5.4 The Relationship between Theory and Reality

Philosophers of science often discuss whether theories and what they make statements about are “true” or not. Depending on if they are prone to answer yes or no to the question they divide into two camps: realists and anti-realists. In this context, covering both views from a philosophical standpoint would require too much space. Further reading is suggested at the end of the chapter but it is useful to discuss one aspect of the topic here.

Although most of us agree that there is an absolute reality, we must admit that there is some subjectivity in how we choose to look at it. Theories do not exist in nature. They are created by people and exist only in peoples’ minds. Despite this, we hope that our theories and the theoretical concepts they build on closely correspond to reality. We cannot be absolutely sure that they do, because completely different theories sometimes make successful representations of the same part of reality. A good example of this is how Einstein and Newton treated gravity in completely different ways. Newton used the theoretical concept of force to describe it. In his theory, forces were propagated between bodies and acted instantly over vast distances. In Einstein's general relativity theory gravity is, instead, represented by a deformation of the four-dimensional fabric of the universe that he called spacetime. Massive objects distort spacetime and the trajectories of other objects moving in their vicinity ...

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