Philosophy / Science

What is Observable?

Creativistic Philosophy

File:CMS Higgs-event.jpg

In a discussion with Werner Heisenberg, Albert Einstein once remarked that only theory determines what is observable. According to this view, there is no theory-free observation. Some thinkers in the Vienna Circle, i.e. the movement of logical empiricism, had tried to build the foundation of science on a language of theory-free “protocol sentences”. This idea was criticized by others who advanced the view that any such statement describing an observation already depends on a theory.

If the idea that observations are always theory-dependent is true, scientists are in a similar situation as scholars trying to understand some piece of culture, for example a text: their understanding develops in what is called a hermeneutic circle. You start with some preconception (a first version of a theory). You make observations based on that preconception (like a scholar trying to understand single statements or sections of a text). Based on those observations, you…

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3 thoughts on “What is Observable?

  1. I like how this is penned. There is not such ‘observable’ data, as much as there is the ‘estimated’ one, and both scientists and scholars have this problem, even when scientists have optical aids and computers. Theories are simply conclusions based on a physical constant factor, but even so, it’s in the language of physics where there are several constants: “A physical constant is a physical quantity that is generally believed to be both universal in nature and constant in time. It can be contrasted with a mathematical constant, which is a fixed numerical value, but does not directly involve any physical measurement.

    Clinical observations (both observational and laboratories) are what doctors use, and they are scientific but have a human factor, and that is that they must be directly observed by the physician and not by a computer. In this case, microscopes are simply used as “aids” in coming to a “diagnostic”, which may still be a “theory”, but can at least be treated. Nevertheless, they still depend on statistical data for interpretation (labs and x-rays).

    “Experiments might be categorized according to a number of dimensions, depending upon professional norms and standards in different fields of study. In some disciplines (e.g., Psychology or Political Science), a ‘true experiment’ is a method of social research in which there are two kinds of variables. The independent variable is manipulated by the experimenter, and the dependent variable is measured. The signifying characteristic of a true experiment is that it randomly allocates the subjects in order to neutralize the potential for experimenter bias, and ensures, over a large number of iterations of the experiment, that all confounding factors are controlled for.”-Experiment Wikipedia

    Even the mathematical constant, which is a fixed numerical value, has been estimated. So theories depend on language and human interpretation, which even when observed at a certain moment, can be lost or mutated. What is truly ‘observable”, therefore, becomes a “conjecture”. Nevertheless, some theories prevail, because of the “physical constant”. What constitutes a “conjecture”, however, is the “hypothesis’. These continue to emerge because of the “fathomless” of the universe (something that Einstein coincided with). Supposing this being the case, what is actually observed, may remain hypothetical and fragmented.

  2. Pingback: On Truth | The Asifoscope

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