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Philosophy of Science - problems in philosophy of physics

science philosophy graphic Homepage . William Gilbert . Rene Descartes . Isaac Newton . Albert Einstein .... Science History ..... General Image Theory science philosophy graphic

unreactive atoms picture 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. So some significant early science ideas like those of William Gilbert were improperly disapproved though never disproved.

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 ?
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Problems with science philosophy.

Science developed as a new means of proving truths, against the many errors presents as truths by religions and by the older philosophers like Aristotle that were often backed by churches and governments. William Gilbert clearly showed that nature and the universe do not act in line with beliefs, logic or mathematical conjectures - but act as they actually act and which can be proved only by accurate observation and experiment. Those like Galileo and Newton who chiefly studied simple gravity could perhaps more easily support a 'logical or mathematical universe' but Gilbert's study included also more complex magnetism and electricity and he correctly insisted in his 1600 'De Magnete' that experiments were the surest science proofs, which remains true although experiments are not without significant problems that are commonly not well considered. And while science can often reasonably dispute truth claims of philosophy and religion as 'just philosophising', philosophy and religion often less reasonably dispute some 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 and thought being uncertain and god coming before and creating the universe. Rene Descartes took this as the general philosophy of his physics, and some others have taken this general position which has often been backed by religions.

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 or experiment 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. An experiment may be significantly sensitive to just one or two factors like temporature and pressure, but may also have some sensitivity to some less obvious factors making exact replication difficult. And only observables such as finite distances that are measurable can really be used in proofs but not unmeasurables as 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. But the common assumption that minimal deduction would allow only one possible interpretation of any observation to all observers was and is very doubtful - different people can think differently and can make differing deductions from the same observation or experiment. So observation or experiment cannot be absolute proof of any deduction though being evidence partially supporting any number of deductions that are consistent with it, and exact replication may give proof for the observation itself only. Hence the chief problem with observations and experiments, even if exactly replicable, is that different people can interpret the same thing differently. And to be exactly replicable observations or experiments must be fully and precisely specified, which many may not be, and even then there have been plenty of good observations or experiments where some claimed universal law of nature appears disproved but that has been shown to be wrong.

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. And science 'peer review' has really long become 'clique review' with eg string-theory science reviewed only by string-theory scientists who favour it.

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 seemingly 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 with each small theory needing fewer assumptions or deductions. 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.

Any scientific experiment was commonly taken as requiring the simplest interpretation, but assumptions have differed widely on what is simplest. Hence simple 0/1 binary computer programs can certainly give computer computation complexity. Gilbert saw the simplest assumption for his experiments on Magnets and Iron that Iron must respond to signals from Magnets, but others thought it simpler if Magnets somehow push or pull Iron. But for gravity at least Newton experimentally proved that push mathematics do not hold, though most physicists even today strangely have still not bought this clear proof (neither a spinning disc not a spinning bucket of water match the mathematics of planet orbits). Clearly simple to some can be complex to others.

Also needing eg 3 small science theories each needing 3 assumptions was seen as less simple than needing eg 1 big science theory needing 5 assumptions. And 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 impenetrable 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 non-push penetrable 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. But in physics when considering the ability or inability of things to penetrate 'solids' such as glass it is often assumed that things that are apparently solid like glass are actually solid and are not composed largely of empty space as we now know they in fact are. So may some things penetrating a solid be only penetrating empty space, and may some things seemingly pushing a solid be in fact pushing empty space ?

Of course some physicists have 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. While ancient philosophers considered logic to be certain, it seems many scientists now consider mathematics to be certain. Most physicists now consider mathematical laws as fundamental to science, though mathematics itself can clearly have some problems for science as William Gilbert feared. 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 or unknowns. 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'. And undoubtedly the chief need of experimental science is 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 both in logic and in mathematics also. The square root of four is two, and it is also minus two. And perfectly accurate measurement of things in nature under all possible circumstances and even when approaching infinitely big or infinitely small is not possible and never really will be possible. So no piece of science mathematics can ever be proven to be perfectly accurate and proof of a maths inaccuracy may not be a good disproof of a science theory. And some physicists including Einstein have stated that they do not beleive that anybody really understands their science theory correctly, but can a science theory that few, if any, correctly understand be a valid science theory ?

