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Karl Popper’s Theories and Falsification

Karl Popper has been acknowledged as the founder of various views in the fields of biology and ecology for his principal ideas regarding theory and confirmation. Many scientists consider Popper the hero of Philosophy. His views have contributed to new ideals and theories in addition to renovating and bringing a new perspective to others. Popper’s point of view of how theories should be tested and how the concept of confirmation does not exist has given him great attention. However, not all have approved or have even tried to comprehend Popper’s ideas. Many scientists have criticized his work, and don’t find a place in science for his ideas, such as Falsification (Godfrey- Smith 57). Although his ideas have been greatly accepted in many areas by many scientist, Popper’s thesis of confirmation being a myth brings many complications in science and demonstrate that science is somewhat rational and a difficult to pursue.

Before one can understand Popper’s ideas of confirmation and falsification, one first has to look at what started it all–the problem of demarcation. Popper diligently studied the methods and theories of various scientists. From there he came to the conclusion that, “It was precisely this fact-that they always fitted, that they were always confirmed-which in the eye of their admirers constituted the strongest argument in favour of these theories. It began to dawn on me that this apparent strength was in fact their weakness” (BR 297). Popper notices that these scientists’ strongest point in the whole process is their ability to confirm their own theory. He continues to tell scientist, “If a theory takes no risks at all, because it is compatible with every possible observation, then it is not scientific” (58). Throughout his explanation, Popper emphasizes the necessity of having a risky theory. So far, Popper insists that scientist should challenge themselves with risky theories as well as to state that confirmation is a not correct.

In the Philosophy of Science by Yuri Balashov and Alex Rosenberg, Popper has been stated to say that previous scientists, instead of accepting their theories to be false, they rather interpret their results of the experiment and try to assimilate it to the theory. From there, Popper brought the idea of confirmation being a myth since, he believed, “It is never possible to confirm a theory, not even slightly, and no matter how many observations the theory predicts successfully… Popper placed great emphasis on the idea that we can never be completely sure that a theory is true” (GS 59). Popper views science as irrational because of the methods use to verify theories. In addition, he shares his thoughts of identifying the difference between unscientific theories and those that are scientific. That’s where Popper provides the problem of demarcation. He stated that scientist should draw a line to determine what makes a theory or a claim scientific.

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Seeing that Popper disproves the method of confirmation, he gives scientists an alternative, one that focuses on his beliefs of falsification. In Theory and Reality, Peter Godfrey-Smith states Popper’s method:

So Popper had a fairly simple view of how testing in science proceeds. We take a theory that someone has proposed, and we deduce an observational prediction from it. We then check to see if the prediction comes out as the theory says it will. If the prediction fails, then we refuted, or falsified, the theory. If the prediction does come out as predicted, then all we should say is that we have not yet falsified the theory. For Popper, we cannot conclude that the theory is true, or that it is probably true, or even that is more likely to be true than it was before the test. The theory might be true, but we can’t say more than that” (59-60).

Many scientists thought that Popper’s methods were the complete opposite of rational, and rather than “confirming” the theory in question, he left the theory unsolvable, hence complicating the results and the process more. However, theories that have withstand years or even decades as confirmed, can create errors in decades to come since technology and new ways of verification are emerging. Thus, Popper’s test of falsification can provide over and over again the reassurance that those theories are not falsifiable and that the results matches the predictions. One things was clear, Popper did not want “To react to the falsification of one conjecture by cooking up a new conjecture that is designed to just avoid the problems revealed by earlier testing, and which goes no further” (GS 61). This would simply overrule everything the previous claim was falsifiable for, thus making the claim exhausted overtime as well as unscientific.

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Nevertheless, Popper’s intake on confirmation was widely rejected and several provided objections to his believes regarding confirmation. To explain in detail one of the several objections against Popper’s view, Peter Godfrey Smith presents an example. Godfrey Smith supposes that a bridge will be built and a well structured theory of a design needs to be used. He states:

Popper can say why we should prefer to use a theory that has not been falsified over a theory that has been falsified. Theories that have been falsified have been shown to be false(here again I ignore the problem discussed in the previous section). But suppose we have to choose between (1) a theory that has been tested many times and has passed every test, and (2) a brand new theory that just been conjectured and has never been tested. Neither theory has been falsified. We would ordinarily think that the rational thing to do is to choose the theory that has survived testing. (67)

In this matter, Popper does somewhat agree with all those objecting, that he has had difficulty with his view when applied to this situation. When analyzing the previous problem, one can see it is irrational to choose 2 over 1 since the theory that has been proven to successful in every test will generate a more positive response. What Popper is clearly trying to demonstrate with his bizarre choice is that no matter how well proven a theory is, it does not provide the guarantee that it will be, once again, successful if chosen. Even though scientists are taking a huge risk if they choose the theory which never been tested, how can science evolve if scientist are not taking these risks? All through evolution, there has been a constant risk from various scientists, providing their drastically and completely different point of views. Hasn’t that been the process all these years?

Popper takes things to a whole different level when he brings out the concept of corroboration. He proclaims that once an issue as the one previously mentioned, one should select a corroborated theory over those that have not been corroborated. The reason is that the theories that have been tested and have survived through time are corroborated. Peter Godfrey-Smith provides the new idea as:

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An academic transcript says what you have done. It measures your past performances, but it does not contain explicit predictions about what you will do in the future. A letter of recommendation usually says something about what you have done, and it also claims about how you are likely to do in the future. Confirmation, as understood by the logical empiricists, is something like a letter of recommendation for a scientific theory. Corroboration, for Popper, is only like an academic transcript. And Popper thought that no good reasons could be given for believing that past performances is a reliable guide to the future. (68)

What one needs to understand from corroboration is that even if it’s a theory which has not been tested at all, we shouldn’t regard it as a theory that will not bring results. In order for scientist to prove whether a non-tested theory is correct or proper for the situation, one needs to give it an opportunity to prove itself. Otherwise, when will we know if that particular theory was better than the one that’s been tested numerous times? However, we continue to choose the one which has been tested, since this is the one that scientists most trust and which has had no problems. Popper’s claims when applied to life situations are not reasonable since they can’t provide evidence or any kind of connection between the various issues. Thus, a pursuit for further explanation or analysis can be debatable since many of the claims and believes are completely useless when put to the test.

Popper’s pursuit to find a line distinction between what is considered science and what is not, brought various problems. It is irrational to speculate or refer falsification as a divider of theories. Falsification doesn’t provide scientist with assurance that a theory will ever be completely tested. It will only continue to leave us in the same place where we started. So why waste our time trying to falsified theories?