Science, or 'natural philosophy', emerged in the 1500's as a new way of establishing truths relating to our universe - and as a challenge to the philosophy which till then had considered that as its domain. Religions also often considered truths relating to our universe as their domain, but while scientists often presented their ideas as 'theories', most of them certainly considered that they were dealing with provable fact - unlike the 'mere theorising' of philosophy and religion though such might also have truths. Certainly the truths of science should be proven by facts, and should not be imposed by any 'peer opinion' or governing powers as is often really done.
But little is taught on the basic conflict of science, philosophy and religion, and how they deal with the basic questions of truth and error discussed below. Can any science or science theory be definitely proved true, and if that is possible then exactly how can any science or science theory be definitely proved true or be definitely proved untrue ?
Science developed as a new means of proving truths, against the
many errors presents as truths by the older philosophers like
Aristotle that were often backed by churches and governments. While
science often disputes truth claims of philosophy and religion as 'just
philosophising', philosophy and religion often dispute truth claims of
science as 'just a theory'. So to look into this requires first
examining the four basic ways in which people have considered that
a truth might be demonstrated ;
1. GOD. Some hold that there must 'definitely' be a god, and that therefore what are necessary consequences of that must also be definite truths A, B, C which can be used in combination with some logic and observation to demonstrate a wider range of definite truths. In this philosophy the god truths are the fundamental truths to which universe truths are secondary, perception being uncertain and god coming before and creating the universe. Rene Descartes took this as the general philosophy of his physics, and others have taken this general position.
2. LOGIC. Some hold that starting from some few 'definite' logical truths, logical deduction can be used to demonstrate a wider range of definite truths. This can involve seeing both god and perception as being uncertain, and argued logic and mathematics as being more reliable. Measured observation of nature often shows that mathematically definable laws seem to apply in nature, so mathematical logic seen as reliable could be reliably used in science. The early Kepler and Albert Einstein perhaps basically took this as the philosophy of their physics, involving logic in combination with a little observation, and others have taken this general position. Some extend Newton's blackbox physics position to 'the only thing science theory needs is the best mathematics'. Support for logic and mathematics in science has mostly involved a requirement of logical consistency in theories, though Einstein and some others conclude that logic does not require logical consistency and support for example light both being a wave and being not a wave.
3. OBSERVATION. Most scientists have held that what is 'definite' is basically what you can see or touch, and that only verifiable observation can really demonstrate truths. William Gilbert and Galileo Galilei took this position strongly and experimental observation in combination with minimal deductive logic became central to early science in demonstrating a wider range of proved truths. Basically this position takes confirmed perception as most certain, and a theory is to be proved or disproved only by appropriate experimental observations fitting with it or conflicting with it, with minimal deduction. Only observables such as finite distances that are measurable can be used in proofs but not unmeasurable zero or infinite distances. But as measured physical observations showed that mathematics seemed to have a strong place in nature independent of observation, mathematical logic was increasingly taken as allowing of more than just minimal deduction in science. And the assumption that some minimal deduction would give only one possible interpretation of an observation to all observers was and is doubtful - different people can think differently and can make differing deductions from the same observation or experiment. So experiment cannot be absolute proof of any deduction though being evidence partially supporting any number of deductions that are consistent with it, and replication may give proof for the observation itself only.
4. POPULARITY. Some hold that what is believed by a majority is true. So social norm beliefs, traditional beliefs, government policies or laws, religious church beliefs or rules, and ideas generally with more popularity are more often taken as being true. This common truth mistake was strongly opposed by some early scientists like Gilbert, Galileo and Newton but still persists in science under the cloak of 'peer review' and 'mainstream science'. But a science truth is not really proved by the number of its supporters or their popular reputations.
Each of these four things on their own can either be shown to contain some uncertainties or can demonstrate only a limited range of truths. This is why many scientists have supported using combinations of two or three of them, while often perhaps taking one as being more fundamental. The various positions taken on this by physicists have depended chiefly on their evaluation of three issues ;
A. On the use of minimal logic and simplicity in science. Early science generally supported observation with 'close logic' or 'minimal logic' involving only deductions that seemed to derive directly from experiments. This was seen as according with the fact that repeated observation of our varied and complex universe showed that its fundamental behaviours were relatively simple, and with Occam who concluded that logic works best when it involves minimal assumptions. But this perhaps best suited small physics theories, as one theory for mechanics and another theory for planet motion etcetera. Each small theory needed few assumptions or deductions. However needing eg 3 small theories each needing 3 assumptions was seen as less simple than needing eg 1 big theory needing 5 assumptions.