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 interpreted differently by different observers, as the Sun daily rising in the East and setting in the West being wrongly seen as the Sun orbiting Earth daily while we now know these observations are correctly explained by the fact that Earth is just a big sphere that revolves daily. Observations also strongly suggest that Earth is basically flat with some hills and valleys rather than the sphere that it really is. Things that observations or experiments strongly suggest are true, can be entirely wrong. The same observations or experiments will commonly 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. Hence the modern physics Pauli Exclusion Principle repulsions between fermion particles proposed as resisting matter collapsing at least till gravity gets excessive can be interpreted as the basis of matter 'push'. The impossibility of actually measuring infinitely-close-to-zero distances seems to make distinguishing actual contact from actual proximity-repulsion impossible. But this need not actually be the case as actual contact collision requires no effect until actual contact, while proximity-repulsion does require some proximity repulsion effect prior to the claimed collision time at some finite if close distance. If more-powerful collider experiments involve no actual collisions, but merely bring 'collision objects' to greater proximity, then at some point experiment results should give proximity effects that differ mathematically from actual collision effects. Likewise with attraction-slingshot reflection also considered by Newton as giving similar reflection angles but in an effect somewhat later than the 'collision' time. But such differences have probably not been looked for. And prhaps interpretation of no experiment can be definitive, but always in fact must rest on some theory assumption. Then no experiment can really prove or disprove any theory, but can only offer some partial evidence of consistency with or inconsistency with different theories.

It may be that some interpretation of 1000 experiments seem all to support theory A while some one interpretation of one other 'crucial' experiment seems to support theory B rather than theory A. From this some will take the one experiment as proving theory B and disproving theory A. Disregarding the mass of experimental evidence may be justified on the basis that for theory A to be true it must hold in every instance so that it failing in just one instance disproves it. Of course theory A is probably intended to hold only under some set of circumstances as 'in the absense of interfering forces' which may or may not have been fully specified, and whether the 'crucial experiment' is or is not fully within such circumstances may not always be clear so that this kind of claimed science proof can certainly be doubtful. It can be claimed perhaps that this is the basis of the possibly doubtful claims for Einstein theory against Newton theory for example. The nonsense of claimed 'crucial experiments' also 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 as by Marie Curie 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. Unlike some physics theories, an action-at-distance signal-response physics requires that all present physical actions are necessary responses to previous signals so that time must exist and must basically be one-directional and also that change does not just happen probabilistically but must happen to some determined signal-response laws. And to the extent that some responses might be to some multiple set of signals, the link between some responses and individual signals can be statistical or probabilistic without any less actual determinism though allowing some apparent indeterminism. And in a Gilbert-Newton action-at-distance attraction signal-response physics, actions always involve at least one observer or detector responding to at least one prior signal so that an action can be relative to at least one observer and one signal. So for any observer or detector an action is relative to the relative directionality of a received signal to that observer or detector, and its preferred frame of reference will differ both for different received signals and for different observers or detectors. And quite unlike Cartesian physics with its basially supposed one universal preferred frame of reference, an action-at-distance physics can allow greater complexity involving multiple simultaneous relativities while remaining basically the simplest physics.

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 (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 but only that inessential part of the theory. Science theories often include one or more deductions that are incorrect but that are also really 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. So claims to disproof of a theory when only some inessential part has been disproved is ridiculous 'throwing out the baby with the bath water' and unfortunately common in physics claimed disproofs. Even the disproof of alchemy involves that error with its whole experiment idea often wrongly ridiculed.

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 some philosophers perhaps often tend to overvalue the 'thought' part of science, as against the experience-experiment-data part, shown by eg George Berkeley and more recently Wilfred Sellars at 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. And really in science Experiment is more certain than mere Observation which itself is more certain than mere Thought.

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 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 today unreasonably want multiple theories accepted with no logical consistency requirements. Blackbox science can be taken as aiming to explain how the universe behaves, without aiming to explain why the universe behaves as it does. So blackbox science can then be basically taken either as making-no-hypothesis science or theoryless science in line with Newton, or as science using hypothesis or theory as 'only idealization aimed at simplifying the mathematics' in line with Einstein. Yet either of these 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 ? If pushing actually exists then it appears reversible, but if signal-response actually exists then it appears unidirectional. While it seems that all forms of push-physics as Cartesian and Einsteinian must be reversible, any kind of action-at-distance signal-response physics as William Gilbert and Newton must be one-directional. There is some evidence of reversible push-physics being wrong, and there is some evidence of unidirectional action-at-distance signal-response physics being wrong - but does the evidence really decide between them as many have claimed ? Some earlier philosophers had seen, and some scientists now see, distance effects like magnetism, gravity and object-perception as involving God-powers or motivated-objects or medium-action as including transmission or emission of pushes, energies or tension-pulls. However to William Gilbert evidence proved some emission of signals by some objects to which some other objects responded with motion, including evidence that vacuums fail to produce drag which mediums should produce ?

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 Of course different descriptions are different theories and to use more than one must require demonstrable compatibility. Religions have often allowed of incompatibilities and miracles and have included Gods, purpose and ethics which seem to not exist in science though almost all scientists have supported ethics at least. But by now many scientists have studied much of the universe and to date seem to have found no strong evidence of any God existing. Physics seems to work without a God, Chemistry seems to work without a God, Biology seems to work without a God and the heavenly bodies seems to work without a God. So you getting to a heaven looks similar to you winning a big lottery jackpot, possible but very unlikely. In which case it may well be OK to put a little into it but a mistake to put a lot into it ?

