Falsifiability

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Falsifiability or refutability is the logical possibility that an assertion could be shown false by a particular observation or physical experiment. That something is "falsifiable" does not mean it is false; rather, it means that if the statement were false, then its falsehood could be demonstrated.

The claim "No human lives forever" is not falsifiable since it does not seem possible to prove wrong. In theory, one would have to observe a human living forever to falsify that claim. On the other hand, "All humans live forever" is falsifiable since the presentation of just one dead human could prove the statement wrong (excluding metaphysical assertions about souls, which are not falsifiable). Moreover, a claim may be true and still be falsifiable; if "All humans live forever" were true, we would never actually find a dead human, and yet that claim would still be falsifiable because we can at least imagine the observation that would prove it wrong.

Some statements are only falsifiable in theory, while others are even falsifiable in practice (i.e. testable). For example, "it will be raining here in one billion years" is theoretically falsifiable, but not practically so.

Falsifiability, particularly testability, is an important concept in science and the philosophy of science. The concept was made popular by Karl Popper in his philosophical analysis of the scientific method. Popper concluded that a hypothesis, proposition, or theory is "scientific" only if it is, among other things, falsifiable. That is, falsifiability is a necessary (but not sufficient) criterion for scientific ideas. Popper asserted that unfalsifiable statements are non-scientific, although not without relevance. For example, meta-physical or religious propositions have cultural or spiritual meaning, and the ancient metaphysical and unfalsifiable idea of the existence of atoms has led to corresponding falsifiable modern theories. A falsifiable theory that has withstood severe scientific testing is said to be corroborated by past experience, though in Popper's view this is not equivalent with confirmation and does not guarantee that the theory is true or even partially true.

Popper invented the notion of metaphysical research programs to name such ideas. In contrast to positivism, which held that statements are senseless if they cannot be verified or falsified, Popper claimed that falsifiability is merely a special case of the more general notion of criticizability. Still, he admitted that tests and refutation is one of the most effective methods by which theories can be criticized.

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