Science True, Popper False

Abstract: Philosopher Karl Popper put out in 1934 a nonsensical theory of what science was. Unfortunately, that nonsense has ruled science ever since. And it shows!


Truth is contained in what’s left after the rest has been proven false.

Human beings think with theories, which are digital depictions or even chains of emotions, of an underlying neuronal reality.

It is better for the elite in power to have a much less understandable vision of the world posing as ultimate wisdom. Enter Karl Popper, an establishment philosopher.

Popper: “In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable; and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.”

This upside down masterpiece makes much more sense than Popper view of science, or reality!

How does Popper falsify reality? By being God? Did Popper believe he was God? Is a lion non falsifiable? Does lack of falsiability make a lion’s claw unreal? With a philosophy of relity like that, one can’t do anything, and that suits the establishement just fine.

Theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder in How Popper killed Particle Physics rightly explodes the Popper falsification obsession:

Popper is dead. Has been dead since 1994 to be precise. But also his philosophy, that a scientific idea needs to be falsifiable, is dead.

And luckily so, because it was utterly impractical. In practice, scientists can’t falsify theories. That’s because any theory can be amended in hindsight so that it fits new data. Don’t roll your eyes – updating your knowledge in response to new information is scientifically entirely sound procedure.

So, no, you can’t falsify theories. Never could.”

In 1934, Popper said that science is what can be shown to be potentially false. This.has impressed physicists, ever since.Let me disintegrate Popper falsification a bit further from the logical viewpoint.

After proposing the heliocentric theory, using his concept of inertia, circa 1350 CE, Buridan observed that the heliocentric theory could not be experimentally distinguished (yet) from the geocentric theory, and thus, one may as well believe the latter, as “Scripture” said so.

It was definitively proven that Venus turned around the Sun (Sol) more than three centuries after Buridan wrote, when telescopes became powerful enough to observe the phases of Venus (how the Sun illuminated Venus). So the question of falsifiability is not new.

Even earlier, 14 centuries ago, the ancient Greeks demonstrated the atomic theory by observing perpetual motion of small particles (what we call now according to an Englishman, Brownian motion, because nearly everything was discovered by Englishmen say the English).

Popper believed that a scientific theory should be “falsifiable”. As he wrote: “A theory is falsifiable, as we saw in section 23, if there exists at least one non-empty class of homotypic basic statements which are forbidden by it; that is, if the class of its potential falsifiers is not empty.”

Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, p. 95

Pure mumbo-jumbo. (Popper’s mumbo-jumbo would make the epicycles theory “scientific”… as it was false in some computational consequences, as Tycho found; epicycles partisans could have fixed that with more cycles…)

Popper’s mumbo-jumbo enabled Popper to speak of science, while avoiding the concept of truth. Under the cover of  sounding scientific (thus honorable). If science itself was not about truth, nor induction, neither was society in need to be about truth… or induction (so no revolution). That could only please an establishment put in place by the history of privilege. So Popper became Sir Karl, got plenty of honors, and part of the elite. That was good for Sir Karl. After all, if there is no truth, there is still the Queen.

On the face of it, believing, as Popper affected to, that one should be able to prove that a theory could be false, to make it true enable us to make zombies “scientific” (they could be false!) To be true something just has to potentially be false.

God is not falsifiable, because God can’t “conceivably” be false (at least to the believer in said God). Thus, if God exists, that makes God true, yet unfalsifiable. So we would have the problem of a God which is true, yet non-scientific.

The more general problem is that, how could something which is true be falsifiable?

Popper was a good physicist: he corresponded as early as 1934 about nonlocality with Einstein. Out of it came what’s known as the Popper nonlocality experiment. Although he himself said his early nonlocal ideas were not correct, it’s highly likely that he put Einstein on the track of the EPR nonlocal paper of 1935. However, on science, his own theory is self-contradictory ( and for the “Open Society” Popper is famous for, the basic ideas come straight from the philosophers behind Pericles).

