Missing links, part II

As a postscript to previous thoughts on <a href="”>missing links, if a pattern cannot be detected for more than one generation, many alternative explanations – all equally seemingly probable – for a series of events are not only possible, but in fact to be expected.

Take, for example, the theory of earth being the centre of the universe. For many thousands of years, people not only thought but believed that the earth was the centre of everything. This was despite the fact that, as we now know, astronomy/astrology had been quite developed. Then along came Nicolaus Copernicus, who proposed the highly controversial and dangerous idea of sun being the centre of our immediate neighbourhood – the beginning of the heliocentric theory. The rest, as they say, is history. His thoughts were subsequently confirmed and refined by Galileo Galilei, and then by the likes of Issac Newton, Albert Einstein in the modern era.

Could Copernicus have been able to draw the same conclusions without the massive body of empirical observations that were collected not only in his own life time, but centuries before him? Perhaps, but with great difficulty in my opinion, even if he had a brilliant mind.

It would seem that the longer (especially requires observations that span generations) the link and hence the greater the magnitude of the problem, the more difficult and longer it will take to discover the link. As a result, many alternative explanations will seem to ‘fit’ the same observations. However, it is clear that these ad-hoc reasonings will never be fully sufficient.

In fact, there are always certain elements of truth in even the most simplistic of theories. The main difference from one to the next is how wide-ranging the “new” theory is in explaining the scope of happenings. Secondly, they are appropriate for the technology of the time, and consistent with the observations at the time.

The truth like peeling the skin off an onion. The more layers peeled, the more can be seen. We are still observing the same item, except in greater and greater depth. But we should never confuse our ‘explanation’ for the truth.

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