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Pabitra Mukhopadhyay


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Truths and Facts. Does Science prove anything?

There is a great deal of interest of us in examining claims of ‘truths’ and ‘facts’. In such examination there is a noticeable stress on scientifically proven facts which can be taken as fundamentally true. This is possibly because mathematics is the language of Science and we make mistake thinking mathematical proofs to be reflecting the essence of scientifically proven facts.

Does science necessarily prove anything? The way mathematics proves a proposition?

It is surprising that such a basic debate cannot be laid to rest and a conclusion arrived at even after 1934 book by Karl Popper: The Logic of Scientific Discovery.

Alan Moghissi, Matthew Amin and Connor McNulty of Institute for Regulatory Science, Alexandria, Va wrote to the editor of Science (the magazine) disagreeing with Peter Gleick and 250 members of the (US) National Academy of Sciences writing to the editor of Science : All citizens should understand some basic scientific facts. There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything.


Is there an absolutely proven scientific fact?


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    May 29 2013: Pabitra, without context, there is no meaning. General statements are rarely meaningful and cannot be debated.

    All facts must be considered in context. E.g. "Water boils at 100C" is a scientific fact. It is true under certain conditions. Therefore, it's not absolutely true. Atmospheric pressure and content of salt in water can make it false. And on the Sun, this fact is meaningless because there is no liquid water on the Sun.

    Math also has limits. Euclidean geometry hinges on concepts that do not exist in reality: straight line, flat plane. How do you practically define those? Our space is bent by mass. There are no infinite flat planes or infinite straight lines. We do not know if the universe has limits. We can say that light follows a straight path only in a certain context, with certain limitations. But for many practical purposes, light can be used to determine "straightness" or "flatness" quite well.

    Science proves a lot of things, but none of them are "absolute". It does not mean that science does not prove anything.

    And I have not even started to discuss what it means to "prove" and what constitutes a valid scientific method. If we go down that rabbit hole, I can soon lead you to a conclusion that there is no truth, the word "proof" has no meaning, there is no reason to believe that we are reasonable, no way to show that logic can prove anything, etc. I suggest that we do not go there. :-)
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      May 29 2013: "Water boils at 100C" is a fact as revealed by experience. Please explain why it is a 'scientific' fact and not common knowledge. I know people who have no understanding of science know that water boils at a particular mark in a thin tube containing mercury, normally. I doubt it is a scientifically 'proven' fact.
      " I can soon lead you to a conclusion that there is no truth, the word "proof" has no meaning, there is no reason to believe that we are reasonable, no way to show that logic can prove anything, etc. I suggest that we do not go there. :-)"
      I had been there and came back :). But are you suggesting that we pretend science has proven absolute facts? It appears that many believe just that, isn't?
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        May 29 2013: I'm a fan of Hume who wrote: (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/9662/9662-h/9662-h.htm#section4):

        "20. All the objects of human reason or enquiry may naturally be divided into two kinds, to wit, Relations of Ideas, and Matters of Fact. Of the first kind are the sciences of Geometry, Algebra, and Arithmetic; and in short, every affirmation which is either intuitively or demonstratively certain. That the square of the hypothenuse is equal to the square of the two sides, is a proposition which expresses a relation between these figures. That three times five is equal to the half of thirty, expresses a relation between these numbers. Propositions of this kind are discoverable by the mere operation of thought, without dependence on what is anywhere existent in the universe. Though there never were a circle or triangle in nature, the truths demonstrated by Euclid would for ever retain their certainty and evidence.

        21. Matters of fact, which are the second objects of human reason, are not ascertained in the same manner; nor is our evidence of their truth, however great, of a like nature with the foregoing. The contrary of every matter of fact is still possible; because it can never imply a contradiction, and is conceived by the mind with the same facility and distinctness, as if ever so conformable to reality. That the sun will not rise to-morrow is no less intelligible a proposition, and implies no more contradiction than the affirmation, that it will rise. We should in vain, therefore, attempt to demonstrate its falsehood. Were it demonstratively false, it would imply a contradiction, and could never be distinctly conceived by the mind."

        This seems to state that matters of fact can never be conclusively "proven", but abstract ideas can. Ideas can be absolute and perfect. Reality cannot. Even if we demonstrate by experiment that water has a boiling point at certain temperature, we only show that this is true under specific circumstances, but not in general (absolutely)
        • May 29 2013: Science is "organized knowledge" who's knowledge? GODS knowledge, we have the power over it by understanding it. without the "understanding" we would not have power over it. GOD gave us the understanding in birth for a reason. so we may be at play. think of the universe full of LEGO"S that are smaller than one another and bigger For GOD has gave his children the understanding of them to be at play so his children may put these LEGO"S together to discover and claim. For mankind does not create only discover and claim, "But i speak Thy TRUTH, unless it is written nothing can be created, so be it thy discovery who may claim" Amen
      • May 30 2013: --"Water boils at 100C" is a fact as revealed by experience."--

        No it does not, it all depends on what elevation one is :)
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          May 30 2013: Hmm. Then it is very confusing. My 'normal' may not be everyone's 'normal'.

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