The earlier article entitled The Knowledge Acquisition Spectrum may have caused questions in your mind. You may wonder why theories should not be considered part of science? Typical explanations of science highlight a fruitful dialog between experiment and theory.
Such an interchange between theory and theory-free knowledge can exist – but it is not a universally valid interchange. Such interchange may occur when determining causal relationships between theory-free knowledge and unobservable entities.
But some theories are not “explaining” relationships around collections of theory-free knowledge. More likely, they are explaining black-boxes built on top of other (theories explaining other) black-boxes! Such theoretical pursuits are not directly verifiable. Such are exploring an unobservable with other unobservables! Are such explanations truth? …. So are they science?
Consider some facets of astronomy. I hope it is agreed that depth perception is not available in astronomy. The earth is our observatory. We have not ever gone a light-day’s distance from earth with any observatory. Triangulation is not possible.
The extreme case of theories explaining other theories is the “big-bang.” This is an unobservable black-box.* Then we postulate galaxies and stars forming as a result. But wait – it is not happening fast enough. So we postulate that we can “insert” another unobservable black-box called a short period of “inflation.” So things proceed onwards. But wait – Newton’s gravity is violated in the rotation of spiral galaxy arms. So we postulate that we can insert another unobservable black-box called “dark matter.” So things proceed onwards towards today. But wait – the cosmic picture is violated in that the “expansion” rate seems incorrect. So we postulate that we can insert another unobservable black-box called “dark energy.” So unobservables are once again set on an even-keel and we proceed onwards.
Unobservable black-boxes are built upon other unobservable black-boxes. This sequence is “saving (some of) the appearances.” We are told that there is “evidence in their favor.” But there is also “evidence and prudent reason in their disfavor.” It is not truth … it is not science … it is not knowledge. It is an example of the “emperor’s new clothes.”**
Thus, it is prudent to insist on separating theory-free knowledge from Theory-Generated Understandings! In bookkeeping, the double entry of credits and debits increasing monetary clarity. So, likewise, the separate entries of theory-free knowledge and Theory-Generated Understandings increases reasonable and rational clarity.
* But the big-bang, itself, requires the black-boxes of quantum mechanics and the relativites.
** The list of black-boxes could be extended – maybe so later. There is Edwin Hubble’s interpretation of “red shift” as recessional velocity. (Although Steve Weinberg reported that he could not get that conclusion from Hubble’s papers. See the article herein on Back to Infinity and its Discontents.)
Earlier had been the Russian mathematician Alexander Friedman and his non-Euclidean geometry applied to Hubble’s red-shift data to support General Relativity.
Earlier had also been the Belgian astronomer and Jesuit priest, Father Georges Lemaître and his expanding universe concept.
And where does the foundationless, unobservable mathematical journey end?