Early scientists tended to concentrate experiments on particular areas, such as mechanics or magnetism etcetera, and this helped them to conclude that nature basically followed simple laws. This supported the conclusion that a more simple science theory with fewer assumptions is more likely true than a less simple theory with more assumptions. But both William Gilbert and Rene Descartes tried producing one Theory Of Everything (or TOE) to explain everything physical. And then Isaac Newton showed that some one theory could explain both terrestrial gravity and planet motion - which till then had involved two different theories. If one theory with 4 assumptions could explain all that two theories each with 3 assumptions explained, then one 'more complex' theory seemed relatively simpler than two absolutely 'simpler' theories. So to some a more complex theory seemed acceptable as long as it explained more, and absolute science simplicity would have to be sacrificed to a greater science coverage. So even Rene Descartes in trying to produce one full-coverage physics theory from a simple mechanics base only, had to add complexities to try to cover everything including gravity, magnetism and electricity.
B. On the fundamentals of science. Early physics first split into two camps as to what was really fundamental in our physical universe. Galileo, Descartes and others concluded that the universe was fundamentally mechanical - where its key properties were only matter structure, matter solidity, matter motion and matter contact and pushings unaffected by any energy or activity that might exist independent of matter. But some like Gilbert and Newton could see the physical universe as fundamentally energetic or active, with its key behaviours being matter attractions and other motion responses to gravitational, magnetic, electrical and maybe other signals or energies. Kepler, Einstein and others held maybe a third neo-mechanical 'fields' position and that somehow such 'half-active' entities were fundamental if not exclusive in our universe.
Of course some physicists concluded that nothing was exclusively fundamental, and accepted some two or three of these as being different aspects of our universe that are compatible. Physicists holding different positions on what is fundamental in the universe, have supported very different types of theories - as a push-physics TOE, an attraction physics TOE or general relativity theory plus electromagnetic field theory. And the issue of what is fundamental in the universe can be entwined with the issue of what is fundamental in observing the universe. So there is Isaac Newton and a few others holding that as science experiment can only observe appearances and apparent behaviours, and not the actual causes of those, then science theory should omit all unseen causes and must leave discussion of such fundamentals to philosophy. And more specifically Newton showed that if physics was to include unseen causes then there may be no scientific experiment way to choose between two such different physics so that one theory seeming right could not itself disprove an alternative theory which might also seem equally right as the only scientific proof is replicable experiment. But many scientists have rightly or wrongly held the view that science theory can somehow validly extend science beyond experiment to some greater or lesser extent.
C. On mathematics and science. Some certainly see mathematical laws as fundamental in science, though mathematics itself can clearly have some problems for science. Hence Newton did not put his three laws of motion as mathematical equations for good reasons. Action and reaction being equal and opposite is generally handled in mathematics with positive and negative where perhaps nature has no negative. So gravity pulls on a body by two bodies either side of it can be termed positive and negative and may yield zero, while no actual negative gravity is involved and the reality is quite different if bodies are closer than if they are farther though the mathematics for both may yield the same zero. The mathematics of different physics theories also often involves constants or other elements whose actual physical meaning is quite unclear or ambiguous so that they effectively represent physical unseens. Opposite electric charges are undoubtedly both positive forces that can 'cancel out', but something having one of each is not the same as something having neither. And mathematics also can really only deal with futures or non-existents, like the idea of 'potential energy' ('energy which will exist if'), as if they actually exist when they do not. (this particular example achieved no mention in the classic laws of motion and laws of thermodynamics, and maybe only really fitted Gilbert active-matter theory, but is now taken by some as an actual existent rather than a potential existent.) Of course special forms of mathematics like vector mathematics and others can seemingly 'solve' some of these issues, but generally mathematics and nature actually go together much less easily than many imagine though some do extend Newton's blackbox physics position to 'the only thing science theory needs is the best mathematics'. However the chief need of experimental science is undoubtedly precision and precise definition which the involvement of mathematics undoubtedly aids - vagueness and ambiguity are certainly chief enemies of real science to be avoided at all cost, but they can arise in mathematics also.
