Does knowledge emerge directly from observation? Is science driven by the results of experiment? More accurate, perhaps, is F. A. Hayek's dictum, "Without a theory, the facts are silent". Except in the simplest or most carefully contrived situations, reality is far to complex to be parsed into components. Feedback loops are entangled one with another, and there are no obvious knobs to twist or buttons to press.

In the chaotic buzz of events, you need a theory to interpret what's going on. We all begin with naïve theories, based on experiences in infancy with ordinary objects like balls, blocks, breasts, and bells. We've evolved so that we're born with (or quickly develop) simple models of the world. Push on something and it moves; push harder and it moves more; let it go and it may slide along or roll away or swing back or make a sound.

The game of science is to extend primitive notions into more precise or general hypotheses --- and then to ask questions and compare the answers with what Nature exhibits. With a theory to guide the process, answers can start making sense and lead to better questions, better theories, and better models of the universe. Without a theory, Nature stands mute.

Thursday, December 30, 1999 at 05:54:09 (EST) = 1999-12-30

TopicScience - TopicPhilosophy

(correlates: AnalysisAndAlgebra, PiratesVersusNinjas, GibbonChapter48, ...)