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Is the Solar System Real?

Is every scientific theory falsifiable, and if it is not, then what do we mean by calling it 'scientific' -- do we mean 'consistent with the known data (the "conceived facts")'? but a metaphysical theory may be that too. As to theories: "Is there really a solar system?"

Although these are remarks or questions about the Philosophy of Science, their background is the question of logic of language: How is language with meaning distinguished from language without meaning ("mere sound without sense") in the discussion of philosophical problems?

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"Lying beneath our hands and before our eyes"

Note: this continues discussions in The Philosophy of Science of M. O'C. Drury (as well as of "Questions without answers").

Somewhere between Athens and Marathon there is a great outcrop of Jurassic limestone. The surface of these rocks, so I am told, is studded with fossil shells and bones of the Mesozoic period: the age of the great reptiles. Aristotle must have passed this place many times. Yet I believe I am correct in saying that nowhere in the biological writing of Aristotle is the existence of this place even mentioned. So much the worse for Aristotle you say. (Drury, The Danger of Words (1973) p. 110)

But, Drury asks, are we different from Aristotle? Think of how only recently microbes (bacteria) were discovered and even more recently still viruses. The telescope and microscope are comparatively recent inventions that caused revolutions in our ways of thinking (both in our knowledge of facts and in our theoretical explanations of them). Darwin's voyage aboard the Beagle brought about a revolution not only by the discovery of facts that were new to their observer -- but also by a unique mind able to create a new theory to explain them. There may be countless more discoveries of things "in heaven and earth than are dreamt of" in our present philosophy that may fundamentally change our views about the universe (reality). And all those who now mistake theories for facts -- (a theory is a particular way of organizing a selection of data -- i.e. it is facts plus imagination) -- will then be regarded as bigoted and dogmatic, just as the followers of Aristotle were regarded during the birth of modern science. (Everything modern loses its modernity soon enough.)

The great philosophical danger in every natural science is to confuse an hypothesis with a fact. A new branch of natural science begins because of new observations, new phenomena not noticed before. Often this is due to the discovery of a new instrument, a telescope [e.g.] ... (ibid. p. 99)

What is the logical status of every scientific theory?

That it is always a transitory, incomplete affair. Never finished, final, factual. Every scientific hypothesis is always at the mercy of new evidence and may require indefinite modification in the light of this evidence.

... Considering the vast complexity of the matrix of nature, isn't it certain that there is still much evidence, lying before our eyes and beneath our hands, which we have failed to notice as yet? And may not such evidence in the future transform our idea of nature as much as the new biology has transformed the Aristotelian concepts? The great thinkers of the Middle Ages are often criticised in popular works for their subservience to Aristotle.

[But, in so far as that may be true, it represents only] a universal human tendency to take transitory concepts as final and absolute. [Julian] Huxley and De Chardin, when they make the idea of evolution the basis of their philosophy, even of their religion, are making just the same error. Hypotheses, as Kant said, are contraband in philosophy. (ibid. p. 110)

Is our situation much different from Aristotle's "disciples"? -- In a sense the answer is yes -- because we have the historical experience which Aristotle's followers could not have had, from which we ought to have learned. Aristotle was a pioneer in natural science. But we are not.

The Greeks were not unaware of seashells and aquatic fossils found in sites well above sea level. In the 6th Century B.C. Xenophanes in Syracuse conjectured that these indicated a cycle of wet and dry times upon the earth.

Note: words that follow "Query" are Internet searches which directed (or misdirected) visitors to this site.

Is the Solar System Real?

Note: this continues the discussion Geocentric and Heliocentric Models. In order for the solar system to actually exist, there would have to be a fixed point of reference, which is nonsense, or a privileged frame of reference, which would be arbitrary. What is going around what depends on where you are standing. Talk about what is "really" going around what is metaphysics, not science.

Related page: Starlight - Messages from the Past?

Query: mental illusion, scientific theory.

It's an eccentric way to speak of human imagination (which can also be called fantasy -- but a scientific theory is "fantasy with proofs" -- i.e. there is evidence (raw data) that the fantasy must be consistent with and falsifiable by), but we could call scientific theories "mental illusions", that is, when they are believed in as if they were the "reality behind reality" rather than the human-invented pictures (that should not be allowed to replace the reality before our eyes) that they are. (M. O'C. Drury) On the other hand, if the query requests a "scientific theory of mental illusions", then I cannot even imagine what one might look like; 'mental illusion' does not = 'optical illusion'; what would scientific theory about e.g. self-delusion look like?

Query: scientific tests that can distinguish between the heliocentric and geocentric.

