2. “Facts are needed to establish theories but theories are needed to make sense of facts”. Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.
Growing up in a small village that is hugely effected by supernatural beliefs, beliefs in invisible identities. Villagers believed that sickness and catastrophes are directly related to a variety of invisible person-like beings such as, demons, angels, spirits, ghosts, devils and gods. When the villagers are asked to justify their belief in such entities, they often appeal to testimony first: to reports of sightings, suspicious events that they believe are caused by such beings, and fueled by imagination as a way of knowing. Second, many villagers claim a sense of presence, they sense the presence of their beloved ones who are dead years ago. Numerous testimonies regarding invisible identities made the community in the village consider the existence of these identities a theory that they believed in. Invisible agents or identities provided a quick, convenient and comforting explanations for events. Many questions arose from my experience with this case. How do theories make sense of the testimony or a fact? Or how are facts needed to establish such theories? Can a theory supersede and replace the need for data and testing? Is it always possible for theories in various areas of knowledge to be tested and proven wrong? This essay will investigate these questions and more, using the areas of knowledge of history and natural sciences, using ways of knowing where appropriate.
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First it is necessary to define the terms used in the statement. Facts are the subset of truths that have been proved and verified. Truth exist in unlimited numbers, when they are discovered and tested, they become facts. A theory is a detailed clarification. The aim of a theory is to provide us with clarifications of physical things, phenomenon and events. We can make sense of facts by establishing theories, theories are established by formulating hypotheses, either by observation or sometimes by intuition and analogy and deducing conclusions from these hypotheses that can be tested directly or indirectly by observation or by experiment. For example, we all know that the sun emits light, it’s a fact. The fact doesn’t give reasons about why this phenomenon occur, that’s an observation of a fact. A theory is an explanation of a set of facts.The aforementioned theory was created using a set of evidence and mathematic calculations that supported and explained the long process from scratch.
Breaking up the claimed statement into two fragments. First, that facts are needed to establish theories and second, that theories are needed to make sense of facts.
If we look at the two aforementioned claims through Physics, we can bring up the relationship between experimental physics and theoretical physics. Experimental physics is directly relied on observation and data collection while theoretical physics use laws and mathematical analysis to predict theories. For example, in physical cosmology and astronomy, dark energy is a form of energy which is hypothesized to permeate all of space. A search team was formed to observe distance measurements in supernovas. To illustrate, Researchers would study the relationship between the distance to an object in a supernova and its radiation, which gives how fast it is receding from us. This led to the discovery that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. This method of formulating a theory was the same as Aristotle’s interpretation of science. He viewed science as a closed circle where any observer or in this case, scientist can gather facts and then, by induction, formulate a theory.
The same view goes to how one of my colleagues who is an archeologist attempted to prove the existence of an ancient frankincense trade route from Oman to the rest of the Middle East it is believed that frankincense is the first substance to be traded and was a crucial part of the Middle East economy thousands of years ago. The Route was proven to exist when a treasure trove that contained hundreds of archeological sites in the Middle East was discovered. Two distinguished discoveries came to light, the team uncovered an ancient fortress virtually identical to one they previously discovered in Oman. His team also uncovered a broad variety of other artifacts, including thurbiles made of mud which is used as incense holder. Thurbiles come in different shapes and designs but the team have noticed a certain pattern in the design of the thurbiles that they found in the sites where small shapes and plants were drawn to decorate the thurbiles. Linking this case to my question, the discoveries in the different archeological sites were considered facts and were linked together because the designs found in the archeological sites were virtually identical. A theory was established to explain the observations which is that these archeological sites share same patterns and designs therefore they were linked and connected together.
Theories are also necessary for facts to be established. An example of this is that theorists had predicted the existence of the Higgs boson which is a particle in the Standard Model of particle physics for more than five decades ago, which then encouraged the experimental physicists to search for the Higgs. And now the existence of the Higgs has been established as a fact. Another example is that the theory of gravitation predicted the behavior of objects on the moon and other planets long before the activities of spacecraft and astronauts confirmed them. In the previous two examples, the theories helped narrow facts that are found from a wide range of experiment and researches to a narrower scope providing few simple rules that summarize hundreds of observations. These rules make scientists have a focused area of research to examine.
Some theories that have been regarded and accepted for centuries had a great impact on the new compelling theories supported by facts but can a theory supersede and replace the need for data and testing? Deducing a theory in mathematics for example does not require any objective facts gathered from our surroundings in order for it to be true. In a sense, Mathematics is true without reference to reality. Purely analytic statements can be demonstrated a priori. A proof of a theorem cannot involve experiments or other observed evidence in the same way such evidence is used to support scientific theories. In the previous two examples, the variables in the theories were directly observable which led to the theories making specific, clear predictions about the future.
Deducing a theory can enrich our interpretations and meaning by providing us with a different approach to look at the same facts. I believe the statement should be edited to ‘Facts are needed to establish truthful theories about the surroundings. Interpretations are an approach to make factual propositions meaningful. Theories can help us make sense of facts’. Since we have defined facts as subset of truths that have been verified and verification can make theories true or false, we can also conclude that facts without a connecting theory are just facts fluctuating in a sea of logical space, independent of one another.
Wikipedia, , accessed January 19, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_energy#cite_note-6.
, accessed January 21, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higgs_boson#cite_note-OnyisiFAQ-8.
Onyisi, P. (23 October 2012). “Higgs boson FAQ”. University of Texas ATLAS group. Retrieved 2013-01-08.
Https://www.facebook.com/MarkCC, Good Math/Bad Math, September 08, 2015, accessed January 19, 2017, http://www.goodmath.org/blog/2015/09/08/not-a-theory-really-its-not-a-theory/.
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