The End of Theory?

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Very interesting article published 6/23/08 by Chris Anderson, Editor of Wired and author of The Long Tail.  Anderson says that the scientific process, which involves proposal of a hypothesis and testing data against the hypothesis, is dead.  He says that finding models which “prove” causality is unnecessary because there is so much data in the world today and that what really matters is what the large amounts of data are saying.  I agree with him that the amount of data in the world is monstrously huge and growing; i agree that proving causality is rarely fruitful.  Empirical evidence is king, as Nicholas Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan, argues convincingly.   However, just because causality is hard to prove, doesn’t meant that causality doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter.   A belief system is something which makes a link between action and result:  that is causality.  Without belief and causality, I have a hard time believing that society and morality would exist.  So I think there will always be a place for theory and for belief.  At the same time, I do agree with Anderson that both large amounts of data and our ability to crunch through large amounts of data makes the process of knowing our world very different than in the past.  There is more opportunity than ever to understand our world.  “Seeing” what our world looks like is going to become more of an empirical exercise than a scientific exercise.

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