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On the Inherent Incompleteness of Scientific Theories

By Jolly Mathen


We examine the question of whether scientific theories can ever be complete. For two closely related reasons, we will argue that they cannot. The first reason is the inability to determine what are “valid empirical observations”, a result that is based on a self-reference Gödel/Tarski-like proof. The second reason is the existence of “meta-empirical” evidence of the inherent incompleteness of observations. These reasons, along with theoretical incompleteness, are intimately connected to the notion of belief and to theses within the philosophy of science: the Quine-Duhem (and underdetermination) thesis and the observational/theoretical distinction failure. Some puzzling aspects of the philosophical theses will become clearer in light of these connections. Other results that follow are: no absolute measure of the informational content of empirical data, no absolute measure of the entropy of physical systems, and no complete computer simulation of the natural world are possible. The connections with the mathematical theorems of Gödel and Tarski reveal the existence of other connections between scientific and mathematical incompleteness: computational irreducibility, complexity, infinity, arbitrariness and self-reference. Finally, suggestions will be offered of where a more rigorous (or formal) “proof” of scientific incompleteness can be found

Topics: Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Science
Year: 2004
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