[Chapter 1 Objectives]

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"Theories are schemes of thought with assumptions chosen to fit experimental knowledge, containing the speculative ideas and general treatment that make them grand conceptual schemes." E. M. Rogers, Physics for the Inquiring Mind (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1966).

"Once we grant that any physical theory is essentially only a model for the world of experience, we must renounce all hope of finding anything like the correct theory ... simply because the totality of experience is never accessible to us." Hugh Everett III (originator of the "many worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics), quoted from the conclusion of his doctoral dissertation in Scientific American, December 2007, p. 105. Emphasis in the original.

A Scientific Theory

According to the text, a scientific theory is:

"... a synthesis of a large body of information that encompasses well-tested and verified hypotheses about certain aspects of the natural world." (p. 3)


Suppose that, in thinking about the behavior of gases, it occurs to you that all of the facts and laws about the pressure, volume, and temperature of a gas could be explained if gases were made of very tiny, independent particles moving about at high speeds. This is an interesting hypothesis which produces several experimental tests. Suppose that the predictions of this hypothesis all seem to indicate that the hypothesis is correct. Scientists begin to call your hypothesis a theory.

Characteristics of Scientific Theories

"Theory" is probably the most misused and ambiguous word in science - misused and ambiguous in its use by scientists as well as nonscientists! Some characteristics of a theory are:

Practice quiz on laws and theories:

You need a Java-enabled browser to take a practic quiz on Newton's First Law.

[Chapter 1 Objectives]
BHS -> Mr. Stanbrough -> Physics -> About Science -> this page
last update August 31, 2009 by JL Stanbrough