patently obvious - almost from the outset what a theory has to show in order to be considered valid - and it either does explain the facts or it doesn't."

I can assure you that in my science (psychology) too many funds are wasted and many research programs reach a dead end due to the fact that we cannot foretell whether a theory is right or wrong. Furthermore, molecular biology cannot interpret the majority of the phenomena it deals with, simply because the theories that are produced sooner or later are roved wrong. E.g for more than 50 years biologists claimed that cells migrate thanks to the raise of intracellular calcium and based all of their theories regarding cells 'migration on that assumption. Recently has been proved that migration is calcium independent... Is that a waste of decades or not??
In psychology scientists try to find the mechanisms whith which mental functions are performed and they focus their efforts on brain's structure. I can assure you that, up to this moment, no one of the mental functions is fully known...I have read innumerous books which suggest different, contraddicting opinions, but I haven't discovered yet a precise explanation for any mental function or disorder... it is obvious that all these theories I refer to are inadequte, at least the majority of them. Otherwise there wouldn't be so many theories over the same subject, one of them would have been proved correct :-)
Below I will present one method that each scientist can use to produce theories. You will realize that it is very common and it is used daily by all scientists. The only problem is that i must present it concisely- I have many things to write about each one of the phases of the procedure, the role of the factors that participte in it etc, but I'm afraid I must write down only the most fundamental parts.

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Post by mark black » Sun Nov 16, 2008 3:25 pm

effie,

That's an interesting reply, but I am not yet moved very far from my stated position. Hypothesis and verification are part and parcel of science. The question is, did a rise in intracellular calcium seem a plausible hypothesis to explain the migration of cells? Given that osmosis works much the same way, I suspect it did. Is this wasted effort? I don't think so. A hypothesis was formed, tested and shown to be incorrect. Why it took so long is another matter, but that's the way science works.

But then, you move onto psychology without missing the missing beat. Your own discipline is not an exact science. In social science, if I may be so bold, there are always various approaches. Like several views of the same town from different locations, no one view takes in all the town - but is a more or less valid view from a certain perspective.

In phychology, biological, behavioural, cognitive, psychoanlytical and phenomenological perspectives explain a phenomenon in different terms. Thus I see great difficulty in what you are proposing - that you can somehow pre-select the ideas and hypotheses worth taking forward. I await your proposals with baited breath and promise to treat you kindly if, as I suspect, you come across as a raving loony.

:D

mb.

effie
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Post by effie » Sun Nov 16, 2008 3:51 pm

Before presenting my proposal, I would like to underline that following standard steps (procedure) does NOT undermine theoretical creativity. On the contrary, it enhances it, as knowledge always broadens our horizons and not the opposite. Imagination, intuition and all the other mental attributes are important, but when it comes to theoretical activity, they are zeros. Specific scientific knowledge is 1, which with the zeros forms the million. Every positive attribute is essential to this activity, but knowledge is fundamental: it is the basis that supports all the others. In order to understand the above, try to imagine a gifted, creative artist trying to produce theories for physics. Do you think that his imagination would help him?  Don’t be afraid that a “constitution” of the theoretical procedure will limit our inspiration. Think of it as the procedure you followed until you learnt how to drive: you were forced to follow specific steps, guided by your instructor, but now that you are experienced drivers, you can take your car and move to the other side of the earth. Similarly, if you learn step by step how to produce theories, you can use your knowledge in every matter that bothers you- the sky is the limit  Remember also that discipline is a synonym for freedom. On the other hand, uncontrolled liberty is a synonym for slavery!!!



First, I must define term “theory”. Theory is an intellectual- theoretical product that as afar as its structure is concerned consists of data and hypothesis. As an entity belongs to the sphere of opinions, as it combines known (data) with the un- known (hypothesis). A total that consists only of data is not a theory – it is a review of bibliography  On the other hand, a bunch of hypothesis cannot be named theory. It is just an ill-founded opinion. A theory, in order to “take a look of the unknown” must be very well founded on data. In science, theories represent the answers we give to the questions that bother us. In other words, they reflect our effort to interpret nature (By “nature”, I mean all the elements that compose universe, all things that are studied by a science; I don’t refer only to the nature that physicists study.
As a product, it is produced in general with the same method/ procedure that is used in every productive activity. In order to produce any kind of product (from the most simple to the most complex one) we need:
1. Raw material
2. Productive means
3. Procedure
4. Specialization, which permits to choose the appropriate material, means and procedure
5. Objective criteria to evaluate all of the above, as well as the final product.

