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Re: [ontolog-forum] brainwaves (WAS: to concept or not to concept, is th

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Stavros Macrakis" <macrakis@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 10 Dec 2007 13:42:29 -0500
Message-id: <8b356f880712101042m43aed864r8c10c5ad9784af6e@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
On Dec 10, 2007 6:02 AM, John F. Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
Falsifiability is part of Popper's philosophy of science, and most
people consider it a good approach to testing a theory....
Falsifiability is not a property of an experiment, but of a hypothesis,...
The basic idea is very simple.  Just take any sample hypothesis:

   All crows are black.

To verify this statement, it would be necessary to check every crow
that exists.  If you miss a single one, it's conceivable that you
overlooked the crucial crow that makes the statement false.

But to show that the statement is false, you don't have to check
every one.  You can stop at the first crow that is not black.
If many people search far and wide without finding a non-black
crow, that gives some assurance that the hypothesis is fairly
reliable.  (But no empirical theory can be absolutely certain.)...

That is all there is to 'falsifiability'.  It is just a rather
obvious point.  However, Popper went on to say that it provides
a criterion for good science:  A theory should be stated so
precisely that it suggests easy experiments for testing whether
the theory is false.  If a lot of very knowledgeable people try
as hard as they can to show it is false but fail, then the theory
is fairly reliable.

Popper (if I'm remembering my long-ago reading of him correctly) did not argue for falsifiability on the practical grounds that you can't check every crow (after all, maybe you're missing the one crow that *falsifies* your theory), though he certainly expected that if you're only looking for confirming evidence, you're not likely to find falsifying evidence.

He argued that if it is *impossible* to falsify a theory, then the theory isn't worth bothering with. His target was belief systems (specifically Marxism and psychoanalysis) which were constructed in such a way that no counterexample could be constructed -- because there are various ways *within the theory* to explain them away.

But even scientific theories are difficult to falsify because, as Lakatos put it, there is a "protective belt" of auxiliary hypotheses around the "hard core" theory, and scientists will adjust the protective belt to preserve the hard core.


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