So what do these basic issues now indicate for our basic question, can any science theory be definitely proved true - and if so then exactly how can a science theory be definitely proved true or be proved untrue ? Consider three types of theory ;
1. If we take a small science theory saying only that on Earth all bodies tend to fall towards the Earth with an acceleration whose value decreases as the square of its distance from the centre of the Earth, then this says nothing about assumed causes, and only involves some generalisation of some verifiable observations. Most scientists would take that small science theory as fully provable, and perhaps as fully proved if many people had made many observations over many years. Would that still hold if observations were by only one person, and if observations were of only a few bodies, and if observations were only at a small distance from the Earth's surface and if observations were over only a small time period ? Most scientists would probably say that the theory could reasonably be taken as proved after only a few observations for as long as no observation conflicts with it, and taken as disproved as soon as one verified observation does conflict with it. This position of course involves the small theory never being definitely proved, but many would say that it is reasonable to take it as being definitely proved if taken as applying 'generally now' and not 'always' or 'forever' as scientists would hope to prove.
2. If we take a somewhat larger science theory saying only that all bodies in the universe tend to move towards other bodies with an acceleration whose value decreases as the square of its distance from the centre of the other body and increases as the mass of the other body, then this again says nothing about assumed causes, and only involves a greater generalisation of some verifiable observations. Most scientists would take that somewhat larger science theory as fully provable, and perhaps as fully proved if many people had made many observations over many years concerning many bodies and distances. But again would that still hold if observations were by only one person, and if observations were of only a few bodies or limited distances and if observations were over only a small time period ? And some of the needed observation being of distant bodies, can their movements and masses truly be observed accurately ? Some would probably say that this theory is less easily taken as fully proved because observations cannot ever easily cover the whole universe, yet some would probably say that this theory is MORE easily taken as fully proved because it is logically simpler - it looks more 'inherent to matter' and to being 'apriori' and 'forever'. In fact the gravitation theory of Newton claimed to exclude explanation was taken as proved but then was later taken as disproved as some observations relating to distant bodies were claimed to conflict with it.
3. If we take a much bigger science theory and it also includes claimed explanations, then the proof question changes. But the changes are like the move from small theory to somewhat larger theory above, with observation proofs for a bigger explanation theory as for a bigger no-explanation theory becoming harder but with 'logical simplicity' proofs for an explanation theory as for a bigger theory seemingly becoming 'logically convincing'. A big explanation theory of everything may need only one set of assumptions and proof, where some no-explanation theory plus some explanation theory needs two sets of assumptions and proof.
EXPERIMENT. Now on disproving a science theory, we have noted the idea that observation conflicting with a theory disproves it. Of course an observation can be interpreted differently by different observers, and of course some observations may be less accurate and/or reliable than others. We can throw a ball at a wall and many people may conclude that they contacted, but contact needs the distance between objects to be actually zero - and we cannot now observe and may never be able to observe or measure infinitely small distances. The existence of contact between bodies has not yet been definitely proved and may never be able to be definitely proved, though some instances of claimed contact might be disproved. And if we observe a light in the sky - are we truly directly observing some moving star accurately or has the light perhaps undergone some aberrations of which we are unaware ? Such uncertainty may seem likely because of conflicting theories of light and perhaps limited knowledge of light and of space. Hence Einstein's theory seems to require that light be gravitationally attracted to massive bodies which is a process that generally accelerates bodies, yet Einstein's theory also required that light cannot be accelerated beyond 'the speed of light' - and currently there certainly also remain other tricky light issues like assumptions regarding light 'red shifts'. Yet there are current physics and astronomy theories entirely dependent on such perhaps uncertain distant light observations. And the same observation may be understood differently by different observers, as the Sun rising and setting being seen as the Sun orbiting Earth daily or as Earth just revolving daily. The same experiment will be interpreted differently by people assuming different theories, so 'ball hitting wall' will be interpreted by supporters of Cartesian push-physics as contact push-force action but will be interpreted by supporters of Gilbert-Newton attraction-physics as proximity repulsion-force action (it being known that forces like magnetism and gravity increase with proximity or weaken with distance) and the same experiment may be interpreted in yet another way by supporters of some other physics theory. Interpretation of no experiment is definitive, but always in fact rests on some theory assumption. No experiment can really prove or disprove any theory, but can only offer some partial evidence of consistency with or inconsistency with different theories. The nonsense of claimed 'crucial experiments' rests on considering only two possible alternative specifically-defined theories with the experiment supporting one only, and refusing to admit that there may be one or more other applicable theories that actually might be better. But it is not possible to prove that there are no other applicable theories, so there are actually no crucial experiments and all experiments are equally valid though some may seem more interesting. So lazy scientists considering as few theories as possible and claiming 'a crucial experiment' do not help experimental proofs but actually confuse and weaken them.
