Jul 15, 2009

Science: The Verifiable and the Falsifiable

So, I got access, of sorts, to the internet - for now. There probably won't be many updates throughout the next weeks even so. However, I do have a thought I wanted to churn about a bit, so here goes:

I've been thinking once again, and it seems to me that science deals with two markedly different types of questions - the verifiable and the falsifiable. These aren't the only questions science concerns itself with, of course, but they are still interesting. They can be summed up thus: A verifiable question is either true or unproven, but can never be disproved, and a falsifiable question is either false or undisproved but can never be proven.

This is really quite obvious, if you think about it - does there exist one or more gods? This has never been proven, and never been disproved, but think about it - what is required to prove the existence of a god? An event that could under no circumstance take place in a universe without any gods - a miracle. How can it be disproved? By combing each and every Planck unit of space and detecting no trace of anything supernatural? But that wouldn't be good enough, would it? There could still exist the deist "watchmaker" god, non-interfering by nature. This question is thus verifiable, but not falsifiable. My hypothesis is that no such question can exist - if it can be verified, then it can't be falsified.

Then we have questions like "is the speed of light immutable?" - a question that can easily be disproved, by measuring the speed of light and finding it to be different in two or more cases. How can it be proven? By measuring the speed of light in every photon ever created throughout its entire lifespan, and even then it could simply be that the conditions necessitated for the light to alter speed hadn't arisen yet. Now, we know that the speed of light is mutable - among other things, it slows down significantly in conditions of extreme cold. This question is thus verifiable, but not falsifiable.

What's intriguing about this is that the two types of question lend themselves to a search for truth quite differently: a scientific hypothesis has to be falsifiable, and therefore can't be proven, ever - it can only be subjected to extremely rigorous testing and survive it all undisproved, in which case its status is elevated to "theory", which means that all facts seem to corroborate this explanation of events after rigorous testing; a verifiable question therefore can not be a scientific hypothesis or theory, but it still has its place in science - these are the vaunted "hard facts" that we base our worldviews around - the speed of light in a vacuum, etc.

This, of course, only applies to yes-no questions - if there can be any other answer than, "yes", "no" and "maybe", this doesn't apply. And, of course, science also involves multiple-choice.

If anybody can see any flaws in my logic, please post a comment and tell me.

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