What Is a Scientific Theory?什麼是科學理論?

作者|Mark R. Crovelli
翻譯|蔡松源、李雨衡
來源|http://mises.org/daily/5860/What-Is-a-Scientific-Theory

Imagine for a moment that you are omniscient. Endowed with such knowledge, you would completely understand how the world “works." You would completely understand how light works, how molecules and atoms work, how genetics work, how tectonic plates work, and how the universe came into existence. There would be nothing about the social or natural worlds that you would not understand in its entirety.

試想某一天你變得無所不知。擁有這樣的能力,你能完全了解世界是如何運作的。你將完全明白光線的運行,分子和原子的運作,遺傳學的法則,板塊的運動,以及宇宙是如何產生的。無論是社會或自然界,你全都瞭若指掌。

在西方,「科學」這個概念,指以專業、有系統、不同學科得以相互驗證的方式,研究這個世界。(圖片來源﹕epSos.de@Flickr)

Were you endowed with such omniscience, you would have no use whatsoever for “science." You would have no need to study the world in a patient and systematic way, because you would already possess all the knowledge about the world that “science" could ever hope to yield. Science would not only bore you to tears; it would appear to be an imperfect and dreadfully tedious means to arrive at the knowledge you already possess.

如果擁有這種無所不知的智慧,「科學」將一無是處。你無需耐心的以系統性的方式來研究這世界,因為你已經擁有所有透過「科學」所能獲取的知識。科學將變得枯燥乏味;它似乎採取一種不完善且不堪繁瑣的手段,來獲取你已經擁有的知識。

Unfortunately, however, no human being possesses omniscience. We are born into the world without knowledge about how light works, how tectonic plates work, how atoms work, and how the universe came into existence. We also lack perfect knowledge about how capitalism and socialism work, how democracy and monarchy work, and how price controls work.

然而,不幸的,沒有人擁有無所不知的能力。我們出生時,並不了解光線的性質,板塊如何運動,原子如何運作,和宇宙是如何誕生的。我們也不知曉資本主義與社會主義如何運作,民主和君主立憲制如何產生,以及價格如何控制工作。

Our uncertainty about how the social and natural worlds work restricts our ability to act. Our uncertainty about how tectonic plates work restricts our ability to predict and control earthquakes. Our uncertainty about how light works restricts our ability to harness it for our own purposes. And our uncertainty about how monarchy and democracy work restricts our ability to construct political and economic systems that are best suited to our nature. This list could be extended ad infinitum.

但我們不是沒辦法克服對世界運作的不確定性。我們和野蠻動物不同,牠們注定要為生存奮鬥,永遠不會利用世間萬物達成自己的目的。我們能隨時利用自己的推理和記憶,再借助感官,讓我們審視這世界,並了解其中的元素如何運作。這些奇妙的心智能力使我們能勘察這世界,以克服我們的無知與對世界的不確定性。

We are not without means to overcome our uncertainty about how the world works, however. We are not, like the brute animals, doomed to struggle for our existence in a world that we will never understand or be able to harness for our own purposes. We have reason and memory at our disposal, which, with the aid of our senses, allow us to examine the world and learn how its elements “work." These fantastic mental abilities afford us the means to investigate the world in the hope of overcoming at least a small part of our natural ignorance and uncertainty.

然而,我們奇妙的心智能力並不能自動告訴我們世界運作的真理。我們會誤解事物如何發生,也可能產生錯誤的推理。我們的感官可能會失靈,而我們的思維也可能被蒙蔽,而有所偏倚、缺乏遠見。此外,世界之大又而複雜,我們的時間卻非常有限,因此每個人對於這世界的了解也非常有限。

Our fantastic mental abilities do not, however, automatically yield to us infallible knowledge about how the world works. We can misinterpret what is going on, and we can reason unsoundly. Our senses can fail us, and our thinking can become clouded, biased, or myopic. In addition, the world we seek to understand is so fantastically large and complicated, and our time so very scarce, that each of us is severely limited in the amount of knowledge we can individually acquire about how the world works.

對社會和自然界的不確定性,限制了我們的行動能力。不確定板塊如何運作,限制了我們預測和控制地震的能力。不確定光線的性質,限制了我們利用它的能力。不了解君主制和民主制是如何運作,則使我們無法建立最適宜的政治經濟制度。此一連串「不確定」將永無止盡。

Hence, only by working with and learning from other men can we as individuals hope to learn more than a tiny fraction about how the world works. By working with and learning from other men, we can take advantage of an intellectual division of labor that allows individuals to investigate very specific aspects of the world and then share the fruits of their investigations with the rest of humanity. This specialization and exchange of ideas allows men to economize their scarce time, learn more about the world than they otherwise could as isolated individuals, and serves as a check on the fallible reasoning of each individual.

