Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On Proof and Evidence

Words, words

Sometimes – actually oftentimes – we can get pretty sloppy and careless in our use of words.

Take the use of the words “proof” and “evidence”. Proof and evidence, like speed and velocity, or theory and guess, have colloquial definitions that often lead to confusion. In order to smooth the progress of communication and avoid misunderstanding, these words have been given technical definitions in science and philosophy. For example, speed is defined as the magnitude of velocity; the latter is a vector, the former is the scalar magnitude of that vector. Also, a scientific theory is not simply a guess; rather, it is a system of ideas constructed from a verified set of generalizations and observations. In the same way, scientists and philosophers use the words proof and evidence to designate two very different things. For example, we prove a mathematical theorem instead of “finding evidences” for its truth, while we accumulate the evidence for a particular scientific theory but we never “prove” a theory.

What’s the difference? The distinction is best illustrated by examples.

About the Blogger

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Quezon City, Philippines
Pecier Carpena Decierdo is a male specimen of the primate species homo sapiens. According to Pecier, one of his main goals in life is the justification of his species’ name. Close proximity to his most preferred carbon based life form, Rose Anne, causes Pecier’s brain to become saturated with phenylalanine, and being with the said Rose Anne is also known to bring about attacks of involuntary spasms called “laughter” in Pecier. Aside from Rose Anne, the subjects “philosophy”, “science” and “literature” are some of the other things that fire up his libido. He has so far survived twenty-two roundtrips aboard his home planet and he has no intentions of quitting soon.

Venerable Verses

The cloud-clapp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples, the great globe itself,

Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,

And like this insubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind: we are stuff

As dreams are made on; and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.

-William Shakespeare, The Tempest-

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