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There's A Difference Between A Principle And A Theory

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Posted by Harvey on January 18, 2002 17:06:25 UTC


I think there's a confusion between us. A principle is an axiom that we think is either self-evident or has sufficient reason to believe based on our experience with nature. A theory is a mental construct by which we use to interpret those experiences. For example, Occam's razor is a principle and not a theory. The principle is that we should weigh simplicity along with the ability to explain. It is not a theory.

***I disagree. Common origin of seemingly different phenomena (say, electricity, magnetizm and light all mathematically originate from electric charge)is the reason we call them (electricity, magnetizm, light, radiowaves, gamma rays, etc) unified.***

The principle of unification is not equivalent to the theory of electromagneticism, theory of quantum mechanics, etc. The theory is based on mathematical formulations, however the theories of science are scientific theories and not mathematical theorems.

The principle of unification was used to construct those theories. Another principle used in science (specifically physics and chemistry) is a principle of mathematization whereby theories should be phrased within mathematical language. These two principles were used to develop the scientific theory of electromagneticism and quantum mechanics, etc. Similarly, the principle of unification is used in mathematics to develop more general descriptions of mathematical constructs. For example, group theory was used in the 19th century to unite various mathematical approaches. Similarly, group theory began to be used in the early 60's to unite various theories in physics.

The principle of unification is not a mathematical theorem. The principle is an axiom on how to approach a problem. Once a problem is solved with a more general and unified solution, we can say the principle paid off, it was intuitively correct. The principle may not always work. For example, we might want to unify the 19 or so constants of the standard model into an underlying symmetry, but this kind of unity may not be possible. They may simply be randomly selected values of nature (or hand picked selections by God). If the principle of unification were a mathematical theorem, then we should know when and where it is applicable. However, we cannot know that until after the fact (when the theory is already developed).

Warm regards, Harv

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