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Prediction != Valid Theory

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Posted by Nathan Hays on September 29, 2003 21:25:44 UTC

I hear it commonly demanded of theories of reality that they make testable predictions. To be sure, if a theory does make unexpected claims that bear out, a strong case has been made that the theory has greater epistemological merit than antecedent theories. However, I claim that two theories with the same empirical confirmation are prima facie equally valid. There is no reason to suppose that whether one has been propounded before the other has any bearing on epistemological utility (and I hold that that utility is all that can be demanded of a theory beyond empirical agreement)

I see three ways to evalutate such co-conformal theories: apply Occam, compare their axioms, or demonstrate logical equivalence to make the distinction moot. Occam is useful for eliminating theories that adhere non-predictive statements to an existing theory or its equivalents.

Beyond Occam however, we can evaluate the imperative qualities of a theory - those that educe a sense of understanding. The primary modern demand for imperative-ness is deductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning is what we rely on in the empirical conformation/refutation process and spurs us to demand unexpected predictions. However, it is only through deductive reasoning from grounded axioms that we can be sure of a theory's truthfulness.

Mathematics and logic provide us with the prime example of how grounded axioms lead to true theories. If we want the same surety in our physical theories, we need to ground our physical axioms to more than mere observation, they must be derived from absolutely true logical constructions. The trick is to discover the logical imperative for the Universe to exist.

- sfn

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