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February 26, 2020 / Congau

Infallible Theories

A sound theory never fails. If all the premises involved are true and the deductions are logically carried out, the conclusion will necessarily come true even when you test it in practice.

The sticking point here, however, is in the phrase “all premises involved” and the problem with theories is that very often it’s impossible to include all premises that might be involved in a practical conclusion. That’s why the only real test of the validity of a theory can be done in a laboratory where the number of premises can be clinically limited. If X + Y = A is always true it will also be true in a laboratory if you can prevent Z or any other variable to be added to the equation. In real life that’s impossible. You can never keep every contingency away or predict all occurrences that may intervene.

But let’s say you could. Let’s say you could identify all the atoms in the atmosphere that makes up a certain weather condition. Then if you had a super complex (computerized) theory of how atoms move, and that theory was true, you could predict the weather 100%. Of course, such an immense computer system would be impossible, but it is imaginable because the number of atoms involved is not actually infinite.

Contrast that to the prediction of social and political events. Here the number of possibly relevant factors is literally infinite. Not even an imaginable supercomputer could conceivably capture them all because the cause of the events is not limited to physics but extend to that odd thing called human psychology, including will, emotions, personalities etc. and you never know which features may come together in such a gigantic clash.

The problem is not so much that humans are fallible, but that they defy the exact generalities that are necessary to make up a neat set of premises.

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