INVENTION. With progress in science has generally come progress in useful inventions like TV and the internet, so that some might think of new inventions as proving some science theory true. However useful invention started long before science and 'blind' experiment has certainly given many new inventions, though sometimes a science theory has prompted a new experiment and new invention. Science encourages invention less by the truth of science theory, than simply by science encouraging experiment. So even false science can help invention, and invention cannot really be taken as reliable proof of the truth of any science theory. (hence one common false belief now is that nuclear power came from, and so helps prove, Einstein's general relativity theory - when it actually came from experiments on radioactivity that were making good progress before and without Einstein's theory.)
RELATIVITY. If things like light and gravity are taken as being signals carrying information about source objects or events, then they might carry correct absolute information or they might be liable to aberrations and then carry incorrect appearance information - and information may be modified by its observation and so be relative to the observer. Hence in considering a distant objects motion and mass, it may be necessary to consider its absolute, apparent and relative motion and mass. If as Newton noted it is not possible to absolutely distinguish a body being at rest from a body in uniform motion, that need not mean that there is no real difference or that velocity is of no significance. But things like light and gravity may be not only information signals, but also have some absolute effects on real objects so that perhaps the apparent or relative can also have absolute effects. And the effects on some bodies of signals that are in some respect relative, may be to some non-relative aspect of them. So normal debate underlying science theory, about taking things as being only absolutes as against taking things as being only apparent or relative, may be trying to distinguish the two too much - our universe undoubtedly includes both. And that fact can maybe affect how science theories should be proved or disproved.
SCALE. The behaviour laws of large masses of things can appear to differ greatly from the behaviour laws of the individual things. An ocean does not seem to behave like one water molecule behaves, or at least their behaviours can be described quite differently. And two things very close to each other may behave quite differently to when they are far apart. Are such scale differences real differences or are some or all only apparent differences ? This issue may fundamentally concern how both 'small-scale' quantum physics and 'large-scale' relativity physics relate to 'medium-scale' classical physics theories. See one recent interesting Scientific American physics theory article relating to this by Renate Loll at www.signallake.com/innovation/SelfOrganizingQuantumJul08.pdf (though he maybe believes in some mathematical universe, like the young Kepler before he 'wised up').
DEFINITIONS. The extent to which a science theory has clear and complete definitions for the things that it deals with, determines the extent to which the theory is provable or is disprovable. A very vague theory is hard to prove or to disprove, and perhaps should not be considered a science theory at all. And is a mathematical definition of something physical a real definition or maybe not ? Hence for acoustics there has long been used a clear physical definition of a sound wave, but for optics the definition of light waves has varied and now is perhaps only mathematical and so physically undefined ? Some may define 'energy' as relating only to change in motions, while others define 'energy' relating to uniform motion and/or rest states also. Some may define 'force' accelerations as relating to change over time but many as change over distance or space (though a constant force accelerating a given mass in some direction against no resistance over some standard distance, will equal the constant force accelerating the mass in that direction against no resistance for some standard time). Some modern physics theories seem to have weak definitions of even their basics like mass, energy and space - and some seem to almost entirely avoid definitions.
Of course in reality most science theories will consist of some small set of basics essential to the logic and self-consistency of that theory, and some larger set of inessential correctly or incorrectly derived assumed consequential deductions. A theory may also include some explanation of its language terminology and usage which may or may not include all elements essential to it. The larger set of derived consequences in a theory is more likely to include some deduction errors that can be proved wrong by experiment or observation. But proving some small inessential bits of a theory wrong does not actually disprove the theory, only disproving one of its essentials or disproving its logic can fully disprove a theory. And sometimes it may not be clear exactly what the real essentials of a particular theory are, so that an apparent disproof of the theory may not be a real disproof. It will often be easier to just push a new theory rather than to try to really disprove an old theory, and often new theories have mainly gained support that way - in fact leaving an older theory disapproved but not actually disproved.