That would be the view that one of those theories can be proved to be false (A scientific theory cannot be proved to be true, only shown to be consistent; but if a theory is not consistent with the data it is intended to summarize, then it is false ["fantasy with proofs"])? According to my account, those two theories are nothing more than different ways of arranging the same data into pictures that are more satisfying to us than the raw data itself is; they are both models -- not of "the solar system"; rather, they are the solar system -- that are consistent with all astronomical observations; the heliocentric model is preferred because it is simpler, and imposes fewer requirements. Do I know whether one or the other (or both) of those theories can be proved false? Apart from the historical accounts I have read (and which support my account), I only know that it cannot be done if my account is correct -- because neither 'absolute frame of reference' nor 'motion independent of any frame of reference' are defined combinations of words.

Query: can I go to see the solar system?

Yes, go can out under a cloudless night sky and you will see as much of it as you can (i.e. as it is logically possible to) see. The solar system is a scientific theory, not a fact. (It is instead a summary of the facts, a way of organizing the data of experience, a way of looking at things, but not the only way.) And you can see facts, but not theories.

Again, the heliocentric and geocentric theories are not models of the solar system; the solar system is not the "reality behind reality". There is no place you can go to see the solar system; it does not exist. Reality is what you can see when you study the sky at night; "the solar system" is a scientific theory.

Query: God did not make the solar system.

No, rather, human imagination did: a theory = facts [raw data] plus imagination (an organization, summary of the facts).

Query: Wittgenstein, how would it look if the earth went around the sun?
Query: does the earth go around the sun?

That is, what would it look like to someone on earth if ...? The query is based on the false notion that the earth really does go round the sun, as if the heliocentric model were not a theory but a fact. Or you could say: the sky looks the same whichever theoretical model is imposed on it by the human imagination, or, regardless of what is pictured as "really" going around what.

Query: what does the solar system look like?
Query: solar system real from telescope?

Question: can you say here: cf. what does an atom look like -- i.e. are both the solar system and the atom theoretical constructs -- i.e. models constructed from the facts to summarize the facts rather than facts themselves? Is the Rutherford-Bohr atom the only possible model? (The limit of science -- is concept-formation -- but also the invention of new instruments of observation, e.g. the telescope, microscope.)

Theoretical constructs summarize complex data

Query: the solar system is like an atom in that both ...

... in that both don't exist, but are instead theoretical constructs -- i.e. models of the facts, but not themselves facts (They are not the raw data of experience). They are "models, pictures, maps" that summarize a selection of facts; but a summary is not itself the reality it summarizes; raw data -- which are the reality -- may be selected and summarized in many different ways, not only in one; and that is why a summary should never be mistaken for the reality it summarizes.

A theory is a summary of selected facts.

Query: life without a solar system.

It is the same as life with a solar system. Whether we picture the sun going round the earth or vice versa, what we observe when we look at the night sky is the fact (reality); the picture we invent to summarize what we observe is not. Drury warned against replacing the reality before our eyes with pictures we have ourselves created. cf. constellations and asterisms (e.g. Andromeda, the Big Dipper) -- are those the only possible imaginative way of organizing the stars (which are the facts)? cf. life without God -- i.e. life without the concepts 'God', 'solar system', 'Andromeda'.

Query: example of metaphysical questions about the solar system.

If we say it must be that either the earth goes around the sun or the sun goes around the earth, that is metaphysics. If we say that celestial bodies must move with uniform circular motion, that is metaphysics. Whenever we ask which theory depicts the reality, as if a theory rather than the facts the theory is based on were the reality, that is metaphysics.

Query: what does the word 'solar system' mean?

"Generally nothing explains the meaning of words so well as a picture" (LC p. 63); -- however, in this case is the drawing of planets circling the sun [or a model operated by a crank mechanism such as used to be used in schools] "really" the meaning of 'solar system'? Is 'solar system' like 'unconscious' (as in "the unconscious mind")? "To the popular imagination the words 'solar system' suggests ..." Well, there are many things that might be called the meaning of 'solar system'. If we want to know the nature of the world, we will ask how astronomers use that expression. (cf. How do psychologists use the expression 'unconscious'?)

Query: ordinary view of the world, Arthur Eddington.

"Ordinary view" -- This would be as opposed to [in contrast to] Eddington's fantasy view of the world, his substitution of a picture of his own creation for the reality that he perceives lying "beneath his hands and before his eyes"; according to Eddington the rainbow we see in the sky isn't "real" but a creation of the human mind. The "ordinary view" doubtless belongs to our human form of life, but that does not make it any less a view of reality -- and the only one we have (or how can we get outside ourselves to have another); again, there is no absolute frame of reference or point of view (i.e. 'absolute frame of reference' is an undefined combinations of words).

