A Pragmatic Compromise and an End to Theory?
What is Statistics?
Well, of course, it is used when many things are happening simultaneously, and it, therefore, becomes impossible to deal with all the various contributions, individually, so then the method is to merely address their overall summed effect, is always the pluralist norm with simpler situations. Indeed, it turns out to be significantly better than the usual means, in many situations, because it makes for overall measurements and does not concern itself with the multiplicity of different contributions involved.
It becomes a kind of “backstop” for the inadequacies of the usual approach and the two have delivered a reasonably useful pair for a very long period of time. It is yet another case of having two quite different approaches, and switching between them in a pragmatic manner, when necessary.
But, there are assumptions involved, which are not always applicable, and, as always, such compromises are never the complete solution; as cases will occur which simply don’t fit either method.
These usually occur, due to assumptions made about the overall nature of the factors involved - often assuming a total, perfectly Random Mix, with a great deal of cancelling-out of opposing factors, and a resultant set of overall parameters which conform to a simple pattern.
The technique involves overall relations and parameters, which can be effective for the situation, as a whole – like temperature, Pressure or Volume. Indeed, early, historical experiments, and the revealed laws, were those that related such quantities.
So, the usual admonishment to young experimenters to, “Stir thoroughly, and wait for equilibrium before measuring!” was a sound piece of advice (though Reality wasn’t always so dutiful)! Clearly, only if the conditions approximated very well to the necessary requirements, could the measurements deliver results that could be investigated and used with confidence!
Now, such methods are in fact statistical measurements, but arranged for and taken physically, to reveal an overall effect. If, for example, individual measurements of the temperature of single atoms were possible, literally NONE would have the measured overall temperature. Yet, nevertheless if that overall temperature had been taken properly, it would accurately reflect the average temperature of all the atoms involved.
Now, clearly, such measurements were all that were available to us in the early days, but the necessary conditions were also not always possible to arrange for. So, an alternative, when individual elements could indeed be measured, was to measure as many as possible, and take their average to represent that variable for all elements, and for the whole situation.
With this method, we move to a more transparent type of statistical measuring.
Now, I will not be spending much time upon either of these types of statistical measurements. They are well understood, and have a large number of cases, and an extensive theory concerned with them.
But, I will be attempting to reveal another type of statistical measuring and consequent theories, which, though they can be made to work, pragmatically, are, in fact, wholly misleading theoretically.
For these stop the possibility of physical explanation entirely, and instead, along with a series of incorrect speculative models, call a complete halt to theory-as-physical-explanation in the areas concerned, and replace that objective with “working equations” – without any explanatory account at all! They even switch their stance to one in, which it is solely these fitted-up equations that are said to actually drive the area of Reality under consideration, and totally abandon the essential attempts at ever better physical explanations.
I am, of course, talking about the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Theory in Sub Atomic Physics.
Now, such an approach is both illegitimate and misleading, for it, more or less, terminated what Theory has always been – an attempted explanation of phenomena in terms of the substances involved, and their properties, and replaced that intention with merely useable formal equations.
The attempt to understand is sidelined for a totally pragmatic approach – “If it works, it is right!”
But, of course, that is incorrect!
It amounts to using universal forms or patterns as if they are the driving essences of Reality, and that is not only impossible, it is blatant self kid!
How can purely formal abstractions DO anything? They are man-devised descriptions, and the very same forms recur in many different and causally unrelated areas. So, how can they be the causes of all of these qualitatively different cases?
Clearly, such forms are merely recurring patterns –useful for prediction, but useless for explanation. They are about common appearances ONLY!
The so-called Revolution of Solvay, in 1927, was, in fact, an ignominious Retreat, abandoning real Theory for pragmatically useable statistical equations, and hence leading Science into an idealist mire!
This paper is taken from Philosophical Papers, Issue 39 of SHAPE Journal.