In at least their early stages most self-consistent science theory write-ups will generally be incomplete - the theory write-up will cover only some limited range of phenomena and give only some limited mathematics. So showing that it does not, in that early and incomplete stage, give an acceptable explanation of verified Experiment X is proof only of its incompleteness and not proof of it being a wrong theory. It may be possible to develop that incomplete theory in a way that is fully consistent with its basics so that it does give an acceptable explanation of the Experiment X. A theory should be taken as proved incorrect only if its basics are proved to actually contradict all reasonable interpretations of verified Experiment X.
But experiment and observation conflicts are not the only things that have been taken as proving or disproving a science theory. There are cases where a theory has been taken as disproved by a new theory, with no observation conflicts. This displacing of one science theory by another can be on good science grounds as when a new theory has fewer assumptions, or can be actually on non-science grounds as when a new theory wins support for being better in line with the religion, politics or prevailing attitudes of the time. Even scientists are human. And in the end public 'proof' is whatever some humans take as proof, and may not always be real definite proof. Definite proof or disproof may not always be possible in science, as elsewhere such as in religion ?
There have been many more imagined disproofs of science theories than actual disproofs of science theories. Claimed science theory disproofs very often themselves involve errors, often relating to the fact that theories commonly fail to clearly and fully specify their fundamentals and often also include inessential deductions that may be incorrect. Disproofs of science theories can be taken as generally falling into two basic categories ;
1. Experimental Disproofs. Experimental disproof of a science theory is generally taken as requiring some well verified experiment fact conflicting with some essential aspect of the theory, and not just some interpretation of an experiment conflicting with some inessential bit of the theory. Eg a theory requiring that the universe cannot expand is not disproved by some interpretation of light wavelength variations as indicating universe expansion, if the no-expansion theory can allow of such light wavelength variations without expansion. So experimental disproofs can only rest on actual experiment results, and not on any claimed explanation or interpretation of experiment results. The fact that some theory X interpretation of an experiment fits theory X, cannot disprove theory Y. All possible theory Y interpretations of the experiment need to be disproved, by showing that no theory Y interpretation of the experiment fits theory Y. Firm disproofs like this are rarely attempted in physics, and have yet to be really attempted for the Gilbert-Newton 'attraction physics' theory that is widely wrongly claimed to have been disproved.
If any basic required aspect of a theory is disproved then that theory is disproved, but disproof of an inessential aspect of a theory does not disprove the theory. Science theories may often include some deductions that are incorrect but that are also inessential to the theory. Hence William Gilbert deduced incorrectly that the Earth's magnetic signals should not vary over time, but that was not any basic requirement of his theory that magnetism involves emitted signals and response to them.
2. Compatibility Disproofs. Showing that 2 theories are incompatible, as by showing that their mathematics are incompatible, is generally taken as proving that one or both theories are invalid - but still allows that either theory may be valid. If one required aspect of a theory contradicts another required aspect of the same theory, that is generally taken as proving the theory is invalid, but if either aspect is not required in the theory then that contradiction proves nothing about the theory's general validity but only that it requires a modification.
For 2 theories having different coverage but both covering some common area, as 1 theory of mechanics and 1 theory of mechanics and gravity,
A. if 1 of the theories is taken as being fully proved then the second theory can be taken as fully proved only if shown to be fully compatible with the first theory.
B. if 1 of the theories is taken as being disproved then the second theory can be taken as disproved only if shown to be fully compatible with the first theory.
C. if the 2 theories are proved to be incompatible, then 1 or both must be invalid.
D. if the 2 theories are both fully proved, then it must be possible for them to be somehow shown to be compatible.
Of course, it may be easier to show two theories to be compatible or incompatible than to fully prove or disprove theories. And while either 1 of 2 theories that are incompatible with each other might be valid, as Newton concluded, contradictions between 2 theories is generally taken as showing that at least 1 of them is not valid. But there are some who now see contradiction within 1 theory, within its mathematics, in results of experiments, and in actual nature, as being acceptable science. Current wide acceptance of particle-wave duality and of Einstein's general theory seems to require that position, though for most of the history of science it was considered unacceptable. Alternative science theories in the past have been required to produce proofs against eachother, but now those who see multiple science theories as acceptable also see them as not needing to produce any such disproofs. (They should of course instead produce acceptable evidence of consistency but generally do not.)