Popper himself threw the science as falsifiability theory under the bus in his later years:  Science may be described as the art of systematic over-simplification — the art of discerning what we may with advantage omit.” The Open Universe : An Argument for Indeterminism (1992), p. 44

“Science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths.” Ch. 1 “Science : Conjectures and Refutations”, Section VII

Physicist Lisa Randall made a profitable scientific discovery, and proved it experimentally: she found that Dark Matter sells book. According to Lisa, her nonsensical theory, that Dark Matter annihilated dinosaurs, makes sense, because it can be proven to be false. I should sell her a bridge on Mars, or a zombie for a lover.

In truth, the dinosaurs were in bad trouble for millions of years (the fossil record about the number of species shows), because the Dekkan Traps hyper-volcanism had been acting up for millions of years, smothering the planet, perniciously heating from CO2, between brutal bursts of cooling, from sulfate aerosols, while acidifying the oceans with all that volcanic CO2 (and having all those pesky mammals and birds around didn’t help!) Warm blooded animals and those who burrow survived. Such hyper-volcanism cools the planet’s radioactive core, and happens every 200 million years or so.

Popper’s insane view of reality has long dominated. Thus physics headed the wrong way. And biology too (as the fanatical attacks against Lamarck, and thus epigenetics, showed; an English (of course!) professor, Medawar, was even given in the 1950s the Nobel for proving Lamarck wrong, as if a single experiment on rats could disqualify all of epigenetics, now a gigantic field steering genetics itself, as Lamarck guessed cogently) .

That was the good news. The bad news about Popper? His adversaries fostered a depiction of reality which was even more insane! So I used to be popperian, before I realized that poppy Popper was all poppycock…

Patrice Ayme’


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21 Responses to “Science True, Popper False”

  1. benign Says:

    Almost a reductio ad absurdum. Sure, maybe it’s better to say that some hypotheses are “over-simpified,” and “locally falsifiable, given the current state of ignorance,” but from a workaday scientist’s POV, Popper was right on.

    But you kept me reading to the end!



    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Good to hear that what I wrote was enough until the end. The argument made by Sabine Hossenfelder is that the if-it-can-be-proven-false, it’s science, has led physics astray. I have had that objection since ever.
      Another thing, as you say, is that “everyday scientist” doing normal science (soon to be made by robots and AI) don’t need to be that smart, and, indeed, have just to make falsifiable hypotheses for their little experiment (non revolutionary science, Kuhn would point out). And indeed, although Popper 1934 became famous with his falsifiability, Popper 1980s fully contradicted Popper 1934… But physicists stayed in a time warp…

      And so did biologists until very recently. My spouse got in a strident dispute with a senior professor at (famous university) UCB for teaching some elements of epigenetics extracted from a very respectable publication, quite a while ago. Nowadays it won’t happen, as epigenetics is a fact. The senior prof insisted that strict NeoDarwinism be taught, without any potential epigenetics sneaked it (he classified it with astrology and alchemy). He caused a major scandal, and insisted that a booklet students were supposed to study and had been printed, be destroyed.
      Cheers to you too


  2. Gmax Says:

    Science is first about a sense of wonder it’ s about amazement


  3. benign Says:

    The two biggest anomalies that physics seems to be ignoring today have to do with (1) “parapsychology” (see “The Field” referenced earlier, or “Conscious Universe” by Dean Radin); i.e., replicable pre-cognition at a physiological level of future stimuli; and (2) the electric universe theory (closely aligned to the Nibiru wandering comet-planet theory that seeks to explain current solar output declines, increased meteors, earthquakes, the structure of galaxies, the rotation of the planets, and other phenomena.

    Underlying the former is the notion of an information field that we merely tune into as radios, and which is the locus of all memory and knowledge. The universe is holographic, and remote viewers are merely better than most at accessing the information field.



