Sorry, theories are not derived from pure observation alone

“The belief that science proceeds from observation to theory is still so widely and so firmly held that my denial of it is often met with incredulity. I have even been suspected of being insincere- of denying what nobody in his senses would doubt.
But in fact the belief that we can start with pure observation alone, without anything in the nature of a theory is absurd; as may be illustrated by the story of the man who dedicated his life to natural science, wrote down everything he could observe, and bequeathed his priceless collection of observations to the Royal Society to be used as evidence. This story should show us that though beetles may profitably be collected, observations may not.
Twenty-five years ago I tried to bring home the same point to a group of physics students in Vienna by beginning a lecture with the following instructions : ‘Take pencil and paper; carefully observe, and write down what you have observed!’ They asked, of course, what I wanted them to observe. Clearly the instruction, ‘Observe!’ is absurd. (It is not even idiomatic, unless the object of the transitive verb can be taken as understood.) Observation is always selective. It needs a chosen object, a definite task, an interest, a point of view, a problem. And its description presupposes a descriptive language, with property words; it presupposes similarity and classification, which in their turn presuppose interests, points of view, and problems.”
Karl Popper, ‘Conjectures and Refutations’.

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I disagree with that conclusion. We can theorize about abstract concepts, but “observation” is necessary to “discover” reality, even if it is incrementally.
Plato’s cave?
What about that early human who looked up and observed the rest of the universe and asked “what is that”?

Observation always precedes the “question” and consequent interpretation (theory).

Note that the term “observation” has several definitions.

The Observer in Modern Physics

Some Personal Speculations

The phenomena of the cosmos require an observer in order to be learned about and understood by us. The observer can take many forms, for example:

  1. A person watching amoeba through a microscope
  2. A person watching an ocean sunset
  3. A spacecraft monitoring a distant asteroid (and transmitting data to earth)
  4. A person conducting an experiment in a laboratory

The ideal observer is one who causes no unnecessary perturbations to the system being observed. An observation made by such an observer is called an objective observation. In our school physics and chemistry, we routinely assume that our observations are objective.

But reality seldom, if ever, provides us with ideals. The real observer always causes an unnecessary perturbation of some kind. Scientists must remain alert in their efforts to minimize the magnitudes of these perturbations. The extent to which they succeed determines the level of confidence they can claim in their results and, therefore, the certainty they can expect in their knowledge of things.

In the 20th century, physics was forced into the position of re-evaluating the role of the observer, both in relativity and in quantum mechanics.

In relativity, the absolutes of Newtonian physics were banished, and observations obtained by observers in different frames of reference became all that was available. These observations were linked through a system of coordinate transformations.

more … Observer in Modern Physics

However , Penrose has proposed that change happens even when “unobserved by humans”, where the interacting components themselves are the observers.

But without observation there can be no cognition and or hypothesis of what was observed.

Human observation is subjectively limited. Does anybody feel the speed by which the earth orbits the sun? Only observation of related motion in the entire solar system, can show the movement.
The rest is measurement. And apparently, our observation and measurements of the solar system does not affect the orbits of the planets one iota.

I figured you might. But you don’t offer much in terms of why.

Is about how our minds have a complex system of beliefs about what we are observing on the cave wall.

What? Where did they get the concept of a “that” that is out there? Why did they think they could query the universe?

These seem supportive of what I said.

The recorded agressive response of an Alpha Chimp protecting his troupe from the ravages of a thunderstorm with thunder, lightning, and rain.
You know, the natural events triggered by “unseen forces in the sky”? The first gods!

Chimpanzees Dance in the Rain

Occasionally several males will charge through the rain together, taking turns displaying in an exaggerated fashion. Legendary chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall once commented, after observing a 20 minute rain dance by 6 males, “My enthusiasm was not merely scientific as I watched, enthralled…. I could only watch, and marvel at the magnificence of these splendid creatures. With a display of strength and vigor such as this, primitive man himself might have challenged the elements.”

more… Chimpanzees Dance in the Rain

Of course, apes know nothing of “elements”. To them all natural events are “caused” by hidden enemies in the sky, to be feared or respected. The beginnings of religion.

[quote=“lausten, post:3, topic:10689”]
Is about how our minds have a complex system of beliefs about what we are observing on the cave wall.

Exactly, key phrase here is “observing on the cave wall”.

