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Re: orion Analysis of an unfalsifiable theory

Thank you, Asia, for this clear, brief, and appropriate restatement of the
core problem.

All the best,
Sigrid Peterson  University of Pennsylvania  petersig@ccat.sas.upenn.edu
According to Asia Lerner:
> Lets imagine a hypothetical situation: I have five manuscripts, four of
> which are dated by C14 to 10th century, while the fifth is dated by the
> same method to 12th century. However, I have a theory about the origin and
> meaning of these manuscripts which will work only if they all date to
> tenth century. I also know that some of the manuscripts might have been
> subjected to a process that makes parchment register later in C14
> tests.   
> Now, the question is : how acceptable is it for me to assume that the 12th
> century manuscript is not evidence that falsifies my theory, but is a
> tenth century manuscript that underwent treatment?
> First off, its clearly acceptable if the process leaves detectable traces
> in the manuscripts, and if I detect those traces in the 12th century 
> manuscript, and determine their absence in the 10th century ones.
> However, what if all I have is the general notion that such process could
> have taken take place in some manuscripts ? (I understand this to be the
> situation with the castor oil supposition, and am willing to be corrected)
> Well, it might still be acceptable to use this as a "corrective" for the
> problematic evidence if I am a run of the mill humanist historian
> who thinks that a historian's job is to construct plausible accounts of 
> the past. After all, the discovery of the problematic process does make my
> assertion about 10th century origins more plausible.
> On the other hand, if I happen to be a Popperian, I should notice that this 
> explanation makes it quite impossible to use C14 to distinguish between
> two opposing situations:
> 	a) The case in which the 12th century manuscript underwent
> 		treatment, and actually dates from the tenth century.
> 	b) The case in which the 12th century manuscript is precisely what
> 		it seems: a 12th century manuscript. 
> In terms of my theory, the C14 evidence for both of these cases will look
> the same.
> Explanatory mechanisms that make it impossible to distinguish between a
> state and its opposite are precisely what Popper criticized as "unfalsifiable 
> theories". I personnaly have nothing against them (in moderation), but than I 
> make no claims to follow Popper. 
> 	Best regards,	Asia Lerner