To many who consider themselves scientists the chief principle of science philosophy is the requirement that there can be only one correct science theory of the universe which must disprove all others, and that the chief goal of science is to fully define that one correct theory. Of course that claim was strongly challenged by Isaac Newton with his Blackbox Theory that limited the possible scope of science knowledge and so allowed of multiple possible alternative beyond-science theories of the universe. However there is certainly a case that Newton's blackbox science argument though good was just contingent despite its later unintended non-Newtonian backing by eg Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, but a much stronger argument against the one-theory science principle is put on this site in the General Image Theory of Science Theories. Nature cannot have actual contradictions so a well-defined valid science theory that can be true cannot include contradictory statements. So if science experiments can yield different contradictory valid interpretations, then they can yield valid different contradictory well-defined theories any of which can be true. This is the only real way that contradiction can have a place in science, and leads to our General Image Theory. And any unproven theories really remain a part of a science along with any proven theories, till disproven, so that science now perhaps chiefly really needs much improved disproving - and to date, in physics especially, science disproving has commonly been really poor. Those claiming to be 'philosophers of science' or 'science historians' would maybe be better advised to draw much more attention to the failings common in science disproving, because that is an area in which they often fail badly. Many physics 'theorists' today push what is really a crazy new 'requirement' for a valid physics, not that it must support experiment but that it must support some existing theories like Relativity and Quantum Mechanics !

For explaining basic physical actions science must require that there be at least one true theory and possibly several compatible true theories. Now most classical physics theories seemed to fall into one of two broad classes of physics theories as being either types of contact-push physics as Galileo and Descartes or types of action-at-distance physics as William Gilbert and Newton. This did seem a requirement of a classical physics theory but not for some modern physics theories unless they are not defined sufficiently accurately to determine such. Hence in the continuum physics of Einstein all physical action seems to derive from contact with his continuum, and all logic says his continuum contact should involve pushings though Einstein himself insisted that it could not involve pushings but must involve 'some other unknown mechanism'. Most who support it take it as really a contact-push physics anyway but avoid discussing that. But some other modern physics theories like those based on probability do also avoid supporting specific mechanisms, so that overall physics theories seem to fall into one of three classes - contact-push physics, action-at-distance physics or unknown-mechanism physics. If a true physics must have a specified mechanism then we are back to the two classical physics theory classes only, and a disproving of one of these theory classes would seem to also be a proving of the alternative theory class. Excepting only if some member of one theory class can be shown to be compatible with some member of the other theory class, in which case both might be valid image theories. If everything that there is in the universe works coherently, as basically seems the case, then it should all have some singular explanation or unified theory of everything. Of course with many things being involved deciding what such a physics is, even approximately, may be extremely difficult. But the modern physics position of accepting many different conflicting theories at the same time does certainly not seem acceptable science. So maybe some non-mainstream physics or some wrongly-dismissed earlier physics could usefully be considered still ? But from both Newton dodging commiting to any gravity mechanism and Einstein dodging commiting to any spacetim-continuum mechanism, it seems that the best of scientists can support views that are not really scientific - commonly thinking to protect themselves or promote themselves ?

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

Most scientists have supported the theory that there can only be one right theory concerning anything in nature, though this theory could itself be a wrong theory. Isaac Newton did allow that multiple alternative theories might be options in an area of science with limits to observation and experiment. And as different people can interpret and describe the same observation or experiment differently, a scientific realist science can allow of multiple valid theories if they meet the requirements of a valid science as in General Image Theory.

Though limited support for attraction theory from some like Newton and Kant 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 catholic church Jesuits had improperly dismissed attraction physics though failing to offer any convincing disproofs. Physics now, long being a mess of conflicting theories, needs to reconsider the physics basics starting from the long suppressed action-at-distance physics of William Gilbert, free to read at On The Magnet ! And listen to this ;

There are many today in philosophy and in physics who think that the most important question is what kind of stuff exists, as eg physical stuff and/or spiritual/consciousness stuff ? But maybe what matters most is not what kinds of stuff exist, as what kinds of action or of forces exist ? Is there one push force or action only or several action-at-distance forces only, or maybe both ? So still basically really the physics of philosopher Rene Descartes against the physics of physicist William Gilbert ?

PS. For a very interesting and good if imperfect recent work on some issues of science history and theory from a philosophical viewpoint, also see Laura Aline Ward's Objectivity in Feminist Philosophy of Science PDF 0.25mb to load !

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Two websites on what physicists and astronomers are up to lately are and
And for free online Latin translation (though not very good) see Latin .

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(The fictional time-travel and multi-universe type ideas of modern physics theory have long totally discouraged certain lines of physics experiment despite there being strong reasons to believe them to be very promising if not essential lines of experiment. Some such lines of experiment considered here identified as early as the 1960s seem still to have had no work done on them and there is maybe not much more time here for this. Science funding both government and private unfortunately now all goes to basically safe standard mainstream science, and no money at all goes to any really innovative risky science though that might pay a thousand times greater.)

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