Punchinello’s Chronicles

October 12, 2008

Some Facts about Theories

Filed under: Word of the Day — Punchinello @ 10:21 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

How many times have you said, or heard someone say that their theory about this or that is something? Someone might say, “Well, my theory is that the Republicans are all evil monsters.” Someone else might say that their theory is that only liberals live in Hollywood. Are those theories?

People used to understood that an unproved but reasoned propostion is called a hypothesis. A blanket statement with no reasoning but a lot of strong feeling behind it is called an assertion.

That was back in the days when science was actually taught in schools, and the scientific method was clearly understood. A hypothesis is a reasoned statement, based on observations, with a proposed explanation for what’s being observed.

When a hypothesis is tested, it yields some sort of results. If the results contradict the proposition, then the experiment shows the hypothesis was wrong. However; if the experiment succeeds, it must then be repeated. When repeated experiments also succeed, the hypothesis moves up a notch and becomes a theory.

In other words, a hypothesis describes a possible explanation of things. But that doesn’t mean a willy-nilly, off the wall pronouncement, based on “anything’s possible.” The hypothesis more often is a reasoned assessment of what might be probably true.

A theory is a well-documented explanation of events that has been repeatedly tested. The explanation sufficiently explains events in such a way that it can even predict what will happen in similar circumstances. A theory isn’t a fundamental principle, though.

One of the basic characteristics of a theory is that it must explain ALL observed events. We can’t just pick and choose which events, when they take place, and how they happen, then build a theory around those exclusive observations.

For example, my theory of mathematics is that any time you divide the number 4, you always come up with 2 and 2. Because I can prove that this takes place in every case, I say that whenever any number is divided, the result will always be 2 and 2.

There’s only one problem with the theory: How come when you divide 4 by 3 you don’t get the predicted results?

Well, that’s an exception, I say. Okay, suppose you divide 5 in some way and end up with a group of 1’s? That too is an exception, in my opinion.

Before you know it, my theory is built on entire libraries of exceptions. No single explanation of mathematics and division holds true in all cases or even a majority of cases. Exception after exception must be written into the theory.

There’s a popular book, “The Secret,” which purports to offer a theory of the universe. The basic thesis is that if you want something strongly enough, you’ll get what you want. The universe in some undefined way, acts toward giving you whatever you want, whenever you want it, simply by your creating a desire.

Unfortunately, example after example demonstrates that wanting something isn’t sufficient to get that something. Well, that’s the fault of the person wanting something, they would argue. The person didn’t want enough, didn’t inject enough passion or feeling. True: but the number of exceptions is so large, how can this be a functional theory?

Many people have a theory that Mr. Obama will bring about changes to the federal government system. Is this a reasoned assessment based on anything at all? Is this a theory, or a hypothesis? Has there been any sort of experiment where Mr. Obama has successfully produced a change? Perhaps as the Senator from Illinois such an experiment took place?

The results of the existing experiment, repeated time and again, show that Mr. Obama has changed nothing at all. He has indeed brought more money to Illinois and to his own bank account, but that’s not the experiment we’re discussing. We’re discussing his capability to induce change to the federal government system. No such change has taken place.

Well, that’s the exception, people say. The government must not have wanted enough to change. Mr. Obama really really really wanted to make a change, and according to the theory of the universe, that should have been sufficient. So too, Ms. Clinton really really really wanted to be the Presidential candidate. That too was insufficient wanting.

A theory must work in all cases. Only in very rare and clearly defined conditions can there be an exception. But nothing at all can contradict the theory. Otherwise, the theory collapses and we’re left with no explanation at all for events until someone proposes a new hypothesis.



  1. I wanted to make a general comment about both campaigns. First of all, I’ve mentioned this before, but out of all the Republican party leaning blogs I’ve read, yours is about the only one that isn’t hysterical, nutty, and full of key words like: “Socialists” and so-forth. So I respect your stance and wish that other Republicans showed as much intelligence.

    But in regards to this race, Mccain crossed the line big time. Last week’s outburst of threatening shouts from a number of rallies, like: ” Kill Him!” and “Terrorist!”, or in a Florida Rally- a black cameraman being told to : ” Sit down, Boy!” show a nasty underside that many thought had hopefully gone extinct. That Mccain only briefly calmed down his rhetoric after having had it brought to his attention shows to me a man who has some serious management flaws. These rallies are inexcusable. What little trust and respect I had for him is now long gone.

    Additionally, his VP was found guilty of abusing her powers. Not exactly what I would call Presidential qualities. Mccain has struck out. Then again, I could be totally wrong. The masses of this country seems to have had a penchant for electing woefully inadequate, uneducated, ignorant politicians to wreck the country for the last 8 years. So I’m still prepared to be amazed at our own stupidity. That Mccain is still actually holding as much a sway in the polls is incredible.