Why do students more than eighty years later still study Eddington's Nature of the Physical World? Is it not because: "With the idea, now is always" (Drury). -- I.e. because, despite much of Eddington's book being metaphysics (or, in many cases, nonsense), it is Philosophy of Science rather than science; and thus it does not matter whether much of Eddington's science may be out of date (It is no longer believed that human beings might comfortably live on the planet Venus, for instance).

Query: ordinary language, Eddington's chairs.

Can you say: "In the language of physics, as opposed to in the language of everyday life, the table is not solid"? No. Nor can you say that the meaning of the word 'solid' is relative to a frame of reference, although you can say that within the frame of reference of physics, the table is not solid. -- But that is not because we are using different languages in everyday life and in physics; no, the word 'solid' means the same in both. (The statement 'The table is not really solid' is metaphysics, not physics.)

Conceptual versus factual investigations

Query: proof the solar system is real.

How is the word 'system' being used here? Are systems natural (Is a system a fact of nature) or conventional (or Is a system merely a way of classifying a selection of data)? "The sun is the cause of the system: the mass of the sun keeps the planets in their orbits around itself. That is proof of the reality of the solar system." Is that a statement of fact or of theory?

Is there more involved to saying whether the earth goes round the sun or vice versa than saying that 'what goes round what' is a conceptual question? Is gravity a fact or a "theoretical fiction" (i.e. construct)? What is gravity? The word 'gravity' is defined by 'the method by which gravity is measured' (There is no "force" of gravity apart from the method of measurement).

"Mass effect ("attraction") is a fact of nature. It is the cause of the solar system." Can gravity be dealt with within the geocentric model? The question is not whether that might be very complicated (or is the simplest description the truth? Only if 'truth' is defined to mean 'the simplest explanation'.)

Must a Scientific Theory be Falsifiable?

He said you might say that what is satisfactory in Darwin is ... his "putting the facts in a system" -- helping us make a "synopsis" of them. (PP iii (E), p. 316)

If we are going to use falsifiability as our criterion for a 'scientific' theory, then the heliocentric and geocentric models are not scientific theories (by our definition).

And neither is the theory of evolution, which is a way of looking at things, of arranging the data. That this is so is shown by all new discoveries being assigned a place in the scheme; researchers do not ask "Does this new fact refute the theory?" but only "How does this new fact fit into the picture of evolution?" because it is impossible -- logically impossible -- for any fact to refute the theory. (That is what it amounts to when anyone claims that "evolution is a fact": that the theory can explain anything and everything -- and therefore that it is not a theory. But neither is it a fact, because even a generalized statement of fact is falsifiable -- i.e. an anomaly can refute it.)

Query: geocentricity, scientific proof.
Query: heliocentric myth.
Query: science replaces the myth with facts about the solar system.

There cannot -- note cannot -- be scientific proof for the geocentric model (nor for the heliocentric model either), because models are summaries of the facts. The facts -- i.e. raw data -- can be proof, but models of the facts cannot be; models merely arrange the facts in a way that is more or less useful to us. (A model is often a picture of reality -- one picture among many possible pictures, but a model must never be mistaken for the reality it is a picture of. And it is only when a particular model's arrangement of the facts is mistaken for the facts themselves that a model becomes a myth, a mythology masquerading as a scientific theory. As to the last query: Now, that is something you can't say; what happens is that science replaces one myth with another myth -- i.e. model, although the scientific model is based on (and therefore consistent with) more facts and, ideally, on fewer preconceptions.) The word 'cannot' here indicates logical possibility and impossibility -- i.e. it belongs to a remark about the grammar, or, in other words, definitions, of 'model' and 'fact' in the context of scientific theory-making.

A distinction must be made between a theory which can be falsified -- i.e. a verifiable proposition (hypothesis) -- and a theory which cannot be falsified (The geocentric theory is of the latter type), because we call both types by the single word 'theory', although there is an essential difference between them. To adopt my jargon, a "theory" must be consistent with all the facts (raw data) and nothing more, whereas an "hypothesis" must be subject to disproof by the (future) discovery of one or more anomalies; in other words, an "hypothesis" can be put to the test and proved to be false, whereas a "theory" merely needs to have its model revised if the discovery of new facts (raw data) demands that.

Query: examples of tautologies in science.

If by 'tautology' we mean a statement that cannot be false because it cannot come into conflict with the facts (and we leave out the additional criterion that a tautology cannot be significantly negated), then the following are examples of tautologies in science.

