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Engelmann on testability

Very good, Mr. Engelmann! (George F. Engelmann,
engelman@cwis.unomaha.edu). I agree nearly completely
with you. No one can of course rob Popper of the honour of
having noted, and named, the hypothetic-deductive method.
Mr. Engelmann's other observations are also very much to
the point. No theory is ever completely confirmed, in the
sense that it must forever remain immune to revision or
even refutation. Similarly, no theory is ever utterly
refuted. A really well-refuted theory is just extremely
improbable, just as a well-confirmed one is very probable.
This is whay I wrote that "proof" or "truth" (ironically
capitalized) have no place in science, except possibly in 
formal sciences such as logic--and God knows what would
happen if a sceptically-minded non-logician would begin
to scrutinize them ... So scientific "truths" must forever
remain provisional and conditional.

What I did point out, however, was that Popper's background
made him partially blind to this. He interpreted theories as
logical excercises. He therefore understood that no theory
can be proof against falsification. But--he believed that a
theory could be totally falsified!  And as I noted, this was so
easily done that Lakatos in turn pointed out that nearly every
hypothesis is falsified from the very beginning! Popper's
belief that purely formal logic could be made into a workable
criterion of scientific "truth" (or whatever) strongly reminds
me of the prosecutor's line in the pretty famous case of Church
versus Galileo. Galileo was the first to actually *use* the
hypothetic-deductive method systematically, but the prelates
insisted that as he could not logically prove the exclusive truth
of his own (Copernican) position, he had no right to deny the
truth of the Roman church's (Ptolemaic) world picture. Both
"saved the appearances", i.e. the old view was not "falsified".
So in a way, Popper was the last scholastic philosopher.

It is quite correct that Lakatos builds on Popper: he too thinks
(quite correctly, I believe) that the hypo-ded method is *the*
scientific method. He does however point out that Popper's
ideas about falsification are unrealistic. I might add that it
would seem to often be very difficult to construct strictly
falsifiable theories about any process or life-form which you
cannot study in the present, and whose functioning you cannot
experimentally modify. What you are trying to do is to tell
"stories" which are more credible than certain alternative
stories. After all, none of us can PROVE that God did not create
the world, complete with T-rex fossils and all, 6000 years or
100 years or even a few minutes ago (He would just have to
create some counterfeit memories too, but that would seem to be
a walk in the park for God Almighty). I cannot even PROVE that
you, or anyting else outside my mind, exists. It is just that I
find this quite likely.

Lars Bergquist
(lexicographer ... "a harmless drudge" according to Dr. Johnson,
so bear with me)

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