MIND AND/OR MATTER. Another basic issue much disputed by both philosophers and scientists is the issue of Mind and/or Matter in the material universe.
Early pre-science philosophers generally allowed that both 'mind' and 'matter' exist, but with some requiring that mind be associated with some matter or with all matter and others requiring that they exist separately only. Matter to some was the 'dead' aspect of the universe and mind the 'active' aspect of the universe, and to some the universe was basically only one or the other and not both.
As one of the first physicists William Gilbert concluded that his attraction theory experiments proved that all 'inanimate' matter possesses some simple 'mind' properties in being able to detect and respond automatically to magnetic, electric and gravity signals emitted by other matter. In this view allowing of simple mind in simple matter, and of complex mind in complex matter, allowed a complete 'mind from active-matter' physics and science had to be based on active behaviour laws of nature.
But, in line with ancient greek Atomism and Galileo, the early scientist/philosopher Rene Descartes claimed that there could be no mind beyond God and Humans, and that matter could not respond to anything and could only be pushed by contacts with other matter - a 'no mind' dead-matter physics. Science had to be based on dead-matter structure and dead-matter motion, generally unconnected to his separate spiritual and mental universe. He allowed a unique human mind to think and to relate to the human body, but he required animal brains and bodies to operate only as mechanical push-clockwork robots without any thinking.
But philosopher George Berkeley concluded that observing our universe showed that mind was certain and matter uncertain, allowing a 'no matter' Gilbertian science. Isaac Newton's blackbox theory basically concluded that any of these positions might be true but science could not prove which - a 'don't worry' science. (though Newton was widely suspected of privately favouring Gilbert attraction theory while publicly supporting his own blackbox physics as being the best physics possible only as long as there were no fully proved physics theories without unseens) Modern physics theory seemingly ignores the major issue of mind, vaguely claiming it is outside physics, though some modern information science does try to consider it as a physics issue. A minimum requirement for the claim that mind is outside of physics would seem to be a real physics disproof of attraction theory which nobody has really managed to produce yet and no modern physicist has even tried to disprove.
The Descartes, Berkeley and Newton positions on this general dispute was summed up in the philosopher or physicist ultimate phrase - "No matter ? Never mind !". In common English the phrase 'no matter' has a double meaning as 'don't worry', and 'never mind' also has a double meaning as 'don't worry'. (the phrase may derive from the joke 'What is matter? - never mind. What is mind? - no matter.' which was published in Punch and may have originated with Oscar Wilde.)
Of course although Gilbert's 'no dead matter' physics was somewhat in line with the later 'no matter' philosophy of George Berkeley and opposed by the 'no mind' mechanical physics of Rene Descartes, Gilbert physics does maybe better allow of the compatible existence and interaction of both in the universe. If any body can be a signal, relative to some observer body that can respond to it, and any body can be an observer relative to some signal body to which it can respond, then all physical observers, unlike intelligent observers, can always respond to signals in fixed predictable reliable manners. And that may be the real basis of experimental science data, not Descartes human 'certain knowledge' which seems far more uncertain ? And sensing data does not require any 'knowing' or thinking or intelligence, though such is certainly required to produce any science theory from given data. The chief requirement of a good science theory remains that it involve the least knowledge assumptions being added to the established data, and some science theories seem to involve much assumption. While science seems to have a strong case in disputing many truth claims of philosophy and religion as 'only philosophising', philosophy and religion do also seem to have a strong case in disputing truth claims of some science as 'only theory'.
THOUGHT AND SCIENCE. There are in fact 3 quite different but easily confused thought-related issues of basic concern to science theory.
