Theories

Back to Introduction

Repeat: Be warned here that this is my particular view of what happens and how to name and describe it. If this were a schoolroom situation and I were giving the test, what I am saying here would be the correct answers. But only on my test. Some other person asking the same questions would look for different use of words.

The pathway to theory starts with Observation and passes through Data Collection and Concept Formation and arrives at Theory Construction. Here we go!

Data Collection

The problem with theories is you have to have one in order to make one. There is no independent place to start. People have tried to say you should just go out there and make a large number of observations and see what theory falls out of them. But it can’t work that way. There are a very large if not infinite number of potential observations you could make every moment of your waking life. Which ones are important? Which ones are trivial? If you don’t have some conscious idea, your unconscious will supply it.

Better said, you can assume that your unconscious is busy at work at all times shaping the images you “see”. To see the world in a new way, you can take over the unconscious process with your consciousness by putting it into the frame of reference of a specific question.

Remember, there is a problem out there that awoke the mind to nudge the eye from its sleep.  The problem that provokes the question determines which observations are important or not. Unfortunately for the practitioner, it is not all that obvious. There is a lot of trial and error involved.

But ultimately it becomes more clear, and a group of observations that are relevant to the question at hand are brought together. Now you have a Data Collection.

Here comes the trick, the cute little thing to do that will take you from the ordinary experience of making observations to the highest levels of theory. And it’s really very simple at this stage.

Concept Formation

You observe the Data Collection.

That is, you look at the data, be it a collection of symbols and lines on a map, as it frequently is in geology, or a tabulation of numbers, or whatever the data, let it roll around in your mind until something prompts you to say X.

You have powers of observation, the power to turn the flood of sensory input into a concise statement in language that singles out and focuses on some particular aspect of the world you are sensing. Direct this skill at the Data Collection.

This is the process of Concept Formation. At this stage, it is still an unconscious process. When you are making ordinary observations, you don’t think about it usually. You don’t worry here about whether the concepts fit together or contradict each other or cover all the bases. You just keep plugging away so long as the weather holds so you can be out in the field, or the machine doesn’t break down or run out of something.

So you go along, making observations, collecting data, forming concepts all related, you hope, to some basic question like “How did the Earth get to be the way that it is?” Now comes the hard part, constructing the theory.

Theory Construction

You construct the theory from the concepts, but it is not a simple matter of observing the concepts and making some unconscious observation about them. You may do that, but all you get out of it is some higher level concept, not a theory.

Theories have to be consciously constructed because of what they are.

Theories are falsifiable statements about the world that answer a basic question.

  • falsifiable means that some future observation that contradicts the theory is theoretically possible, is not excluded by the theory.
  • the statements about the world are derived from observations by the process described above. Observations, to repeat, are statements about the world derived from perceptions of the world.
  • basic question means the core question that defines the science, or some part of that basic question.

In order for all this to come together, all of the contradictions that adhered to the concepts you formed unconsciously have to be stripped away, all of the gaps and over-laps eliminated, along with superfluous oddities, no matter how interesting. Occam’s Razor still cuts. The job is to make the least wrong theory you can.

To make the theory falsifiable, it must be logically consistent within itself. It must also be logically consistent with the rest of science.This logical consistency makes the theory testable in the sense that new, as yet unmade observations that fit into the theory are predicted. Falsifiability drives the process one step further by forcing the practitioner to think about potentially observations that could be fatal to the theory.

Logic is a conscious thinking process. If your theory is to be expressed in words, it has to be fashioned in the linear thinking logic of words. This is why theories must be consciously constructed and are hard work to produce. Most of that work is done in overcoming your affection for what you think you already know.
Next, theories, evidence and other stuff, here.

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