    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Hmmm… “Holographic”: I don’t know what it means… I know how a hologram works, though… I also know that there is a boundary theorem, all over math, I could summarize as:
      Sd =1
      S is the sum or integral, d the derivative. Fundamental theorem calculus, it generalizes massively in Gauss theorem, then integral on boundary = integral in volume (“Stokes theorem”), then on manifolds with covariant derivative, etc., and finally as homology theory…
      I think that’s what those physicists are trying to say…
      And I think the idea is incorrect…


  4. ianmillerblog Says:

    Patrice, you may be too harsh on Popper. It all depends on what you mean by “could be falsifiable”. If you mean, you could devise a test wherein the theory makes a prediction, and observation is not compliant, then the theory is false. However, you have also to recognise that Popper would say “false” means “not completely true”. The emphasis is on “completely”. If the theoretician overlooked something, then that has to be added – one of Sabine’s patches – and that is perfectly reasonable, except as with the epicycles, after a while there are too many patches and one starts to suspect.

    Also, as an example, you mention the heliocentric theory. In one of my novels, I set a Roman the task of proving it, and hence falsifying the epicycle theory. I argue it could be done back then. First, you have to get rid of Aristotle’s argument that heavier things fall faster than light ones, and once you have done that, and realise that orbiting is really falling, but there is also sideways movement to compensate, then the argument is, as Galileo said, although for slightly the wrong reason, the Earth is moving. You know that because there are two tides every day, and you can correlate the king tides and the neap tides with the position of the Moon with respect to the sun. In my opinion that falsifies the theory that the Earth is stationary at the centre. Of course you might care to disprove my argument is wrong and show me how you can get two tides a day with a stationary Earth.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Ian: As I pointed out, Popper 1934, was contradicted by Popper 1990s. The community of physicists, though, stayed frozen in time, in 1934. Those were those targeted for harshness and great vengeance… ;=-)

      Roman and epicycles? Romans couldn’t be intellectuals. Engineers, yes. Thinkers, no. All the thinkers of the Greco-Roman empire were Greeks… Just an aside I couldn’t resist… The heliocentric theory was proposed by Aristarchus, when Rome and Carthage were still friends… OK, tired here, after travelling, I will have to think of your tide argument. The Pope and Galileo fought about tides. To my amazement, I found the Pope was less false. But Galileo took it with professional university professor magisterial contempt. That’s when things went down the drain, especially as he did same to Jesuits…

      Main argument for heliocentricity was simply that the Sun was obviously huge. Why would the huge turn around the small? Moreover, there was a speed argument: heliocentricity require much smaller speeds. I agree that heliocentricity should have been established way back, and perhaps it was, like non-Euclidean geometry (which was forgotten in the fascist age, post Euclide). As I argue in my very latest essay, it’s the fascism which drove the science (in the ground!)


      • ianmillerblog Says:

        Dear Patrice, Really, anyone can be an intellectual if they actually stop and think. And yes, my literary Roman was driven by Aristarchus who showed (with considerable error, but good enough for the argument) that the sun was huge and a long way away.

        It is understandable why Galileo and most of the ancients could not get the tide argument right. Their problem was they lived in the Mediterranean area, and the tides there are usually very small, and they are complicated by wave interference patterns as the tidal waves lap around land. When such waves can come from different directions, they would be hard to analyse. The key was Pytheas, who had wandered to the Atlantic and reported one these tides, but nobody believed him because they could go down to the beach and see for themselves. One of the curses of basing your understanding on observation when you don’t understand the subtleties.


        • Patrice Ayme Says:

          Pytheas of MARSEILLES (!!!) was a colossal intellectual. He described the sea ice, the perpetual ice of winter up north, and the eternal days in summer. He may have even gone to Iceland. He measured accurately the obliquity of Earth on the ecliptic. All of this before 300 BCE…

          Right about those Med people: they knew the tides not.

          Observation without theory is indeed like thinking without a context.


