It's not a theory!

“The car is not starting”, he said, “I have a theory, the tank must be empty.”. That’s not a theory! That’s a hypothesis.

A hypothesis is the first part of a theory, it’s how a theory begins and it’s what we have when we think we have an explanation for something. When we go and confirm that explanation (check the tank is actually empty), proving the hypothesis, then, we have a theory.

I’m tired of hearing the word theory when they mean hypothesis. In Start Trek they do it all the time. Captain Picard asks La Forge why the friking thing is not working and after thinking for 1.5 seconds, La Forge says: “I have a theory, maybe the…”. There are no maybes on a theory! That’s a hypothesis. I think I’ve heard the word hypothesis used correctly in Star Trek TNG twice. Somehow, my wife started to use it correctly. I’m surprised. I suppose she got tired of me shouting “that’s a hypothesis!” every time La Forge opens his mouth.

I leave you with the official definition of hypothesis:

an idea or explanation for something that is based on known facts but has not yet been proved:

Several hypotheses for global warming have been suggested.

And then we reach the conclusion that all that we talk about all the times are not theories or hypothesis, they are not formal; but somehow I’m OK with using those words informally. By the way, I’ve learned this on school. I can’t remember if it was in the last years of elementary school or on the first years of high school.

This is the first of a probably infinite series of post about my pet-peeves. Muhahaha.


4 thoughts on “It's not a theory!

  1. This is perhaps fairly pedantic, but probably no more so than your original complaint. I have my own gripe here: A scientific theory can not be ‘proved’, but only shown to be in accordance with data, or else disproved.

    The classic example: The sun will rise tomorrow. As far as we know(and neglecting solar eclipse), this has happened for many, many eons. But that’s not a proof! The statement rests on the axiom that nothing will change, which is probably not true(perhaps the sun will expand to engulf the earth, robbing us of sunrise).

    A provable statement(and closer to a /true/ hypothesis, but probably still subtly flawed) would be formulated as: ‘IF the current physical conditions hold(size/mass of the sun relative to Earth remain constant and the earth continues to spin), THEN we will have a sunrise.’ This method is known as conditional proof: Explicitly assume something, carry it to its logical conclusion.

    More concisely, a hypothesis can be shown to be true, but not proved.

  2. A mathematical theory consists of an axiomatic system and all its derived theorems. (Wikipedia: Axiomatic Systems). Hypothesis is a step where one adds an additional premise to those already available [thence deriving new theorems]. (Wikipedia: Deduction theorem). A scientific theory can be thought of as a model of reality, and its statements as axioms [theorems] of some axiomatic system. The aim of this construction is to create a formal system for which reality is the only model. (Wikipedia: Theory)

  3. “that’s an hypothesis!”


    “that’s a hypothesis!”

    an is used with vowels

    “that’s an Apple”
    “that’s an iphone”
    “that’s an web site”


    that’s an car
    that’s an php web site
    that’s an cup of water

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