What ‘supporting evidence’ does it take?

In the Fog Island Tavern

“Last call”
– What, Vodçek ? When we just are getting ready to solve some serious problems?
– Time waits for no procrastinating problem-solvers, Bog-Hubert.
– Okay then, a last  double Zin for me,  and the same double-seeing treatment for  this august problem-solving team…
–  Sigh. All right. Now, what was the humongous problem you were getting ready to solve?
– Good question. What was it again, Sophie? 
– Somebody here was wondering why Abbeboulah isn’t making any progress on his Occasion/Image theory for Architecture. 
– Right, that was it. Well, how do you know he isn’t making progress? 
– He ain’t on TV, and he ain’t getting rich from it so he can buy hissef a new boat.  That’s how we know. 
–  Good point, Renfroe. He doesn’t even show up in the Tavern much anymore. 
–  But he may be home making progress, eh?
–  Well, we’ll see,  But the question was why we don’t see any of that progress.
–  So was anybody having a good explanation? 
–  We were just getting to that.
– Yeah, somebody actually threw out several explanations we were going to discuss. 
– What explanations? 
–  Lets’ see if I remember all the  know-it-all wild ideas you guys were throwing around here in just a few minutes. There was the idea that he isn’t making progress, and the opposite idea that he is making progress but isn’t quite done yet.
–  Didn’t somebody suggest that he just isn’t doing any effective marketing, promoting the idea? 
–  Because he’s not interested in marketing, or not good at it?
–  Or because he doesn’t get any funding for it? 
–  Is it  important enough to get funding?  
–  Well, some friend of Abbeboulah’s was telling him that he should get off that fool’s errand of the global planning discourse system and finish the work on that occasion and image theory.
– Right, that was it. And somebody here said that it was because it wasn’t a real theory. Didn’t you,  professor? 
–  Well yes, I brought up the issue. But Abbeboulah himself  has never called those ideas a ‘theory’. He was just calling it a ‘Way of Talking”. 
– Well, then what was all the stuff he talked about here, then?  Sounded like some theoretical concoction to me?  What’s a theory, anyway? And why didn’t he call it one?
–  I guess he was trying to reserve the term for a more ‘scientific’ story — ‘scientific’ meaning  trying to find out what the world is like, and especially how or works.  What are the laws that govern what happens in ‘reality. The laws of nature?  And for that there are some features that he felt he wasn’t ready to claim. 
– What are those?
–  Well, a ‘theory’ in the ‘scientific’ sense is  a ‘way of talking’ — and more specifically: describing and explaining — some aspect of reality. So a theory, at the basic level, is a set of statements about that part of what we call ‘reality’ that identifies, distinguishes what we perceive, and provides descriptions of those distinguished things that help us understand what the theory is talking about, and recognize them in the world we perceive.  The set of statements should mutually support each other, that is, make sense as a coherent story. 
– Makes sense so far. 
– Yes, Sophie. but you see, there are a lot of ‘theories’ out there that made sense at some level, to many people, but that turned out to be wrong. The flat earth ‘theory’ for example. 
–  So how do we know whether a theory is right or wrong? 
–  Well, now: that’s the sticking point. ‘Science’ — meaning those called  the ‘natural sciences’ that look at reality and how it works, — has developed some good criteria for what makes a valid scientific theory. They rest on observation: We observe some aspects of ‘reality’, and try to state a ‘law’ that explains why things happen they way they happen. Then we  state a ‘hypothesis’ that goes like this:  If the law is true, we should observe an effect  (evidence, consequence, result, implication) of the law. So we look around, or make an experiment of a situation where only the law is supposed to be at work, to see if the evidence shows up. If is does — we can say that the experiment results ‘support’ the hypothesis. Not ‘proves’: supports.
–  And if it doesn’t?
–  Excellent question, Renfroe. If it doesn’t, we will have to say that the hypothesis was wrong. Refuted. ‘Falsified’. Or that our experiment was  flawed. Which means that we have learned something, that helps us develop better hypotheses, theories, observation and experiment tools. But it also means that a  theory, to be scientific, must be able to be ‘tested’, and potentially be refuted, with observations and experiments. There must be some possible observation that would tell us the theory is wrong.
–  So if it can’t be tested in some way, it isn’t scientific? 
–  Right. 
–  But can it be a theory without being scientific? 
–  If you are willing to stick with a plausible but limited understanding of the term ‘theory’ as just a set of statements about the world that are mutually connected and supported, sure. But the problem is that for the things we are doing, we want, need knowledge (especially in planning for the future)  that we can trust. The can help us construct buildings that will hold up to the forces of winds and snow and rain and earthquakes. 
–  But didn’t you just say, in so many words,  that there’s no theory we can trust with 100% certainty — if there’s a possibility that it’s wrong?  
–  Yes, the upshot is that we are always taking chances, making a bet. Anybody telling you the theory he’s betting on is 100% foolproof doesn’t know what they are talking about. But then, would you invest a lot of money and effort  on a plan when the theory supporting it can’t be tested, verified or refuted — at all? 
–  So are you saying that Abbe Boulah isn’t calling these ideas a ‘theory’ because he hasn’t been able to test it yet?
– Wait:  his ideas or ‘Way of Talking’, as he calls it: isn’t it about planning the built environment? 
– Right. Oh, I see what you are getting at:  if it consists of statements about the future, how can they be tested? You can’t observe the outcomes of doing something if it hasn’t been done yet?
–  But that goes for all the knowledge and theories we have to do our planning with? 
–  Yes. And that is why some of the bright idea buildings that have been built  turned out out to be big mistakes. And have to be blown up, if they didn’t fall down by themselves. 
–  That’s scary. You are saying that we live in built environments that are planned and built on nothing but unsupported bets?
–  Yes, Sophie. But it isn’t all just pipe dream bets. All buildings, no matter how experimental, use a lot of knowledge that has been fairly well supported — by experience, and by predictions using logic and calculation. Even testing, for example whether the concrete has been mixed right. So most buildings are fairly safe. The environments based on new ‘ways of talking’ will still be built to reasonable standards of safety and performance.  But the claims about how some new shapes and forms will or won’t make users happy, or make money for the owners and developers, those are much less supported by solid evidence, — and can’t claim the status of scientific theories. So does it make sense for him to avoid the pretentious label of ‘theory’ — that some people use to make their ideas sound more scientific and reliable? 
–  Are you saying they are selling snake oil? 
–  I’m not accusing anybody — just saying its a plausible temptation;  just investigate and make up your own mind.
– But …
– Yes, Sophie? 
– Well, if it sounds like a good idea, what does it take to produce enough of  what you call ‘supporting evidence’? Even for part of a story?  That would make more people willing to take bets on a theory even if it’s only half- or three-quarter-baked? 
–  Good question. Maybe that’s what Abbe Boulah is working on:  What would it take to develop reasonable supporting evidence for this occasion and image story?
Any ideas?  What, Vodçek? 
– Hey, that’s enough. Don’t start another round of  swapping unsupported ideas. By ol’ procrastinator king Valdemar Atterdag’s famous prediction:  Tomorrow is another day! Last call!  What supporting evidence does it take, mon cul!
–  We’re counting on it… 
–  I said: tomorrow!

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