Why Theory Is Stronger Than Fact
Science is the pursuit of natural truth. This means that science is the process of identifying explanations consistent with reality and distinguishing them from those that are not. We call those explanations that are consistent with reality, natural truth. Distinguishing these explanations, the true ones, from any others that are not, leads to understanding how what is true must be, and thus ultimately to understanding why everything is the way it is, or, more fundamentally, to understanding the reason that anything even 'is' at all – which is precisely what science does: explain what's true in nature and what isn't (all the while, completely irrespective of what we or anyone else might wish or dream or conjecture being true, or for that matter, completely irrespective of what might even be determinable or what might altogether never be at all).
At the heart of science are its foundations. Genuine science – that which is genuinely the pursuit of nature's truths – has its foundations in a body of ideas called "theoretical physics." And, anything that purports to be science positively MUST be consistent with this body of ideas (again, theoretical physics),because if it is not, then it is instead, something else, but, unquestionably, not real, genuine science.
Now, since we are faced with the reality that we must address the subject of theoretical physics if we are to describe and explain nature more accurately, we are compelled to ask, how in the world can an understanding of nature's truths enrich one's life experience? What exactly are the benefits that an understanding of quantum mechanics, based upon an understanding of relativity, yields that can be applied in everyday practice? How can the contemplation of the motion of subatomic particles, particles that are far too small to ever be seen and whose existence can only be inferred, improve our participation in the big motions occurring around us and in us? Why learn such a seemingly abstract subject? Inescapably, to truly even begin to approach understanding nature's truths, one MUST grasp its most fundamental foundations, which is what theoretical physics is.
Theoretical physics and its eloquent explanations, physical theory for short, describe nature in as accurate and hence, in as truthful a way as it has ever been described ever. This is to say, that physical theory's description of nature is absolutely the very best mirroring of reality – meaning all reality, every last bit of it there is – that has ever existed, far surpassing in accuracy any others that anyone has ever proposed. As a matter of fact, after nearly a century of repeated testing, this theoretical model has never failed to mirror reality better than any other description ever conceived – not once; it always works – every single time, regardless of how many times it is put to the test, and irrespective of how rigorous the test might be. In short, theoretical physics is completely failure free (although it should be mentioned that the application of our interpretations of it certainly are not). And, oh yes, absolutely anyone who can read, count, and imagine a concept called “perpendicular” can eventually come to understand this failure-free body of ideas that describes nature better than any others that there have ever been. To be perfectly clear, anyone at all can grasp theoretical physics conceptually – provided they have the desire and opportunity to do so(the web site www.chongonation.com is dedicated to providing the opportunity to learn physical theory – both inside and outside of the classroom).
Again, anyone who can read,count, and imagine the simple concept of perpendicular can learn and eventually come to understand the fundamental set of ideas that underlie the foundations of theoretical physics; that is, provided they want badly enough to do so, and more importantly, provided that they are fully willing to ignore everything that they might think is true about reality – absolutely every last thing– in order to do so. In actual fact, the better one can ignore their presumptions about what is true in nature, the more easily and rapidly physical theory can be understood. This point – ignoring ones presumptions – is absolutely critical to understanding and cannot be over emphasized. If the reader is unwilling to abandon the presumptions inherent to their conventional thinking – all of them – then they will simply hinder the ease with which these new ideas can be learned. Ignoring the firm patterns of our conventional thinking is the key to learning the subject of theoretical physics. To be clear, the more that can be ignored, the more easily and quickly nature's ways are grasped. If we can manage to forget old ideas, then indeed we are in a position to replace them with new, true, and much, much richer ones, which are the very kind of ideas that the study of theoretical physics provides in such overwhelming abundance.
