Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Yes, theories can be falsified

Backreaction Bee writes:
Popper is dead. Has been dead since 1994 to be precise. But also his philosophy, that a scientific idea needs to be falsifiable, is dead.

And luckily so, because it was utterly impractical. In practice, scientists can’t falsify theories. That’s because any theory can be amended in hindsight so that it fits new data. Don’t roll your eyes – updating your knowledge in response to new information is scientifically entirely sound procedure.

So, no, you can’t falsify theories. Never could. You could still fit planetary orbits with a quadrillion of epicycles or invent a luminiferous aether which just exactly mimics special relativity. Of course no one in their right mind does that. That’s because repeatedly fixed theories become hideously difficult, not to mention hideous, period. What happens instead of falsification is that scientists transition to simpler explanations.
Yes, theories are falsified all the time. Tycho's data falsified some planetary theories. Michelson-Morley falsified some aether theories.

It is true that the epicycle and aether concepts were not falsified. You can believe in them if you want. But the theories that made falsifiable predictions got disproved. Most of them, anyway.

Her real problem is that high-energy theoretical physicists are desperately trying to falsify the Standard Model and failing (except for discovering neutrino mass). So they cook up non-falsifiable theories, and call them physics.

At the same time, I see this rant on the Popper paradox:
Conservative rationalist Karl Popper wrote in The Open Society and Its Enemies that “unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance.” In a society that tolerates intolerant forces, these forces will eventually take advantage of the situation and bring about the downfall of the entire society. The philosophical foundation of this belief can trace its roots to Plato’s ideas of the republic or Machiavelli’s paradox of ruling by love or fear, and a practical example of this in action is jihadists taking advantage of human rights laws. Nothing should be absolute and without reasonable boundaries, not even freedom. In light of this, there are three observable, identifiable ways in which this latest fad of intersectionality is taking advantage of and destroying the rational enlightenment roots of Western academia from within. The approaches are, namely, infiltration, subversion, and coercion. ...

As Victor Davis Hanson and Roger Scruton pointed out in their books, the first casualty of radicalism is classical education. In India, where I come from, it was moderate liberals as well as imperial conservatives who wanted the British Raj to establish science colleges to promote Renaissance values in order to counter the dogma of medieval religions. Today in the West, classical education is under threat by intersectional and quasi-Marxist disciplines such as post-colonialism and gender studies which are trying to change the rules of debate by stifling viewpoints, hijacking disciplines, and peddling pseudoscientific gibberish. As Popper’s paradox predicts, the infiltration, subversion and coercion of Western academics is now occurring because the tolerance of liberal academia has enabled intolerance to flourish.


  1. When I was in college in the late 1980's, some said, "We don't tolerate intolerance".

  2. The intolerance of mere words in academia is staggering.

    I was sitting at a table in a college cafeteria talking with some friends about a blind opera singer. A woman from another table took offense, and indignantly told me "He's not blind, he's visually impaired!! Saying things like that hurt peoples feelings". I gave her a look, she didn't go away, so I said:
    " Madame, " and pointed at my glasses on my face.
    "You are the one who is being offensive. I am visually impaired, I have some vision. When you ain't got none, you're blind, and even Andrea Bocelli can see that."