Marks and Remarks
Food for the Mind and Eye

No. 0052, April 12, 2015


You Never Know

Copyright 2015 by S. W. Paul Wyszkowski

     "OK," says Prickles, "what are those Corinthian columns doing in the middle of a field?" I suppose they just grew there like any other tree. "Columns are made, they don't grow," Prickles asserts. You know that for sure? "Absolutely," she says. Let's assume, for now, that you are right. So what's your hypothesis then? "Somebody started building a Greek temple there and never finished?" Prickles suggests. "That's my theory."

     We pause here to note that, given the historical fact that all known instances of columns had been built by humans and none had grown organically from seed, Prickles' hypothesis can be elevated to the status of a theory. A theory is a hypothesis that is not contradicted by any known facts. Of course, that does not make it true. A theory is, in fact, fundamentally false, even if it fits all known facts, because not all facts are, or even can be known. It is only a matter of time for a theory, any theory, to be disproved by new facts.

     This is what people seem to have inordinate difficulty in understanding. Theories are almost universally taken as proven truths just because they have not yet been disproved. Useful technologies based on current theories are taken as practical proofs of the "truth" of those theories. But a practical application for a theory proves only that for the purposes of that particular application the theory is a close enough approximation to what is actually the case.

     "And what is actually the case with these columns 'growing' in a field?" Prickles inquires. According to the records (to be specific, the pamphlet describing various features of botanical gardens in Washington, DC) these columns were once part of the Capitol and were moved to the gardens when the Capitol was rebuilt and they were no longer needed. "So that's the truth that disproves my theory," Prickles concludes. Well, it seems to be a historical fact, if the pamphlet is to be believed. But you never know. Not actually.

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