A question of reality.


"Phaedrus' break occurred when, as a result of laboratory experience, he became interested in hypotheses as entities in themselves. He had noticed again and again in his lab work that what might seem to be the hardest part of scientific work, thinking, up the hypotheses, was invariably the easiest. The act of formally writing everything down precisely and clearly seemed to suggest them As he was testing hypothesis number one by experimental method a flood of other hypotheses would come to mind, and as he was testing these, some more came to mind, and as he was testing these, still more came to mind until it became painfully evident that as he continued testing hypotheses and eliminating them or confirming them their number did not decrease. It actually increased as he went along.

At first he found it amusing. He coined a law tended to have the humor of a Parkinson's law that “The number of rational hypotheses that can explain any given phenomenon is infinite." It pleased him never to run out of hypotheses. Even when his experimental work seemed dead‑end in every conceivable way, he knew that if he just sat down and muddled about it long enough, sure enough, another hypothesis would come along. And it always did. It was only months  after he had coined the law that he began to have some doubts about the humor or benefits of it.

If true, that law is not a minor flaw in scientific reasoning. The law is completely nihilistic. It is a catastrophic logical disproof of the general validity of all scientific method!

If the purpose of scientific method is to select from among a multitude of hypotheses, and if the number of hypotheses grows faster than experimental method can handle, then it is clear that all hypotheses can never be tested. If all hypotheses cannot be tested, then the results of any experiment are inconclusive and the entire scientific method falls short of its goal of establishing proven knowledge.     

And so Phaedrus, who at the age of fifteen had finished his freshman year of science was at the age of seventeen expelled from the University for failing grades. Immaturity and inattention to studies were given as official causes."

The above quote is from "Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance" by Robert Pirsig. The book is in part the story of a gifted savant who was thrown out of university at age 17 for failing to recognise a good con when he saw one.

The book was first published in 1974, and I believe it has remained continuously in print. It has been read by thousands of scientists and academics since then. No one to my knowledge has ever tried to refute Phaedrus's theorem, probably because it is mostly true, and if the University system is unable to refute it they will do nothing so as not to draw attention to it. A truer version would be that as the number of items of data under consideration tends to 1, the number of proveable hypotheses tends to infinite. Equally, as the number of items of data tend to infinite ultimately only 1 hypothesis can be formed. The real problem with science is "original sin" - "sampling of the tree of knowlege". That's why science is broken up into lots of little sciences so that they can all draw different truths from the same data. And that is why the creator of the universe gave us this wonderfull big virtual brain so that no matter how complex the problem we have the facility to amass and review all relevent data.

And while the academics fail to refute Phaedrus's law, the number of students studying science and maths slowly declines, and westerners in particular seek truth from other sources.

This phenomena has been demonstrated with our understanding of mental illness. While we have dozens of "illnesses", each based on a small number of symptoms, we can have multiple mental illnesses. However, if we find a model big enough to embrace all mental illnesses, including "normal", then the cause and cure is staring us in the face.

I wonder how many myths there are in science? About as many as there are hypotheses, I guess.