Firstly on producing science theories, many philosophers and some scientists like William Gilbert have been concerned with science having errors due to the thought element involved in producing a science theory. But philosophers perhaps often tend to over-emphasise the 'thought' part of science, as against the experience-experiment-data part, shown by eg George Berkeley and more recently Wilfred Sellars at http://ditext.com/sellars/epm.html For developing a scientific theory Gilbert repeatedly supported strongly an anti-philosophising/reasoning and strongly pro-experiment/experience position, requiring that a good theory must be as directly from the data as possible and so involve the least deduction assumptions. But experiment or experience regarding the natural world is NOT entirely dependent on the human senses direct detection of natural signals as some have assumed. Science has developed, and still is further developing, many different detectors of natural signals - many indirect alternative senses. These adding further confirmation of our own human senses add further to the proof value of experiment, and further reduce the proof value of mere 'logical' thought. So the experimental science method as advocated so strongly by Gilbert in 1600 has perhaps always had, and still now really has, a more solid base than the 'thought experiment' science method as advocated by Einstein and others.
Secondly on the content of science theories, some philosophers and many scientists like Rene Descartes have been concerned with science having errors due to human-like phenomena as especially thought-like phenomena being wrongly ascribed to the non-human part of the universe. Of course it is perhaps not certain that two exclusive universes exist, human vs non-human or spiritual vs material, and modern computer and remote-control technology does clearly demonstrate that thought-like thoughtless processes exist and could be widespread in the physical universe. So while rejecting theories that incorrectly ascribe thought-like phenomena to some physical processes as 'anthropomorphic' may be sound, labelling a science like Gilbert's signal theory physics 'anthropomorphic' is almost certainly a bigger science mistake.
Thirdly on the descriptions involved in science theories, a few linguistics theoreticians like Noam Chomsky have been concerned with science having errors due to their basically being descriptions of thoughts of a universe and description allowing of ambiguity or other linguistic error. This issue is considered more fully in our General Image Theory section.
Fourthly on the widely assumed conflict between 'determinate causation' and 'thinking choice' and the commonly ignored possible 'indeterminate causation' or 'causal thinking'. Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961), in a BBC TV 1949 'Do Electrons Think ?' programme, considered causation, thinking and apparent choice. see https://fedora.phaidra.univie.ac.at/fedora/get/o:168238/bdef:Asset/view But on this he poorly considered only Descartes and ancient Greek 'science' confusing 'thinking' with 'non-causal' and 'free choice' and reaching no real conclusions. A more scientific Gilbertian approach to causation, thinking and apparent choice is possible. In nature, natural signals have some level of digital or statistical variation or 'noise' around means. Hence natural responses to such have some level of digital or statistical variation which is more significant at smaller or more localised levels. Of course many might conclude that simple automatic determinate responses to signals does not involve thinking, but if responses have a more complex or computational relationship to signals then many might conclude that is thinking ?
Science perhaps needs to be concerned with all four of these quite different thought-related issues and not just with some one of them.
CERTAINTY AND SCIENCE. Science has long had a double-edged sword problem on the question of certainty and certain knowledge. On the one hand science must oppose claimed certain knowledge about the universe, with the requirement that knowledge can be gained only after much scientific experience and experiment on all possible aspects of the universe. Galileo and Gilbert were two of the prominent early scientists pushing this need-more-experiments anti-certain-knowledge view of science. But science commonly also supports the idea that there can be only one set of truths, which some few science experiments can prove and so give certain knowledge of the universe. Like some early philosophers including Aristotle, some theoretician scientists such as maybe Descartes and Einstein have seemed to be offering certain knowledge. Certain knowledge tends to being popular, even with scientists, but also tends to being wrong knowledge. Newton and more recently Heisenberg argued that there are significant limits to scientific observation knowledge, and that basic 'unseeables' necessarily allow of alternative views of the universe and allow of no complete certain knowledge. Widespread support for any form of claimed certain-knowledge has actually always opposed new real science. Yet still today many in science defend the indefensible 'only one right theory' dogma with 'Theory X is proved' that can only hold science back. Others want multiple theories accepted with no logical consistency requirements. Newton's blackbox alternative-theory ideas perhaps still need some developing as along the lines of General Image Theory science ? That science based on observation and experiment is more factual than other ways of thinking does not mean that science is always fully correct.