所以,唯有透過相互學習,我們才能獲得更多。透過相互學習,我們對知識進行分工,使得彼此都能具體勘察世界的各個面相,並與他人分享成果。知識的專業化和交流讓人們省下寶貴的時間,比起閉門造車,更能了解這世界,也能檢查彼此推理的錯誤。

The concept of “science" in the Western world has been to connect a community of individuals who are committed to study the world in a specialized, systematic, and intersubjectively verifiable way. Ideally, this scientific community accumulates knowledge about how the world works as individuals learn from the specialized investigations of their colleagues and build on them, and as the scientific community critiques and refines their theories through time.

在西方,「科學」這個概念,指以專業、有系統、不同學科得以相互驗證的方式,研究這個世界。在理想狀況下,科學界的成員將相互切磋,累積知識,並透過科學界長期的批判,精進他們的理論。

The process by which the scientific community investigates the world is not a magic or automatic path to enlightenment or omniscience, however. The theories that are fashionable in the scientific community at any specific moment may or may not accurately describe the actual working of the world. Communities of individual scholars, like the individual scholars themselves, can fall victim to intellectual error. They can misinterpret what is going on, and they can reason unsoundly. Their senses can fail them, and their thinking can become clouded, biased, or myopic.

但科學界研究世界的過程,並不是一條神奇、自動通往真理的道路。任何在科學界紅極一時的理論,都可能無法準確描述世界實際運作的情形。科學界的學者可能會犯錯,他們可能對會產生誤解,也可能做出錯誤的推理。他們的感官可能失靈,思維也有可能是蒙蔽的、偏倚的,或缺乏遠見。

The critical and inexorable problem that the community of scholars faces, therefore, is knowing whether the theories it currently embraces accurately and completely describe the workings of the world. This uncertainty about the accuracy of their scientific theories stems, once again, from the fact that no member of the scientific community is omniscient. No member of the scientific community is in a position to say with certainty that any theory does or does not accurately describe the workings of the world.

因此,科學界現在所面臨的關鍵問題,是必須認清目前所信奉的理論,是否準確完整的描述世界的運作。對科學理論的不確定性,源於沒有一位科學家無所不知。沒有人能斷定一個理論是否準確的描述世界的運作。

If even one member of the scientific community were omniscient, it would be possible to appeal to that member as an objective assessor of scientific theories. In that case, the omniscient assessor would not trouble himself with describing the world using the clumsy word “theory," however. He would say “the world works thusly," or “the world does not work thusly." If such a person existed, moreover, the practice of “science" would cease altogether, because certain knowledge about the world could be obtained from the omniscient person without the need to tediously and imperfectly study the world “scientifically."

如果真有人無所不知,他便能成為現今科學理論的客觀評估者。在這種情況下,無所不知的評估者不會自添麻煩,使用「理論」這一笨拙的詞來描述世界。他會說:「世界的運作正是如此」或「世界並非如此運作」。此外,如果真有人無所不知,「科學」的實踐將完全停止,因為人們對世界的探問,可以從那無所不知的人獲得解答,而不需要以繁瑣和不完全的科學方式來研究這世界。

Because the scientific community does not count omniscient members among its number, its members have developed a “scientific method" to try to deal with their uncertainty about their theories. The “scientific method," which consists of developing hypotheses and “testing" those hypotheses against empirical experience, does not provide the scientific community with certain knowledge, however. It merely serves a rather low hurdle that assists in weeding out what most scientists would consider implausible, unverifiable, and silly theories.

因為在科學界並沒有無所不知的成員,成員便制定了「科學實驗方法」,試圖處理他們對理論的不確定性。「科學實驗方法」包括提出假設,以實際經驗來檢證所提出的假設。然而,這種方法並不能提供科學界確切的知識。它僅僅是一道相當低的跨欄,協助科學家去除那些難以置信、無法核實、又愚蠢的理論。

A theory’s ability to clear this low hurdle by no means can be interpreted as “verifying" a theory, or “proving" its truth, however, because alternative theories could always be imagined that would also be consistent with the empirical “facts."[1] The scientific method does not provide the scientific community with a means to determine which theory, if any, out of the limitless set of alternative theories that could be dreamed up to explain the same empirical phenomena is “correct." Nor does the scientific method provide the scientific community with a means to know for certain that its members are not misinterpreting the empirical evidence. Only an omniscient being could know these things for certain.