Is "survival of the fittest" Falsifiable?

We could say about Darwin what Wittgenstein says about Freud, that he replaces one myth with another (Lectures & Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief p. 51), and that it is a very powerful myth (ibid. p. 52). Should we say that Darwin uses the word 'fittest' in a strange way? For if we look at the Influenza Pandemic of 1918, we find that although "influenza normally is a mild disease that kills only the very young and the very old, this influenza was most dangerous to people 21 to 29 years of age. This influenza took the strong and spared the weak." According to Darwin's theory, those who were spared were the "fittest" members of the species, because they survived when the disease came. However, to say that is to use the word 'fittest' in a very strange way, because normally we say that those who are strong and healthy are the 'fittest' members of the species.

The "fittest of the species" for the purpose of surviving the 1918 pandemic were not the fittest of the species for the purpose of surviving almost all the other challenges to human existence. Indeed, if the very old had been the only ones to survive the pandemic, the human species would have soon afterwards become extinct. If that does not serve as an anomaly, if that does not count against Darwin's theory, then what would? Nothing would. And that is why what he does is to replace one mythology [or, tautology] (namely, divine providence) with another mythology.

If we use the word 'fittest' as we normally do -- and, as Wittgenstein asked, how else are we to use a word -- Darwin's theory should have been falsified by the 1918 pandemic. For it seems to me, if I am not being a "savage" in my understanding of it (PI § 194), that the theory would have predicted just the opposite of what did in fact happen. But again because of the plasticity of the theory -- i.e. myth -- of "survival of the fittest", it is impossible to cite the pandemic as anomaly that disproves an hypothesis.

Is "natural selection" Falsifiable?

Is Darwin's "system", his "synopsis of the facts", satisfying, which Wittgenstein once said was a purpose of a theory: to satisfy our craving for an explanation (Later [1949] he told Drury that Darwin's theory hadn't "the necessary multiplicity" to "account for all the variety of species")? Is an explanation that can explain anything and everything an explanation at all -- i.e. what we call 'an explanation'? The theory of evolution and the caterpillar-butterfly: the magnificent wings of the butterfly -- "The most colorful found mates and therefore by natural selection ..." -- Then why has the utterly dull moth survived? And as if uncomely human beings did not find mates readily enough.

The notion "natural selection" is not a theory; it is a picture which can be made to fit anything -- or rather, a picture frame that can be made to frame any facts. "Over the course of millions and millions of years ..." Obviously there is no possibility of verification there. I would infinitely rather just have the "observable facts" -- i.e. the facts -- about these magnificent creatures' life without the picture -- mythology -- of evolution that explains nothing in this case. As to how this all came about, all the color and variety of life, we simply do not know. (Can you say that the limit of knowing here is concept-formation? For that is what the picture of evolution is, according to Wittgenstein's statement, an example of concept-formation. Would I find any "picture" here satisfying? And isn't that what a picture must be, if it is to be accepted as an explanation.)

When I look at the unfulfillable and in many cases absurd longings of the human soul, I think: the so-called scientific theory of evolution cannot account for the vast dysfunctionality of Nature, let alone for its eccentricities. "Whatever our point of view, the world will remain for us an enigma," Schweitzer wrote.

And if a species is immutable?

"Evolution has not altered the fig wasp in 34 million years, scientists have discovered."

This is surely an example of an immutable species. And if the theory of evolution were falsifiable (rather than simply a way of looking at things, a way of selecting and arranging the data of experience), then surely this would -- if the theory were not "fact-proof" (as in "water-proof") -- if the theory were falsifiable, then surely this creature that has not changed would be the anomaly that falsified the theory, or at least required that the theory be amended. But no such thing has happened. The only question that is ever asked is, not Does this new discovery falsify the theory?, but How can this new bit of data, this new experience, be fitted into the theory of evolution? (The amendment would be that some species are immutable -- that is, they do not evolve, even if such species were unusual, even if this were an exception to the general statement that species are not immutable but evolve.)

If 43 million years is not enough to prove that a particular species is "immutable", then nothing is. And that is one way in which the theory of evolution is "fact-proof". Otherwise the fig wasp would be "the exception that proves the rule" -- i.e. the discovery that shows the general rule's limitation.

If we want to define a 'scientific theory' as 'a theory which can be falsified', then we are not describing what scientists in fact do, only what we think they should do.

Contraband in natural science

The theory of evolution has not become a fact. But it has become a universalized dogma. And dogma is contraband in the sciences, as it is in everything philosophical. Why is it that "a theory can never become a fact"? Because a theory is a selection of the conceived facts plus the human imagination that organizes those facts in a satisfying way (M. O'C. Drury). [Making proper use of the theory of evolution: an example.]