Now, ignoring every last thing we think is true about reality leaves us asking: how can we ignore “everything” that we think is true about reality when it is this very knowledge that has brought us to the point of even being capable of understanding and hence explaining nature in a new, true, and richer way using physical theory in the first place (as we are doing now)? We can ignore all the knowledge leading us here by recognizing that it is this very knowledge itself that brought us (humankind) to this point of even seeking deeper explanations and that, to that end, now compels us to ignore what has served us so well as to bring us to the point of recognizing that this very knowledge that brought us here can now only impede us from achieving the very understanding that we seek.
Though we must ignore the notions that ultimately allow us to ask why, we likewise should admire them for having brought us to the point of doing so, despite their shortcomings. Different knowledge may have never brought us to the point of recognizing its shortcomings and hence could instead have achieved either a great deal less or much, much worse than the knowledge that was our fortune. At least it finally saw what was true in the foundations of nature, just as we will begin to do by first learning the basic ideas that underlie a magnificent human achievement called the Theory of Relativity (and then several issues from this one, take these basic ideas one step further, by later exploring the Theory of Quantum Mechanics, the other "half" of theoretical physics, and discovering the amazing things that it demonstrates about the rich character of nature).
Learning the 'relativity' of space and time measures with respect to motion is the first step toward recognizing just how far our knowledge has taken us, and the depth of the questions that it has answered and is yet capable of answering still. Most remarkably, reality is, in actual fact, even more rich, complex, and amazing – indeed it is infinitely richer – than any conventional description of it could ever be. We will take the first steps toward exploring all of this, in the articles that follow in subsequent issues of this publication (six per year).
We have answered why we must learn theoretical physics in order to understand, explain, and accurately identify nature's truths. This however does not answer why we should, individually, choose for ourselves to embark upon the effort needed to gain such an understanding of nature as physical theory provides. So, what are the practical rewards?
The most practical and tangible reward that an accurate conceptual understanding of theoretical physics renders is that it makes understanding everything that 'is' reality much easier too, than does a lack of such an understanding. Having it, we can consider nature's phenomena using altogether new ways of thinking and using ideas that we very likely (unless we already possess them) may have NEVER imagined before. Remarkably, by having this understanding, we can even shape our very wants, by understanding 'why' it is that we even 'want' at all. That is to say, a genuine understanding of physical science renders completely newways of dealing with the world, ways that can provide the mind with completely new ideas and wholly new concepts upon which to base its (i.e. our) decisions, ideas and concepts that would simply never exist in our old ways of thinking (unless these old ways incorporate a valid theoretical model).
In understanding the pursuit of truth – which is what, again, genuine science is – we gain intellectual tools that we may have imagined only others ever being capable of possessing – not us. But 'we', meaning anyone, can possess these tools too! Armed with them, we (anyone) can begin to see nature's founding design – it is a mystery only to the uninformed and unfortunate. Beyond this illusion of mystery lies the elegant, abstract beauty that nature's design encompasses.
From the point of view of those individuals who have invested the effort necessary and thus acquired an understanding of physical theory, gaining it is as worthwhile an endeavor as one could ever pursue. According to this view, achieving an understanding of the founding principles, upon which nature – indeed, upon which existence – is based, matches the thrill of living the most exciting adventure, the satisfaction that comes from solving the most elusive puzzle, or the fulfillment of gratifying the deepest passion. Indeed, such an understanding of the physical world can be bliss itself.
And don't worry, theoretical physics is as true as any fact. It's just as factually true as lasers, cell phones, televisions, computers, satellites, and microwave ovens are, because theoretical physics is precisely the very reason why such 'practical' tools even exist – an irrefutable fact. See, that's why a scientific theory is stronger than fact. A theory describes all facts, even future ones. And, it takes only a single contradicting fact to make a scientific theory something weaker. So far, no contradicting facts have yet to be identified. For about a century now, when physical theory was finally refined to the impeccable point that it is now, physical theory has been stronger than any facts yet ever presented by anyone. Sadly however, facts are often not stronger than the pressures that tradition, fear, and ambition can force upon the human condition.