A baker, for example, needs flour, water and yeast (raw material), mixer and oven (means) and kneading and baking (procedure). What’s more, he needs to know how to choose the suitable material and means and follow correctly the right procedure. Possible mistake in any of the above ruins the final product (10 excessive minutes of baking produce coal, not bread  )
When it comes to theories,
1. Raw material are the data which derive from laboratory research, field observations etc.
2. Productive means are the specialized knowledge and the respective opinions of the producer, which is known as his “scientific perception”. Scientific perception is the total of knowledge and opinions a scientist has regarding his object of interest, e.g. astronomy. These are the only means that can be used in the theoretical activity- there is no room for other machines, technological equipment etc. It is obvious that theoretical process is 100% intellectual or mental, thus the only “tool” that can be used is perceptions, and most specifically scientific perception. ( I could write about how scientific perception is produced, but that would be a little bit disorientating)
3. Procedure
(I would like to underline that in every phase I use examples regarding the same science in order to add coherence to my words- it is not a sample of bitterness. I simply use examples from a science I am familiar with.).

Phase 1.

During the first phase of the procedure, the scientists shapes a general mental picture of the phenomena that he studies. In other words, he conceives a general approach of his subject, he begins to represent the unknown with known terms. E.g. A biologists that begins the effort to interpret a biologic phenomenon, (cell differentiation for example), before anything else has a general notion of how I is completed.
The quality of the general mental picture he will conceive is directly proportional to the quality of his basic truth. Basic truth is a very general opinion about that represents the basic elements that compose the object he studies and the way they participate to the function of the total. Basic truth is a synonym for axioms, doctrines etc, or for what Kuhn called “paradigm” and Lakatos called “research program”. I must not extend to this matter, I will only mention that usually the majority of the scientific community shares the same basic truth- it is a question of uniformity, cohesion and effectiveness, but sometimes its contribution is suspensive (but that is a completely different issue). E.g. Basic truth of molecular biology claims that cells consist only of molecules and that molecules’ function is enough to interpret all of the activities of the cell. Therefore, a molecular biologist that will try to interpret cells differentiation for example will form a general mental picture in which only molecules are included. E.g.2 The man (I do not know who he is) that created the current theory for the shape of the earth, first observed a phenomenon (a sailboat “sinking” in the horizon) and assumed that earth wasn’t flat but round. Due to his adequate basic truth, he was able to explain the phenomenon of the sinking and, using other data (clues) he managed to create a compatible theory regarding earth’s shape. All the scientists before him couldn’t produce adequate theories because their basic truth was inadequate. The same happened with Newton (I cannot analyze this now), who , by explaining the fall of objects enriched predominant basic truth about nature- until then scientists strongly believed that universe was made only of matter, and they tried to interpret all physical phenomena attributing them to the interactions of matter. Gravity for example was firstly interpreted as a natural tendency of matter to return to is natural residence (centre of the earth).
After forming his mental picture, the scientist will start to enrich it by adding his knowledge and opinions on the matter. The final outcome of this procedure is the “reconstitution model”, which will be his guide through out all the next phases. At this point the procedure resembles at the formation of an architectural design- an architect firstly conceives mentally how his building wants to be (general mental picture), and then gradually adds all the details, until he completes his model.
Substantially, in this phase the scientific perception (total of knowledge and opinions) transforms into model, which is the factor which determines the outcome of all the phases that come next.
It is evident that the quality of the model depends on the quality of the general mental picture, whose quality depends on the quality of the basic truth. What’s more, elements that are not included in the basic truth, won’t be included neither in the model. E.g. A model produced by the molecular basic truth cannot possibly contain any other element that molecules.

Phase 2.

