Skip to main content

On the word, 'theory'


The Japanese language has two separate words equivalent to the two usages of the English word, 'theory'.

理論 [RI-RON]
A system of knowledge built on logic to systematically and uniformly explain individual phenomena. In addition, a purely logical knowledge corresponding to practice.

説 [SE-TSU]
1. A principle (belief) or claim for certain things.
2. Rumor.

I tried to translate the Japanese definitions as faithfully as I can into English. The first word, 'ri-ron', is equivalent to the scientific usage of the English word, 'theory' (as in 'the theory of evolution' or 'the theory of relativity'), while the second word, 'se-tsu', is equivalent to the common usage (more like 'I have a theory!'). Setsu doesn't need to be substantiated and can be wild claims.

It's a shame the English language doesn't have two separate words; we can avoid a lot of confusion.

Comments

dinogami said…
It's a shame the English language doesn't have two separate words; we can avoid a lot of confusion.

It does--"theory" is correct in, say, "theory of evolution" or "germ theory of disease" or "theory of plate tectonics." The correct word for the common "usage" of "theory" is, in many instances, "hypothesis"; in other instances, it's "guess" or "supposition."
Raptor's Nest said…
I'm well aware of that, but the general public doesn't seem to be. The two Japanese words are distinct to begin with.
Raptor's Nest said…
Plus, the English word, 'theory' actually can be used in the sense of 'hypothesis' and still be correct. But the Japanese word 'ri-ron' cannot be correctly used in the meaning 'hypothesis'; nor can 'se-tsu' be correctly used as 'theory'.
dinogami said…
the English word, 'theory' actually can be used in the sense of 'hypothesis' and still be correct.

It can, but it shouldn't, just the same way that I could call a TV show a "movie" (it is a moving picture, after all), but shouldn't. Just because everyone does something incorrectly does not, per force, make it correct!

Popular posts from this blog

R for beginners and intermediate users 3: plotting with colours

For my third post on my R tutorials for beginners and intermediate users, I shall finally touch on the subject matter that prompted me to start these tutorials - plotting with group structures in colour.

If you are familiar with R, then you may have noticed that assigning group structure is not all that straightforward. You can have a dataset that may have a column specifically for group structure such as this:

B0 B1 B2 Family
Acrocanthosaurus 0.308 -0.00329 3.28E-05 Allosauroidea
Allosaurus 0.302 -0.00285 2.04E-05 Allosauroidea
Archaeopteryx 0.142 -0.000871 2.98E-06 Aves
Bambiraptor 0.182 -0.00161 1.10E-05 Dromaeosauridae
Baryonychid 0.189 -0.00238 2.20E-05 Basal_Tetanurae
Carcharodontosaurus 0.369 -0.00502 5.82E-05 Allosauroidea
Carnotaurus 0.312 -0.00324 2.94E-05 Neoceratosauria
Ceratosaurus 0.377 -0.00522 6.07E-05 Neoceratosauria
Citipati 0.278 -0.00119 5.08E-06 Oviraptorosauria
Coelophysi…

The difference between Lion and Tiger skulls

A quick divergence from my usual dinosaurs, and I shall talk about big cats today. This is because to my greatest delight, I had discovered today a wonderful book. It is called The Felidæ of Rancho La Brea (Merriam and Stock 1932, Carnegie Institution of Washington publication, no. 422). As the title suggests it goes into details of felids from the Rancho La Brea, in particular Smilodon californicus (probably synonymous with S. fatalis), but also the American Cave Lion, Panthera atrox. The book is full of detailed descriptions, numerous measurements and beautiful figures. However, what really got me excited was, in their description and comparative anatomy of P. atrox, Merriam and Stock (1932) provide identification criteria for the Lion and Tiger, a translation of the one devised by the French palaeontologist Marcelin Boule in 1906. I have forever been looking for a set of rules for identifying lions and tigers and ultimately had to come up with a set of my own with a lot of help fro…

Top 10 scientifically important theropod dinosaurs of all time (off the top of my head)

I thought I'd do a fun post for once. And since list based articles are the norm for fun on the internet, I thought I'd do one on dinosaurs, but given that I know most about theropods, I've decided to restrict my list to theropods (...maybe in a future post, I'll do other clades).

My ranking is based mostly on scientific importance so it may not reflect awesomeness, and it is obviously subjective as to how I rank importance to science. For instance, interesting discoveries or unique palaeobiology are ranked relatively low compared to wealth of information and data or completely revolutionising our understanding of the evolution of theropods.

So here are my top 10 scientifically important theropod dinosaurs of all time (off the top of my head)

10. Megalosaurus

Being the first dinosaur to be named, Megalosaurus automatically deserves a spot on this list, but given the fragmentary nature of known fossil specimens, and being mostly useless as a meaningful source for biologi…