Monday, August 26, 2013

[PHI 3800] The Science of Fortune Cookies

According to Alex Rosenberg and Tyler Curtain:
When we put a satellite in orbit around Mars, we have the scientific knowledge that guarantees accuracy and precision in the prediction of its orbit. Achieving a comparable level of certainty about the outcomes of an economy is far dicier. The fact that the discipline of economics hasn’t helped us improve our predictive abilities suggests it is still far from being a science, and may never be.
Even though it "uses quantitative expression in mathematics," Rosenberg and Curtain argue, economics "lacks the most important of science's characteristics — a record of improvement in predictive range and accuracy."

Let's suppose that predictive success is a characteristic of science, as Rosenberg and Curtain argue. What kind of characteristic is predictive success supposed to be? Is it a necessary characteristic such that a theory counts as a scientific theory only if it makes accurate predictions (which is why economics is not a science, according to Rosenberg and Curtain)? Is it a sufficient characteristic such that any theory that makes accurate predictions is a scientific theory? Or is it both necessary and sufficient such that a theory is a scientific theory if and only if it makes accurate predictions?

In other words, which of the following, if any, is true?
  1. Theory T is a scientific theory only if T makes accurate predictions.
  2. If T makes accurate predictions, then T is a scientific theory.
  3. T is a scientific theory if and only if T makes accurate predictions.
To think about these questions, consider the following. Suppose that the following recipe allows us to make fortune cookies that make accurate predictions:

Recipe: 3 eggs white; 3/4 cup white sugar; 1/2 cup butter; 1/4 cup vanilla; 1 cup flour

That is, this recipe allows us to make fortune cookies that make accurate predictions in much the same way that Newtonian mechanics allows us to send satellites into orbit. If we get the ingredients and/or amounts wrong, e.g., if we put 2 instead of 3 eggs, then the fortune cookies would not make accurate predictions, just as if we get the calculations wrong, the satellite would crash rather than go into orbit.

"Your next article will be published in the best philosophy of science journal."

Now, the question is this: does this recipe for making fortune cookies that make accurate predictions meet the condition of predictive success? If so, is this recipe a scientific theory?

1 comment:

  1. In my opinion, I think that for a theory to be a scientific theory, accurate prediction is a necessary characteristic. We cannot have a fallible scientific theory because science is suppose to make advances. Without making accurate prediction, the theory would not be useful because there is in no way that anyone can know what the outcome would be.
    Regarding the question concerning the recipe for fortune cookie, I would not say that it is a scientific theory. Yes, accurate prediction is necessary but it is not the only condition for a theory to become a scientific theory. I think there are other criteria that must be met in order for a theory to be scientific.
    The first, not so important reason, is that theory is never exact. They are inductively valid but not deductively meaning there will always be a leeway to make the theory more complete. This is the reason why science progress. If theories are exact, we would not have scientific progress. One might argue that the above recipe can also be rendered and be played around but according to the example, the recipe is exact.
    The more important criteria is that scientific theories are meant to make novel predictions. For example: the electromagnetic theory not only give us remotes to control our machines but also radios and televisions. But whenever I put all the above ingredients, I will always get a fortune cookie but not a cake.


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