During this phase, the scientist concentrates the data with which he will form his theory. Obviously, among the innumerous data that exist he will choose only the data that fit into his model. All the other data will be excluded, even if their validity and reliability are not disputed. An architect won’t choose cement and bricks, even if they are cheap materials of good quality, if his model represents a building of glass and iron. Similarly, a scientist who has a model based on molecular basic truth, will ignore all the evidence regarding the presence and role of the endogenous EM fields of cells.
In this phase, the scientists
a) locates
b) evaluates
c) concentrates the data that he needs.
In other words, he “scans” the available data, finds (evaluates) which are useful and which not and picks up those that he needs. So simple!

Phase 3.

Here comes the major difference between theoretical and any other productive activity. Data ,before being utilized into formation of theories, must be interpreted. Data are the coded answers that reality (nature) gives to the questions that we pose to her via research. Before being incorporated into theories must be interpreted correctly and comprehended. Otherwise, they are useless and cannot be used in production of theories. E.g. Scientists for many years supported that cells migrated due to the raise of intracellular Calcium. This was an interpretation of a data present in every research regarding this subject: while migrating, cells always present a stable and an alternative fluorescence. Scientists, who knew that when they experimentally added Calcium to cells they produced fluorescence, assumed that the fluorescence they observed in vivo owes its presence to the raise of intracellular calcium. However, this interpretation of data has been proved wrong, thus they couldn’t be utilized in the formation of well-founded theories that could interpret the phenomenon of cell migration.
It is unnecessary to add that the quality of the interpretations we produce depends on the quality of our scientific perception. An adequate perception will interpret all the data fully and correctly.
Afterwards, the scientist assembles the interpretations that he has produced and forms with them a single entity, which we call theory. At this point, you may think that his duty is done… but no! Theories refer to the un-known, while data refer to what we already know- at least partially. Data (and their correct interpretations) are not enough for a complete theory. Even if we manage to concentrate all the existing data and interpret them correctly, there will still be “gaps” in our theory. These gaps belong to the elements, clues etc that remain to be discovered and they are filled during the next phase.

Phase 4.

The scientist consults his model and constructs assumptions (hypothesis) that fit in the gaps he had observed. As we can easily understand, the hypothesis that we produce reflect the model we use and vice versa. Therefore, the quality of our model determines the quality of our hypothesis. If the model is compatible with nature, its assumptions will be well founded and sooner or later will be experimentally verified. I could write more about each phase (the criteria we use to evaluate the result that comes up from each phase, the analytical role that the model plays in each phase, examples from every science, etc) ,but first I would like to see how you will react to the few things I have written 

Phase 5.

The scientist assembles the interpretations of the data he has produced during phase 3 with the hypothesis he produced in phase 4. The theory is complete and can be checked theoretically and experimentally!

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Aetixintro
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How are scintific theories produced?

Post by Aetixintro » Sun Nov 16, 2008 4:39 pm

Hi again, effie

How is your theory different from HDM? To me, half or more of the scientific enterprise is about building a working technological scaffolding to provide the looking glass for where the data comes from. And after you begin to gather data you do the scrutiny for getting the theory from the hunches you have had in the very beginning, when you begin to design the apparatus to use in the investigation. When you finally get there, you may have used decades already. It is obvious that discovery of science goes hand in hand with technological development. Take the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) of CERN! It is just finished and yet one doesn't know what it will bring or if the findings will show anything significant. Besides this, you may build a psychology of how scientific discoveries happen, but I'm not certain whether it is the way to further science. Thank you, anyway. :wink:

Also, what are your views toward Operationalism, Instrumentalism, and Conventionalism?

effie
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Post by effie » Tue Nov 18, 2008 5:00 pm

How is your theory different from HDM?

To tell you the truth, i cannot see the similarities with HDM! ( of course my knowledge about HDM is not profound, but i think it doesn't even refer to science :-) )
As far as your questions are concerned:
Operationalism: I think that operationalism only applies when theories are tested and doesn't suggest any ideas regarding the method with which theories are produced. Furthermore, don't forget that theoretical explnations always come first- gravity for example first was "discovered"and then it was measured!
Instrumentalism:
In general I agree with that approach, a theory that does not reflect reality is not useful. However, tha fact that doesn't even try to find the way with which theories are produced is a big fault, in my opinion!

Conventionalism: I haven't studied this approach that much, so i don't have an overall opinion.

Finally, i think it's obvious that technological achievements are essential for science, but only during the laboratory research. During theoretical search they are completely useless!!!

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