一個理論是否能除去其他不可能的推論,並不能夠「證明」一個理論本身的真實性,因為總有別的推論可以參考,同樣可以解釋「事實」。[1] 科學的實驗方法並不能夠告訴學界,要如何從一籮筐的理論中做出選擇;科學的實驗方法,亦不能夠為科學界提供管道,檢證其成員是否錯誤的詮釋經驗證據。只有一個全知者才可能確切知道這些事。

Because empirical evidence does not “speak for itself," and because scientists are not omniscient (and thus cannot know if they are “correctly" interpreting empirical evidence), scientists can never know for certain if their theories correctly describe physical reality. This means that any theory that relies on the interpretation of empirical evidence can never be more than a subjective statement of belief about how a part of the world works, based on some empirical evidence.[2]

由於經驗證據不會「為自己說話」,也因為科學家並非無所不知(從而無法知道他們是否「正確的」詮釋經驗證據),科學家無法很肯定的宣稱,他們的理論正確的描述現實。這意味任何依賴經驗證據的理論,都只是一種根據經驗證據,提出關於某一部分的世界,是如何運作的主觀陳述。[2]

This definition is unavoidable, because no scientist is in an omniscient position to know for certain whether he has interpreted empirical evidence correctly, or whether his theory is the “correct" one out of the infinite set of alternative theories that could be imagined to explain a given phenomenon.

此定義是不可避免的。因為沒有一位科學家站在一個全知的觀點,足以證明他所詮釋的經驗證據是正確的,抑或他的理論在諸多理論中是「正確」的。

This is not to say that scientific theories that rely on the interpretation of empirical evidence are useless or meaningless, simply because they are subjective statements of belief. Nor does it imply that all empirically derived scientific theories are equally plausible, or that they all must be deemed “equal" in some other way, simply because they are all subjective statements of belief about how the world works. On the contrary, a theory that relies on empirical evidence is nothing more than an “expert opinion" about how a part of the world works, but it can nevertheless be useful — sometimes amazingly useful, in fact — even when it is known to be “incorrect" in some respects (e.g., Newtonian physics).[3] Moreover, individuals are free to evaluate the plausibility of scientific theories on their own, which means that they are free to accord some empirical scientific theories more plausibility than others.

這並不是指,依靠經驗證據的科學理論,只因為它們都是主觀的陳述,所以都無用或無意義,也不意味所有憑借經驗所得出的科學理論都是似是而非,也不代表它們都必須在某種程度上,被視為「相等」,因為它們都是有關世界如何運作的主觀陳述。相反的,依靠經驗證據的理論,雖然只是一種對於部分世界是如何運作的「專家意見」,它卻是出乎意料的有用 ,甚至是某些被推翻的「不正確」理論(例如,牛頓物理學)。[3] 此外,我們能自由的評斷理論的合理性。這意味著,我們能自由的斷定某些實證科學理論更合理。

The fact that scientific theories are subjective statements of belief does mean, however, that the scientist who claims that his empirically derived theory is a “fact" or “undeniably certain" does not understand the limitations of his method. He is deluding himself — and anyone else who believes his claims — if he thinks he is able to “prove" his empirically derived theory to be “irrefutably true." Only an omniscient being could possibly know for certain whether empirical evidence is being interpreted correctly, and know for certain that a specific theory out of the infinite set of alternative theories that could be imagined to explain a given phenomenon is “correct." But, again, an omniscient being would not bother with the clumsy and inefficient methods of science. He would merely say, “the world works thusly," or “the world does not work thusly." He certainly would not bother “testing" his ideas against empirical experience, because he would already know the outcome. Hence, the fact that the scientist bothers to “test" his theories and hypotheses reveals his lack of omniscience, and it also reveals, a fortiori, his inability to know for certain whether he is interpreting empirical evidence “correctly.

然而,科學理論僅僅是主觀陳述。因此若一個科學家透過經驗,宣稱所得出的理論是「事實」或「無可否認」,他便是不明白自己的局限性,欺騙了自己與其他相信這個理論的人─如果他認為,他能夠「證明」自己憑經驗得出的理論,是「無可辯駁的真實」。只有一個全知者,才可能確切知道某些經驗證據是否被正確詮釋,知道某一理論在諸多理論中是否「正確」。但同樣的,一個全知者不會理會笨拙和低效的科學方法。他會說:「世界的運作正是如此」或「世界並非如此運作」。他肯定不會費心對照實際經驗來「測試」他的想法,因為他已經知道結果。因此,科學家費心「測試」理論和假說揭示了一個事實:他並非無所不知,也無法確知他是否「正確」的詮釋經驗證據。

In order to move beyond making subjective statements of belief about how parts of the world work, the scientist would either need to become omniscient himself or consult someone who is omniscient, or else he would need to move beyond gathering and interpreting empirical evidence. Because the former options are, presumably, not open to him, the scientist’s only viable option is to discover “facts" about the world, or parts of the world, that cannot possibly be thought to be false, and which are not open to misinterpretation. In other words, the scientist would have to transform himself from an empiricist into a “rationalist" who was concerned to discover fundamental truths about the world (i.e., a priori truths about the world) and elucidate them by means of a deductive and rationalistic method.[4] Only then would the scientist be in a position to say that he has found “facts" about parts of the world that are “indisputably true."