CAUSATION, EXISTENCE AND CHANGE. Change to Newton requires some external force cause, and non-change requires no external force cause. Things exist eternally unless some external force cause produces change. It also seems likely that force causes are themselves produced only by changes, so that a change is produced only by a prior change. So change happening now probably also requires that changes have always happened. This seems to hold in both Gilbert-Newton attraction-physics regarding signal responses and in Galileo-Descartes push-physics regarding motion collisions - and probably also for any valid physics. This would imply an eternal and always-changing universe with no beginning or ending, unless something beyond natural physical laws can intervene. So some modern Big Bang Theory physics may not be as sound science as some think, or may need some further basic developing ? Also there is the issue of mutual causation and reversible causation. Both William Gilbert and Isaac Newton posited 'mutual causation' for multi-body systems in magnetism and gravitation respectively especially. If body A causes some response in body B then body B also causes some like response in body A and, while the science theory may not need either generally preceding the other, a specific cause does precede its specific effect. So physics causation is as with chicken and egg causation, and an egg cannot produce the chicken that produced it but only some new chicken. So mutual causation is not necessarily reversible causation requiring that a system A change to B and then be changed back to A and the probably impossible confirmation that the final A is totally identical to the initial A. The fact that the state of a system may be generally reversible, need not require specific causation to be reversible. Actual causation need not always match apparent causation in relation to time, as per the example in our main Einstein section. And what would it even mean to claim observation of an effect occurring before its cause ?
Basic issues for any piece of science
The strongest science theory is the most fully proved science theory, and a science theory is proved only to the extent that its observables are confirmed by multiple observations and by multiple observers. An observable event for scientific proof is a unique event that creates multiple direct effects that allow of multiple observations of them, or is one event in a class of multiple similar events which allows of multiple observations of the multiple events of that event class. Recent claims of observations relating to 'the original Big Bang event' have to be taken as uncertain, in being of indirect effects probably subjected to indeterminable modifications.
Unobservables needed by a science theory make that theory less fully provable, and are at best supported or not supported by observation. A science theory that is more fully provable is stronger than a science theory that is less provable, so a science theory needing less unobservables is more fully provable than a science theory needing more unobservables.
For any piece of science, experimental evidence may seem to support some event description like 'A=B+C' being true for some aspect of the universe. The main issues for science regarding that event description are then ;
1. Is this event description exactly accurate and complete, or is this event description just an approximation, or is this event description just one of multiple possible event descriptions for that event ?
2. Is this event description accurate and complete or approximate or one of multiple possible event descriptions for all of that aspect of the universe, for just part of that aspect of the universe, or for more than only that aspect of the universe ?
Of course scientists may then actually work on only some of these issues, and not address all of these issues.
Contradiction in modern physics is commonly justified (and comparing different theories dismissed), as 'only being the use of different descriptions'. See http://www.forbes.com/sites/chadorzel/2015/11/19/physics-demands-many-kinds-of-literacy/ Of course different descriptions are different theories and to use more than one requires demonstrable compatibilty.
Support for 'against-the-mainstream' Gilbert-Newton attraction physics
Gilbert-Newton 'attraction physics' was supported by some other physicists, and also by some notable people outside physics like the chemist-physicist Priestley and the philosopher Kant. Joseph Priestley rejected solidity and saw 'contact-collision' as just repulsion and he saw a strength of attraction theory involving robot atoms responding to signals, rather than involving dead atoms, as its better allowing science to explain animal and human brains thinking processes. (History of Optics 1772, Disquisitions 1777)
And to Immanuel Kant for any physics theory attempting to replace attraction with push impacts, the very existence of spatially extended configurations of matter (as objects of above-zero radius) seems to need some sort of binding force to hold the extended parts of the object together when hit by other objects. Such a force cannot be explained by pushing from other particles, because those particles too must hold together in the same way, so to Kant circular reasoning in physics is avoidable only if there exists at least one fundamental non-push attractive force. (see Metaphysics of Science 1786 at http://philosophiebuch.de/metannat.htm
Though such support for attraction theory had little effect on many physicists, it remains the case that there are some very strong arguments in favour of attraction physics that Einstein and others have certainly failed to address. And early Catholic physicists like Galileo and Descartes and some early Jesuits had also dismissed attraction physics though failing to offer any convincing disproofs.
PS. For a very interesting and good if imperfect recent work on some issues of science history and theory from a philosophical viewpoint, see Laura Aline Ward's Objectivity in Feminist Philosophy of Science PDF 0.25mb to load !
Two websites on what physicists and
astronomers are up to lately are http://physicsworld.com and www.universetoday.com
And for free online Latin translation (though not very good) see Latin .
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