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I gave a talk recently in which I remarked that what distinguished theories from models iis that theories aspire to some sort of absolute truth whereas models simply aspire to a limited description. A physicist in the audience objected to this talk of truth, telling me that all of these theories (e.g. Newton, Einstein, Dirac) were simply “encodings”, some better, some worse.

I find I cannot believe that theories like QED are simply encodings, which I assume means convenient but not necessarily correct ways of looking at things. Yes, I understand that Newtonian mechanics and General Relativity are two different ways of looking at the same thing, but there is something truthful about both of them.

I am obliged to think, I guess, about how to define what I mean by that last sentence more precisely.

When someone disagrees with your views, you might as well say that calling their disagreement a disagreement is simply a convenient encoding of their behavior too.

Published in Models