  5. EugenR Says:

    Patrice you surprised me. You yourself not once opposed scientific theories as multiverse or string theory as not scientific because of lack of their potential falsifyability. Could you be more specific what is the scientific methodology you suggest as alternative to the Proppers method?


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Eugen: Yes, exactly. I actually said in the essay that strings, super or not was not science. It turns out there is at least 10^500 possible strings theories, according to string theorists themselves, and direct inspection. That’s a one followed by 500 zeroes… How does one test if one starts with zillions of zillions of zillions of… You get the picture.

      What I have said, and Sabine Hossenfelder, the well-known physicist, now says is that falsifiability is not sufficient to make a theory scientific. Nor, will I add, is it necessary: heliocentrism was not falsifiable in 1350 CE, the great physicist Buridan pointed out at the time. Heliocentrism became falsifiable AFTER Galileo’s death (when telescopes were powerful enough to see the phases of Venus).

      The attack is not against Popper himself (a philosopher to whom I give a star or a half star, probably higher than Kant…) It’s an attack against Popper 1934. Physics has stayed stuck with Popper 1934. Later Popper, in his old age, admitted that science, among other things was myth. The myth of heliocentrism, would I add, lasted nearly 20 centuries (1990 years) before it became real, full science. So Popper 1990 should be read on science, rather than Popper 1934…

      Heliocentrism was one theory, epicycles, another. Two theories. Compare with 10^500 string theories… Quantum Physics is one theory (some of it implicit; I made this bits explicit, see my “Einstein Error essay). I have my own theory, which is more advanced, and the falsifiability tests for both are probably doable in the lab if financing just came along (several billion dollars, but it would advanced nano tech considerably).

      So falsifiable is just one criterion. Another is axiomatic simplicity. Heliocentrism was axiomatically simpler than epicycles (geocentrism was FORCED into epicycles, by the way…)

      My own SQPR, the new Sub Quantum Reality I propose, is much simpler than the multiverse/many world alternative… And can be checked. Actually Dark Matter and Dark Energy are predictions of SQPR…

      Does that help?


      • EugenR Says:

        I agree. Scientific method looks for tools to simplify the complexities. Mathematics is one of the tools to do it. When the complex problem is reduced to elements then their reasambling back to complexity is done according to hypothetical theory about the concept of the interrelationship among the elements. If the theory works, then it’s validity is verified. When the theory can’t be falsified, then it can’t be also verified.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Heliocentrism was potentially falsifiable. So is SQPR…Epicycles was, in its own context UNfalsifiable (it’s just Fourier analysis!) “In its own context” is the cruciaL NOTION.


  6. Patrice Ayme Says:

    [Sent to Aeon]
    Did Kuhn say anything not already obvious to anybody having a casual knowledge of the history of science? Popper did real physics, exchanging with Einstein on nonlocality (Popper thought experiment). However there are very different vintages of Popper. Popper 1934 has ruled physics, disastrously:


  7. Malthe Nielsen Says:

    Well at the time Kuhn might have been new, but I think Popper might have given the science guys all they needed before Kuhn came a long, it’s more sociologists and such, non-science people that like Kuhn.

    But yes scientists were maybe a bit wasting time with “induction” in the period before Popper when you believed induction was how you prooved things?

    And yes string theory is probably not falsifiable, and they also get flak for that 🙂 In 19th century it was more OK to propose unverifiable stuff like the “aether”.

    Haha I don’t think that Sabine Hossenfelder article is spot on at all. Popper of course does not say that everything that is falsifiable is a good scientific theory 🙂 There’s a bunch of caveats, and he kept developing and changing them during his career. It’s weird she takes issue with him changing his ideas and calling it “throwing it under the bus”; all philosophers change their minds during their lifetime, and not always for the better.

    The problem about theories being falsifiable at all (because you can protect them with ad hoc hypotheses) is called the Duhem-Quine thesis and has been debated a lot. I think they ARE falsifiable. There’s a lot of debate going on on that I think.

