The Great Model

We are going to start with what we have heard of... a scientific theory. So uninteresting to so many, but such a giant step in human thinking. There is a lot of confusion surrounding the mysterious thing known as scientific theory. If you've had your ear to the sacred ground of enlightment, or even somewhat in the vicinity of said ground, then you've heard some things, such as:

This is typically said in regards to a specific scientific theory, The Theory of Evolution, the scariest of all theories. The kind of theory that makes gods weep and children spontaneiously burst into flames. But alas, science is often the monster hiding under the apes bed. Personally, I don't like anything under my bed that bites and doesn't have a collar.

When you set out to learn a scientific theory like General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Big Bang, or Evolution, you learn facts and interpretations of facts, that come together to create a model/theory of how the world works. A scientific model/theory cannot exist without facts. You can't learn a theory without learning facts, or as I like to call them, accepted observations.

Models & Voids

To better understand The Great Void, you must understand what it is not. It is often said that a scientific theory/model requires 3 properties: falsifiability, predictive power, and explanatory power. The Great Void does not, at any point, posses all of these properties.

Falsifiability, that looks familiar! A model/theory is not considered scientific, if you can't disprove it. This is what scientists do, they create models, and then they try to break them. The more attacks the theory/model survives, the more support it gets within the scientific community. A popular example of falsifiability is the statement "All swans are white". It can be falsified by finding a black swan, and as such it was disproved, since black swans were eventually discovered.

Predictive power is the next property and is intimately intertwined with falsifiability. If your theory predicts something, and your prediction doesn't come true, then your theory has been falsified. To re-iterate, if a theory cannot be disproved, then it has no predictive power. And thus, what is it, other than just a belief?

Explanatory power has a more involved explanation I think. And so I have summoned the powers of Wikipedia to aid us in our quest for knowing stuff.

Explanatory power is the ability of a hypothesis or theory to effectively explain the subject matter it pertains to. The opposite of explanatory power is explanatory impotence.

In the past, various criteria or measures for explanatory power have been proposed. In particular, one hypothesis, theory, or explanation can be said to have more explanatory power than another about the same subject matter

  • if more facts or observations are accounted for;
  • if it changes more "surprising facts" into "a matter of course" (following Peirce);
  • if more details of causal relations are provided, leading to a high accuracy and precision of the description;
  • if it offers greater predictive power, i.e., if it offers more details about what we should expect to see, and what we should not;
  • if it depends less on authorities and more on observations;
  • if it makes fewer assumptions;
  • if it is more falsifiable, i.e., more testable by observation or experiment (following Popper). Explanatory Power

There you have it. This is what The Great Void is not. It is not a scientific theory. You will not find any mathematical models in The Great Void, although one may try to intertwine such things when creating or defending a belief system.

Scientific Models, Theories, Ideas, Oh My!

I use the terms scientific model and scientific theory interchangeably. Consider Isaac Newton's 3 laws of motions. They weren't just beliefs. They had predictive power, and thus, were falsifiable. Take a look at his second law of motion below.

The acceleration of an object as produced by a net force is directly proportional to the magnitude of the net force, in the same direction as the net force, and inversely proportional to the mass of the object.

This verbal statement can be expressed in equation form as follows:

a = Fnet / m

The above equation is often rearranged to a more familiar form as shown below. The net force is equated to the product of the mass times the acceleration.

Fnet = m • a

The Physics Classroom Newton's Second Law

This isn't a "God did it" statement. This statement is so precise it can be stated as a mathematical formula, which is typically stated as F=ma. This statement is a function that takes input and produces output. It makes a prediction that can be falsifide. It's not just a belief, that you just feel is right. It goes beyond human emotions and expectations. And it did. It was not expected. It was not intuitive. It was not what people believed was true. But it was scientific, and it could be disproved, and no one was able to disprove it.

Not everything we scientifically model is so precise or mathematical. Physics is easier to do this with than say biology or psychology. It can be very difficult to make something scientific. Psychology for instance, has a long history of people trying different ways of making it scientific. It's no easy task and requires a lot of trial and error.

Newton's and Einstein's idea of gravity was never completely understood. They both have issues. We could say, oh hell with it, and say bajillions of pull-down-stuff faeries are responsible for things falling to the ground. But then we would just be abandoning ship for a nice rock that doesn't move or change, but keeps us feeling safe.

The Opposite Place

So what is the opposite of The Great Void? Imagine we create the best model, theory, map, etc, of the world around us. Just one singular theory. How good would it be? How well would it model the world? Would there be more than one, would there be a few ways to model the world that all basically work out just as well?

Scientists are looking for The Great Model(s). They build model after model after model, both revising and destroying. But always moving closer and closer over a large spanse of time. We create models of the world all the time, scientific or not, but they're working on one that has falsifiability, predictive power, and explanatory power.

You'll never run out of unfalsifiable explanations. Science is an island admist an infinite ocean of things you cannot prove or disprove. You can either expand and/or explore the island or drink the bottomless Kool-Aid.