Archive for the ‘Prediction’ Category

The hallmark of science is its ability to explain things

August 7, 2007

“The hallmark of science is not its ability to forecast the future, but its ability to explain things – to increase our understanding of the workings of the universe. The role of predictions in science is to help us distinguish competing explanations.”

“Science is full of examples of fields where researchers can explain phenomena and test the validity of their explanations, without necessarily being able to make accurate forecasts. For example, biologists can explain but not forecast the folding of proteins, and physicists can explain but not forecast the exact motion of a turbulent fluid.”

“Science is a continuous learning process in which the logical implications of competing explanations are tested and a body of evidence is accumulated over time. As Karl Popper showed in the 1930s, there is no ‘final proof’ that a theory is correct, but one can say whether a theory is disproved by data. For example, one cannot say that Einstein’s theory of relativity has been proven, but one can say that its predictions have been well tested, it has yet to be contradicted, and it fits the data better than any alternative explanation proposed thus far. Science thus goes through a process of proposing various explanations, rigorously articulating them in ways that can be tested, eliminating theories that fail the tests, and building on the ones that succeed.”

— Origins of Wealth by Eric D. Beinhocker

Purpose of Science

July 28, 2007

“The purpose of science is not to make predictions, but to explain things — predictions are then tests of whether explanations are correct.”  [Herbert Simon]

“I will use a simple example to illustrate Simon’s point.  One could propose a theory that would explain that the sky is blue by assuming the existence of giants who paint it blue every night while we are sleeping.  Simon would argue that one can’t just test the correctness of the conclusion. Rather, to accept such a theory, one would also have to observe the giants in action.  As the economic philosopher Daniel Hausman has put it, one must “look under the hood” of a theory to see that the causal chain of explanations is valid as well.”  [Origin of Wealth by Eric D. Beinhocker]