    A big problem with Popper’s theory is; it is a bit old fashioned in that he focuses on LAWS, which was that everybody thought was the most important back in the 1930ies, the laws of nature etc, and science today is a lot about MODELS, like models for hurricanes, the big bang, tectonics. I think some guys did work on models, maybe Ronald Giere.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Models use laws, which are axioms, so I don’t see the difference. In many fields theorists run the computers which then run the models. Computers are capable to compute consequences of laws humans couldn’t.

      What I do see is that axiomatic systems can be compared. If two models produce the same observed effect, the superior one is the simplest. For example heliocentrism’s fundamental axiom is simple: planets turn around [the] sun. Epicycles theory was much more complicated, and couldn’t describe the basic behavior of all planets in 4 words.

      Quantum Mechanics is also simple: each experiment defines a Hilbert Space in which the wave function interferes with itself. QM has no competitor.

      Models (there is something called Model Theory) can be more or less general. A model with fewer axioms can be more powerful and realistic, for example non-Euclidean geometry is more powerful than Euclidean geometry, and Non-Archimedean arithmetic more powerful than Archimedean arithmetic.

      Big revolutions in science occur when axioms are changed, or a completely new idea is introduced. They are often preceded by a completely new observation (say Dark Matter… which is only 80 years old…)


  8. Malthe Nielsen Says:

    I haven’t read Giere’s book so it’s a pretty bad summary I can give but anyway … Popper’s theory is technically built up on “universal negative sentences” (“there can nowhere be an X”, “there are no”) As far as I know Model’s can’t be formulated that way, they describe say volcanoes on earth, but does not “prohibit” volcanoes working otherwise elsewhere. Like a model of a human heart does not “prohibit” there being other kinds of hearts working differently, or mutated humans with different hearts.

    Secondly, I guess that since you stuff a lot of laws/axioms into them, you can never really tell which law is wrong? Popper wants you to try to falssify one law at a time.

    So not sure they would count as scientific on Popper’s theory. He also rejected theory of evolution as scientific, since it’s not a law same as Newton’s law. Oviously, this is a flaw in Popper’s theory 🙂 I don’t think biologists think much of him, his theory is designed for Einstein-ish physics and work best for that. It doesn’t work well outside of that in fact pretty small (but important)bit of science. Medicine is IMO pretty important, but that seems to be to count as pseudoscience on his original 1933-theory as well.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Einstein? He didn’t invent Special Relativity. Poincare’ mostly did, expanding on Lorentz work. All the equations of Special Relativity (SR) were known before Einstein. Einstein’s “General Relativity” (GR) is a particular class of theories found by Poincare’ (again!). However, the master equation of GR has a fudge factor, the famous “Cosmological Constant” (CC). GR predicts a deviation of light by the sun twice what Newtonian gravity predicts, and is exact for the perihelion of Mercury (however GR was designed to predict that). Yet, because of the CC, predictions of GR outside of the solar system are NOT FALSIFIABLE (except for trivial, two centuries old predicted stuff like Black Holes and Gravitational Waves).

      I didn’t know Popper considered evolution not scientific. That would mean he was a lunatic, or, at best, delusional. He could say: evolution is unfinished. But so is the theory of gravity. SR is a complete theory… but it doesn’t apply in the real world (gravity messes up SR).


  9. Science Is Always Right | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] Popper basically believed that to be science, science ought to be demonstrably false (OK, I can never resist ridiculizing him, although I like Popper!) This silliness causes real damage: consider the essay linked […]


  10. Patrice Ayme Says:

    To John Horgan:

    Popper had the right intuitions about science, and, so doing, ironically enough, he proved the post-modernists right, deep inside: science, as practiced, is often, all too tribal. Darwinian, Copenhagen Interpretation and Big Bang fanaticisms are example.

    Whereas Wittgenstein was, unwittingly, thinking as one who is a top plutocrat, or heir thereof, would think. Namely that there is no valid thinking. Nothing worth poking very deep there…


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