Origins of the theory
Francis Bacon’s model
According to the English philosopher Francis Bacon, it is the observations and experiences that give us access to the real, and the theory follows from generalized induction. For Bacon, the construction of theories is therefore a supervised learning process.
Karl Popper’s model
For Karl Popper, scientists construct according to their imagination, according to the data and the theories then accepted, the most diverse hypotheses, in particular the tests of these theories, before eliminating those which are refuted by the observations and experiences. It is refutability that distinguishes a scientific theory from a metaphysical affirmation. It is the criterion of demarcation.
Twenty-first century turning point
According to Philippe Descola, the theory of knowledge attempts to emancipate itself from the cultures and historical periods that led to its development and opens up to diversity. Pascal Picq even proposes to update Pascal’s bet: “Beyond the controversies […], could we not take again the ethical principle of this bet for the future generations, by acting to preserve [natural and domestic biodiversity ] as well as the cultural diversity that is linked to them?” Edgar Morin, Philippe Descola and Pascal Picq, among others, invite humanity to respect the historized diversity of sources of knowledge and cosmogonies. Left to use the “right of inventory”.
First introductory step
According to its context of use, the proposition “the earth revolves around the sun”:
- has historically been an assumption or bet or belief until someone has been able to demonstrate it rationally.
- is a known fact because it comes from a corpus of astronomy duly validated by the scientific community. Once formalized, known fact exists independently.
- is a true belief for an individual who affirms this knowledge but who does not know how to explain it.
- is a knowledge for an individual who knows how to explain this knowledge for himself and/or for others.
Each step requires special skills, among others …
The theoretical model of access to knowledge
Jean-Michel Besnier wonders: “How does this elaboration that led to know take place? By which prisms has reality passed before becoming an object for the subject who knows?”
The synthesis of various entries gives the following schematic:
Real ⇔ Reality ⇔ Representation ⇔ Theory ⇔ Model ⇔ Explanation of the real ⇔ Anticipation of the search and the Observer in relation to each entity/Referential.
- Real: the cosmos, a piece of the cosmos.
- Real observable: the perceptible part of the real, either directly or via more and more sophisticated instruments. Some equate this level with the non-linguistic.
- Reality: the description of observation of observable reality using a language. Some talk about linguistics.
- Representation: “the idea of” or “the idea we have of”, “the world”, cosmogonies, etc. is also part of “linguistics”.
- Theory or hypothesis: the attempt to explain (in the first round) by deduction, induction, intuition, imagination, creativity … using or not mathematics and logics.
- Model: the reification of the theory or hypothesis by a more or less numerical analogy,
- Explanation of the real: the putting in words of the result allowing the validation or the criticism, as well as the justification and/or the verification by another.
- Anticipation: what the theory, the model and the explanation can predict in more, on a more or less long term … Which allows the refutability according to the basic principle “If … Then” or “Otherwise… Then”: “if the hypothesis or the theory is good then the following fact cannot/should not happen”. “If this happens then the hypothesis or theory is false or incomplete”.
- Observer: whoever acts with:
- his senses and his sensitive experience,
- his manual and mental abilities,
- his conscience, his doubt, his self-criticism,
- his intelligence and his reason,
- his imagination, his creativity, his intuition,
- but also his prejudices, his beliefs,
- its epistemological obstacles,
- in relation to each Referential he has chosen or imposes on him.
Note: Capitalization to indicate ontological differences.
According to C. Castoriadis:
- the world lends itself indefinitely to the ensidic organizations [see set theory and their relations],
- the world is not exhaustible by these organizations (objects and/or relations).
Creation of knowledge
Knowledge, that of definition, can be acquired:
1- directly by the observation of reality with hands-on tricks, tools, more or less sophisticated measuring instruments, doctors use the term of the clinic …
- outcome of Cosmos, or Nature,
- outcome of being (alive, human, non-human),
- outcome of existing cultural corpora.
2- indirectly as the outcome, in particular:
- the resolution of an equation that describes the functioning of the real (Pythagorean theorem, formula of the oxidation-reduction in chemistry, etc.),
- the use of a model analogically copying the real (wind vane, scale model, etc.), a mathematical model that synthesizes the resolution of several equations describing the real, or mixed model (analog and mathematical),
- the use of a simulator numerically copying the real (for example: meteorology, or simulator that accelerates the history of a real process, etc.),
- the use of an experiment that implements a hypothesis about the possible or probable functioning of reality.
Controversies exist over the qualification in valid knowledge (in the sense of the definition) of the outcomes acquired from models, simulators or experiments which are supposed to represent:
- anticipations (polls), …
- behaviors, … Simple examples: simulate the market with the model of pure and perfect competition, with the model of all consumers being reasonable, in the absence of a subsystem (embedded in the model) that is linked to speculation on currencies, … which are not representative of the real but of the idea that one is made of reality.
Hervé Barreau: “[…] we must invent the hypothesis that will be put to the test, if at least we propose to increase knowledge” and further on: “If there is progress in science is by the denunciation of errors, not by the confirmation of the acquis, which is always provisional and subject to revision”.