[FOM] Frank Quinn article in January Notices

Walt Read walt.read at gmail.com
Wed Dec 28 18:21:49 EST 2011

On Tue, Dec 27, 2011 at 1:55 PM, Monroe Eskew <meskew at math.uci.edu> wrote:
> confusion can result from muddying the distinction between statements P and statements about P such as "We reject P," "We
> believe P," "P is provable," etc.

> Monroe

This is particularly useful a distinction because I think a lot of
confusion is coming from conflating math and physics. Insofar as
scientific statements P are necessarily falsifiable, it makes little
sense to speak of them as true or false. We might speak of them as
approximations, as we do with classical physics, or as compatible with
observations, as we do with QM or GTR (but maybe not both together),
but the closest we can come to "true" is "makes pretty accurate
predictions as far as we can tell so far". Whatever the facts of any
actual reality "out there", we only have contingent models and the
choice of EM or not is the modeler's option, subject to that accurate
prediction thing. Even the - unfortunate - attempt to use
probabilistic language doesn't help here. If P is highly probable and
almost certainly implies Q, what can we say about the likelihood of Q?
Almost nothing. Reasoning in physics or probability is a different
beast - at best we have belief, not knowledge - although talking about
(modeling) that reasoning might be of a more conventional logical

The situation is different in math. While some will argue that
mathematical statements are little different from physics statements,
it's also possible and common to claim that mathematical objects have
an objective existence and that we somehow have direct accurate
knowledge of that reality. In that case it makes sense to say that a
statement is true and not just "true enough".


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