Query: working hypothesis.

A working hypothesis is what the theory of evolution is not treated as, although every scientific theory should be regarded that way: we keep the present theory only until a more satisfying one is invented. (This is of course only if 'hypothesis' ≠ 'verifiable/falsifiable statement of fact', which in some contexts it does, because the word 'hypothesis' is ambiguous in English.) Yet each new theory is seen by some as the final word: "Now we have the true picture of reality as it is in itself: the theory is the fact." Isaac Newton's natural philosophy was regarded that way in its time, just as Aristotle's natural philosophy had been before it, and now there is Quantum Physics, and again "the final word" has been spoken.

The theory has been proved to be true? But then both the geocentric and heliocentric theories have been proved to be true. In the case of scientific theory, what would 'true' mean except 'consistent with the selected data', sometimes because the theory is sufficiently vague as to make it consistent with all data. The theory of evolution is an example of this: it admits no anomalies.

The Criterion of Satisfying

Sailors on earth who navigate using sextant and compass use the geocentric model because it is most useful, whereas for a Mars shot that model would be extremely inconvenient to use. This is one way in which a scientific theory may be satisfactory or not.

The Relation between signs and ideas

Note: this continues the discussion George Orwell and "Narrowing the circle of thought".

It is not essential to language that it embody a set of moral values -- or even of ideas. What consequences has that statement, if it is true, for Orwell's idea of using vocabulary to set the limits of thought? That it is possible to put any two words [signs in Wittgenstein's jargon: marks on paper, spoken sounds, the physical aspect of language only] together, as e.g. 'Think independently', does not have the consequence that the combination of words has a meaning in the language. In some places where English is spoken, why shouldn't 'Think independently' simply be an undefined combination of words, just as 'Independently think' is in our language?

Query: meaning of 'think independently'.

What does it mean? "To think about things for yourself" -- i.e. to critically examine all assertions and to reach your own conclusions about the truth or falsity of all things. It means not to imitate, or at least not to uncritically imitate (because few of us are original thinkers), the thought of others.

It does not mean memorizing textbooks and it does not mean assuming that everything your teachers tell you is true. It means questioning all authority and all traditions; it means Kant's "Dare to doubt!" It means Question everything ("But what does that mean everything?") It is the contrary of Confucianism's "The young ones are supposed to listen and not to ask questions, so that they may know their own place. Do not object, but listen to your elders."

Is Philosophy Unimportant?

Query: why is philosophy unimportant?

The question should have been, not "Why is philosophy unimportant?" but "Is philosophy unimportant?" The conclusion comes at the end of the argument; it is not a presupposition of the argument. Where a conclusion is "pre-required", that is not philosophy. (cf. Philosophical Investigations § 107)

Variation. Unless an argument is circular, its conclusion comes at the end, not at the beginning.

Saying that philosophy is unimportant amounts to saying that life needn't be taken seriously, that an "unexamined life" is worth living. Someone might come to that conclusion, but again, the conclusion comes at the end of an investigation or argument, not at its beginning. Plato in his Republic (344e, 352d) says, "We are discussing no small matter, but how we should live our life." And when Socrates says that "an unexamined life" -- i.e. a life without philosophical self-criticism (such as is lived by an animal, a child or thoughtless adult) -- "is not worth living" (Apology 38a), we should ask what is a life without philosophy? Is it worthy of a human being? Does not the excellence appropriate to man consist precisely in his use of reason, to ask about Plato's "no small matter"?

Query: what made Origen [Alexandrian theologian (c. 185-254 A.D.), who, as Augustine later would, adapted the thought of Plotinus to Christianity ('Neoplatonism')] one of the true philosophical thinkers?

The query asks for adduction in defense of a pre-accepted thesis, but that is not the way of philosophy, which puts theses to the test of cross-questioning (Socratic dialectic) rather than acquiescing to them. Again: the conclusion comes at the end, but here it is placed at the beginning, and that would be rote learning, which has no place in philosophy (and indeed is not philosophy). [Aristotle's history of philosophy is a critical review of the literature, a philosophical retelling of history.]

Mathematics is independent of Philosophy

On the other hand, there really is a place where philosophy is unimportant -- namely within mathematics itself. The Philosophy, or, Foundations of Mathematics is not itself mathematics, nor is it essential to mathematics. It is our "understanding" [point of view] of the calculus: it is the view from outside mathematics.

To make a comparison, 'calculus' = 'a game played according to strict rules'. Philosophy of Mathematics has no role in that game, either in its rules or in its calculations.

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