0
$\begingroup$

Should theory be the appropriate term? I mean, for example, because of the quantum field theory we have been able to find the subatomic particles that it theorized and make the Standard Model. Why then is is labeled as a theory? Also wave-particle duality is widely accepted fact yet labeled as a theory. What is up with that, why call it a theory. Maybe because it promotes the fact of idealism?

$\endgroup$

marked as duplicate by DumpsterDoofus, Brandon Enright, Kyle Kanos, John Rennie, Qmechanic Mar 21 '14 at 11:29

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It's called a theory because we don't know if it's correct. Evolution is a theory. Gravity is a theory. Wave-particle duality is part of a theory. They just happen to make predictions that coincide reasonably well with the available observational data on how the world operates, so they're considered well-grounded theories. But they're still theories. $\endgroup$ – DumpsterDoofus Mar 17 '14 at 0:21
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Despite what it said in your grade-school textbook there is not and never has been a precise and rigid definition of any of the words "theory", "law", "principle", in the context of science. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Mar 17 '14 at 0:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think this may be a duplicate of this and/or this. $\endgroup$ – David Z Mar 17 '14 at 2:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ possible duplicate of Laws and theories $\endgroup$ – DumpsterDoofus Mar 20 '14 at 22:10
1
$\begingroup$

From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_theory:

"Scientific theories are testable and make falsifiable predictions. They describe the causal elements responsible for a particular natural phenomenon, and are used to explain and predict aspects of the physical universe or specific areas of inquiry[...]. Scientists use theories as a foundation to gain further scientific knowledge, as well as to accomplish goals such as inventing technology or curing disease. Scientific theories are the most reliable, rigorous, and comprehensive form of scientific knowledge. This is significantly different from the common usage of the word "theory", which implies that something is a guess "

$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ Interchanging theory and scientific theory is a common misconstruction (intendet or not) from creationist, when stating "evolution is just a theory" $\endgroup$ – Lord_Gestalter Mar 17 '14 at 6:26
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It's worth mentioning that the world "theory" can also be used in the sense of "mathematical theory", which is just a bunch of deductions from axioms, with no particular notion of testability implied. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Mar 17 '14 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ Like hyberbolic space for example? That's mathematics, not natural science. Please give an example. Even Schrödingers Equation, which seems to be purely axiomic is a tranferred analogy from optics Eikonal equation. $\endgroup$ – Lord_Gestalter Mar 17 '14 at 6:44
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I'm not criticising, just adding to your point. An example from mathematics is "set theory": that theory isn't the kind that can be falsified. Arguably, the "theory" in "quantum field theory" refers to it being a mathematical theory in this sense, rather than a scientific theory. (But as dmckee says, the terminology is very subjective anyway.) $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Mar 17 '14 at 6:54
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with Nathaniel in that mathematics is a consistent "theory" , euclidean geometry for example. It has axioms, theorems provable and ends with QED. Physics "theories" must have a successful mathematical theory with a QED at the end BUT also have postulates on top of the axioms that tie the mathematics with measurable quantities predicted by the setup. If the predictions fail to fit reality, then the postulates are falsified, i.e. the physical theory is falsified. example : the square of the wavefunction is the probability of measuring a value. $\endgroup$ – anna v Mar 17 '14 at 7:13
0
$\begingroup$

Terminology doesn't matter much as long as people understand the ideas involved. You should call and idea whatever you want to call it as long as you are clear about the substance of your ideas.

Some commentators have stated that the Standard Model or other scientific results are well-grounded. So far, these ideas have not been refuted. If somebody invented a competing theory, then that theory would have to solve the same problems the current theory solves. Since the current theory solves a lot of problems that is difficult. However, any given theory is either right or wrong and no number of experimental results that agree with a theory prove it is true or that it is probably true or anything like that.

See "Realism and the Aim of Science" by Karl Popper, especially the first chapter, and on the definition issue see "Conjectures and Refutations" by Popper Chapter 3, Section 3.

$\endgroup$

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.