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Experiment is the sole judge of scientific 'truth.' (Feynman)   Share:  
Thrust of argument: Richard Feynman lectured that 'The principle of science, the definition, almost, is the following: The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific 'truth.' But what is the source of knowledge? Where do the laws that are to be tested come from? Experiment, itself, helps to produce these laws, in the sense that it gives us hints. But also needed is imagination to create from these hints the great generalizations - to guess at the wonderful, simple, but very strange patterns beneath them all, and then to experiment to check again whether we have made the right guess. This imagining process is so difficult that there is a division of labor in physics: there are theoretical physicists who imagine, deduce, and guess at new laws, but do not experiment; and then there are experimental physicists who experiment, imagine, deduce, and guess.' Direction of resistance / implied resistance: Feynman points out 'Now, how can an experiment be 'wrong'? First, in a trivial way: if something is wrong with the apparatus that you did not notice. But these things are easily fixed, and checked back and forth. So without snatching at such minor things, how can the results of an experiment be wrong? Only by being inaccurate.'


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Removal of resistance: Elsewhere I have seen Feynman interchange the words 'experience' and 'experiment'. Unification: Overall none of this contradicts 'sufi' ideas about the importance of learning to differentiate information from 'knowledge'.

It is useful to pay attention to Mr Feynman's words in a television interview when summing up the problems at NASA which caused the Challenger disaster, in his opinion.

The interviewer asks 'was this an accident that did not have to happen?'

Feynman says 'Yes it was. It was an accident that we had many many warnings that there was something wrong and that it might sooner or later go off. The warnings were disregarded'.

Interviewer: 'Disregarded out of incompetence, out of a faulty system, out of bad judgment, out of - for what reason?'

Feynman: 'I had some difficulty with that. I kind of imagine that something like a child that runs in the road and the parent is very upset and says it's very dangerous and the child comes back and says but nothing happened, and he runs out in the road again, several times, and the parent keeps saying it's dangerous and nothing happens. If the child's view that nothing happens is a clue that there was nothing going to happen, that's going to be an accident.'

Feynman says that NASA's management were like the child and the engineers were like the parent.

The interviewer asks who should be blamed and Feynman explains that blame may not really be a productive road and that the key question to answer is 'how do you educate the child?'
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Click here to read about Shams Pirani, the editor and chief author on this grid - note, if you can actually prove anything written above wrong, I would gladly, if the proof is sufficient, correct what I've written and what I think - if I could, however, prove your attempted proof wrong, then I would accordingly say so and maintain whatever point of view is completely based on fact and proof.