    In regards to Obama being someone who brings difference, well lets look at it in another way. For example, numerous international polls show that Obama is favored by an enormous margine over Mccain. In fact, the enthusiasm for Obama is such that people from the UK, Australia, and other countries have come to the US to help Obama’s campaign. Many might say: ” well.. who cares what people in France think. Screw em’!” But if you want change on what is unquestionably a global economy and community, then it greatly helps the political influence of the US to have a President who is internationally respected. When other around the world see Mccain, whether this is fair or not they see the exact same kind of person whos been President forever: Another old white guy with a devout following of conservatives.

    Will Obama change the US? Who knows. He hasn’t won yet. But change in many people’s eyes is largely based in perception. Obama has that perception.

    Comment by bob — October 13, 2008 @ 1:14 pm | Reply

  2. Of all the possible ways to evaluate a US President, the number of foreign countries (and populations) who want that candidate is probably the very lowest concern. The United States (for the moment) is the only international super-power. American dollars are the de facto monetary standard, and our economic power drives the rest of the world (mostly export based). Whether or not Mr. Obama has the so-called approval of foreign countries is in my mind irrelevant.

    That being said, neither candidate is worth much of anything in relation to leadership, a clear agenda, statesmanship, and conservative principles. For much of the past half century, the US has gotten the best government money can buy, and I don’t see that changing.

    As with most life situations, we seldom learn when things are going well, and most often learn important lessons only with the pain and suffering of major catastrophe. I suspect America as a nation will have to go through that type of trauma before we’ll start managing things more rationally.

    Comment by Punchinello — October 13, 2008 @ 2:03 pm | Reply

  3. Thanks for your well-rounded response. But I don’t agree that international perception is not without importance. Presidents,Prime Ministers,Generals, and others are the playing pieces of a country on an international chess board. I don’t think that its unfair to say that the US has lost much ground internationally. This isn’t attributed just to one President, but probably numerous presidents dating back several decades.

    from a merely topical personal opinion, electing someone totally different ( A younger,African American man with a funny name) would send a strong message to the world. We claim to be a country that acts like a melting pot, where all races, religions, and ethnic groups come to live. Yet we’ve mainly had older white men as leaders and held Christianity as the supreme religion of a country full of various religions. To have a person such as Obama as a leader, it completes the statement that the US is in fact diverse and capable of getting along as a country of different backgrounds.

    But this is just a coincidence. If Mccain were young and black and Obama was white and old ( basically if they swapped bodies but kept their minds) I’d vote for Mccain. Obama’s campaign from day one has been run like a well-oiled machine. That to me shows organization and leadership skills. Not only that, but he seems to really understand the issues as well as the people around him. Lastly, it seems like Mccain has desperately tried to pull multiple tricks to alter the race. In each case, whether it be running off to Washington and trying to cancel the first debate, or slinging copious amounts of mud, these tricks have failed mainly because even though it would be easy to assume Obama would be forced to react in an equally forceful manner, he instead keeps his cool, almost assured that things will turn out the right way. This is how you run a country. You observe threats, challenges, and problems, look at it as a whole, and then make your move. I see careful thinking on his part while Mccain seems to be panicking.

    But in the end, I get what you’re saying. Leaders in most respects do not often live up to their promises. Perhaps they promise pie in the sky, but you’d be lucky to get a sliver. I doubt if either of these two men get elected that we’ll see much of any change insofar as revolutionizing the country.

    Comment by bob — October 13, 2008 @ 2:57 pm | Reply

  4. The US doesn’t need to gain or lose ground internationally. Of the international community, only China and Russia expend a significant amount of money on a military. Everyone else just hopes that America will “somehow” take care of any big problems.

    We spend a huge portion of our overall GDP on military and defesne systems. The result is that we can pretty much handle many conflicts in multiple locations. Nobody else wants to spend that money, and then they complain about American power and bullying. But when something blows up in the world, the rest of those countries come running for help.

    To say that America has lost “ground” internationally isn’t really meaningful. All anyone needs to do is look at the domino effect of the world economies as the US economy goes into contraction. Anyone with power will ALWAYS be resented by those without power. That’s human nature, and applies to whole countries just as much.

    The solution is NOT to strip away power. No CEO is going to convert to a simple democracy just because the employees of the company gripe and complain. Any CEO who does this will bankrupt thc company, if they’re not fired before doing so.

    Comment by Punchinello — October 13, 2008 @ 3:48 pm | Reply

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