為使科學不淪為主觀陳述,科學家需要成為無所不知的人,或請教全知者。否則,他勢必得進行蒐集和詮釋經驗證據的工作。由於前者不可行,科學家唯一可做的,便是發掘世界各地,不可能被認為是「假」或被誤解的「真相」。換句話說,科學家將不得不改變自己,從一個經驗主義者,變成一個了解世界基本事實(即關於世界的先驗真理),並透過演繹和理性方法來闡明這些事實的「理性主義者」。如此,科學家才有資格說,發現了「無可爭議」的世界「真理」。

By dogmatically endorsing the “scientific method" as the only means to acquire knowledge about the world, the empirically minded scientist tacitly admits that it is possible to discover fundamental truths about the world without going out and “testing" them. For, the proposition “all hypotheses and theories must be ‘tested’ against empirical experience" purports to be objectively and universally true, yet the proposition itself has not and can never be “tested." Therefore the proposition is self-contradictory and thus false, a fact that establishes that it is indeed possible to discover irrefutable and demonstrable truths about the world without going out and testing them.

支持以「科學實驗的方法」,作為獲取知識唯一方法的科學家,承認有可能不需要經過「測試」就能發現世界的基本真理。所有的假說和理論必須對照實際經驗「測試」的說法看來客觀真實,但此一說法本身卻也永遠不能被「測試」。因此,此一說法是自相矛盾和錯誤的。我們確立了一個事實,那便是:我們的確有可能不需要走出門外測試,也能發現不可辯駁和可論證的真理。

Thus, absolute certainty in science cannot be acquired by means of the “scientific method" and the collection and interpretation of empirical evidence. For beings that lack omniscience, collection and interpretation of empirical evidence can only yield imperfect and subjective beliefs about how the world “works." Instead, absolute certainty in science can only be acquired by discovering propositions about the world that can be known to be true a priori — propositions that cannot possibly be thought to be false.

因此,科學的絕對必然性,不能透過「科學實驗方法」和經驗證據的蒐集和詮釋來獲得。由於人類並非無所不知,經驗證據的蒐集和詮釋,只會產生關於世界如何「運作」的不完善和主觀的認知。相反的,科學的絕對必然性,只能透過那些不可能被認為是不真實的先驗真理來獲取。

This observation, in a nutshell, forms the foundation and is the great strength of the Austrian School of economics, which stands virtually alone in the contemporary world as a bastion for thinkers who are unsatisfied with imperfect and subjective approaches toscience.[5]

總結來說,此一觀察成為自由經濟學派的基礎,亦是其背後強而有力的支柱。同時,這個觀察也為那些不信服主觀詮釋的科學家,樹立一道標竿。[5]

Mark R. Crovelli writes from Denver, Colorado. Send him mail. See Mark R. Crovelli’s article archives.
Mark R. Crovelli寫於科羅拉多州丹佛市。給他發電子郵件。見Mark R. Crovelli’s的文章檔案。

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Notes

[1] Alexander L. George and Andrew Bennett, Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004). p. 30.
[2] In some respects, this subjective definition for empirical scientific theories resembles the idea of a scientific “paradigm" advanced by likes of Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend. To my knowledge, however, relativists such as Kuhn and Feyerabend never went so far as to call an empirical scientific theory “subjective." Nor, importantly, did they claim it was possible to discover truths about the world that are not relativistic. As will be seen below, calling empirical scientific theories “subjective" by no means implies that it is impossible to acquire knowledge about the world that is objectively and irrefutably true. It only means that theories that rely on the interpretation of empirical evidence cannot be known to be objectively and irrefutably true.
[3] On the enduring usefulness of Newtonian physics, despite its clear deficiencies, see Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962).
[4] For a brilliant elucidation of the rationalist method, see Hans-Hermann Hoppe, Economic Science and the Austrian Method (Auburn, Ala.: Mises Institute, 1995).
[5] On the a priori foundations of Austrian economics, see Ludwig von Mises, Epistemological Problems of Economics 3rd ed. (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2003), Ibid., Human Action, (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1999), Murray Rothbard, “In Defense of Extreme Apriorism," Southern Economic Journal, January 1957, 23(1), pp. 314-320., Ibid., Man, Economy, and State (Auburn, Ala.: Mises Institute, 2004), and Hans-Hermann Hoppe, op cit.

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