The key phrase is “having a system of beliefs”. You’re doing the thing I’m describing; claiming your conclusions are accurate based on your prior knowledge. There are many possible interpretations of the cave wall and the thunderstorms. The second part of Plato’s Cave story wouldn’t make sense if there weren’t. The Alpha Chimp wouldn’t have to protect the others if all them agreed on his interpretation.

I agree with all of that but it does not alter the fact that Plato’s Cave demonstrated that observation (of 2D ghosts) was a result of observation (shadows on a wall).

There is no belief without knowledge from experience (observation). I stipulate that there can be false beliefs in abstract ideas that do not lend themselves to observation.
But then there is “lack of knowledge”, such as the gradual refinement of the theory of Gravity.

Once we believed that the Earth was the center of the solar system because everything else appeared to be moving in relation to the earth. From deeper observation (and measurement) we discovered that not only was the sun the gravitational center of the solar system, but that the entire solar system was in motion and that the entire Milkyway Galaxie is in motion, etc, etc.

Hence the theory (belief in that model) that the entire Universe is a dynamical object and everything is in motion, all the time, a far cry from Plato’s 2D cave or Alpha Chimp ritually defending his family from the unseen enemy that makes loud noises, and throws fire and water down from the heavens to make everybody miserable.

Apparently you don’t agree. Obsevation can’t be a result of observation. The story starts with the people concluding that the shadows are reality and there is no “outside”. Their conclusion is based on a series of theories the people in the cave have and accept as true.

Right they did not know better and therefore the “observation” of 2D shadows gave them a false belief system.

And extending the evolutionary trajectory, at some point they leave the cave and observe the rest of the universe and begin to question the greater reality than what they had previously observed.
But it is all moot.

Without prior observational memory there is no cognition of any kind. Reality emerges during the comparison and filtering processing of incoming data with “known” data in memory. New data is often missed. This is called “selective attention”, and is an evolving survival mechanism.

In humans, this programming (of the brain) begins at birth and takes some 20 years of observing and cataloging before fully matured and maximum efficiency of data processing.

In short, all models must have the same “common denominators” to fit actual “observation” (testing). Human “common denominator” is the visible spectrum. Many insects live in a reality with different color spectrums, inra-red, ultra-violet, absolutely different realities than what humans experience. How does a spider with 8 eyes see the world?

I cannot imagine what that creature experiences in this world.
We have different memories of reality

The role of selective attention on academic foundations: A cognitive neuroscience perspective

That’s what I’m saying. That supports my statement that theories are not derived purely from observations.

I would argue that all human Theory or the desire to understand is derived from prior observation (in its broadest sense).
And of course in physics the term observer applies to all participant components.

IMO, for humans , in a dynamic universe (environment), it is the observable change over time that gives rise to speculation and if supported by evidence becomes a hypothesis, then a proposal , and finally theory (subject to refinement).

In nature it is “natural selection” that provides many, if not all the answers to these profound questions that start at the chemical level.

I love Sci-Fi, but imaginary storytelling is not theory. But it turns out that whatever humans learn from observation is only because the function exists in the abstract as a necessary logical component of evolution and the reality we can “experience” makes us able to “adjust” our behavior in response to external irritants.

Humans have the extraordinary ability to use observations to predict the future expectation of a natural selection event.

This can readily be proved by Fowl exhibits of varieties of wild and radically different domesticated chicken species in just a relatively few generations

The observer effect is not relevant to this

As you point out, we can use incredibly sophisticated science and instruments to get into that world.

Here’s a nice summary, and that little fella gets a few paragraphs. Pretty fascinating all that’s going on inside that little head.

Carry on :popcorn: :man_factory_worker:

I do agree that humans have reached well beyond the confines of our bodies well beyond anything else. We can’t grasp what the spider is thinking, but we can see how it’s neurons and sensing organs operate and organize.

Key phrase: “we can see how…”, i.e observe and from that, predict the future. And according to Tegmark, we should have all the tools for discovering the human neural network and how it functions.

Even imaginary tales are usually based on a perceived potential principle.
Unless it is “magic”, then anything goes. Yogi Bear and Pink Unicorns?

I agree, but in context of hypotheses based on “knowledge”, those can only be the result of observation.

We can do abstract mathematical theory without observation, so in that respect we start with the maths and “infer” a function, such as teasing a Higgs boson from the Higgs field.