Offline Oami

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What makes one theory better than other?
« on: May 20, 2017, 08:32:48 PM »
In science there are different kinds of theories. While some theories may peacefully coexist, some can not. When two (or more) theories conflict with each other, we may need to decide (assuming we are interested in the topic in the first place), which theory is better.

So, what methods do you actually use to determine, which theory to believe in? There may be several different answers, but I'll put my criteria here.

In order for theory A to be better than theory B, one of the following three conditions must be met:
1) B is proven false and A is not.
2) Neither is proven false, but A explains things better than B.
(That is: it explains a greater number of things or more important things relevant to the topic.)
3) Neither is proven false, and both explain things equally well, but A is simpler than B. (This is also known as the Occam razor.)

It is worth noting that if a theory is false, it might be proven false: but if a theory is true, it can never be proven true. If a theory is true, we can test it, and we will have the results that are predicted by the theory: but if we test a theory a million times and every time get the right result, that doesn't prove that the million-and-first test will also give the right results, instead of failing because of some reason that the first million tests didn't take into account.

Let's have an example. First, a problem: why does a flashlight work? And then four theories to answer it:
1) It has normal fireflies in it.
2) Strawberries are red.
3) It has fireflies in it, and those fireflies are so small that they cannot be detected, only their light can be detected, and they have friends in the switch that telepathically tell them when the switch is pressed and it's time to start glowing, and other friends in the battery who telepathically tell them that the battery is old enough so then don't need to glow anymore. We don't yet know where the fireflies get their energy and what that has to do with the battery.
4) The switch closes an electic circuit, and the resulting electic current causes a reaction in the material used in the light bulb, making it glow.

Theory 1 is the worst. It fails at step 1 when compared to all others: we can prove it false by breaking up the light bulb and seeing that there are no normal fireflies.
Theory 2 is slightly better. It cannot be proven false, but it fails at step 2 when compared to theories 3 and 4: it doesn't explain things.
Theory 3 is an improvement of theory 1. It takes into account what caused theory 1 to fail in the first place. However, it fails at step 3 when compared to theory 4: it is more complex.
And so, theory 4 is the best one here.
« Last Edit: June 07, 2017, 12:10:58 AM by Oami »