Can or does science accurately describe our reality?

I am in a discussion with a friend about this theme. He basically says science cannot describe reality until it proves the assumptions from which it bases all its theories and knowledge.

Is he right?

It sounds as though your friend is a bit mistaken about what science is and what it does. Science is ABOUT making assumptions, then deliberately challenging them to see if they hold up.

Proof isn’t the goal of scientific endeavour.

We get to have some axioms, such as the assumption that external reality exists apart from our senses and that we are men, rather than butterflies dreaming we are men.

Or to look at it another way…

The goal of scientific endeavour is to describe reality, but…

…everyone involved understands and accepts that the accuracy of that description is limited by the extent to which we can test anf verify it, which nobody claims to be perfect.

But that means that at any given moment, it should be good enough

We can never be certain that *anything *“accurately describes reality”. All we can do is construct models that make accurate predictions. And the fact that a model makes accurate predictions says nothing about whether or not it corresponds to the underlying “true nature” of reality.

Define “reality”. Or, more precisely, define “reality” in a way that’s not equivalent to “that which science describes”.

So science tells us nothing about reality? - apart from predictions but as you say they tell us nothing about the nature of reality.

Reality would be everything that exists independent from anyone or anything’s perception of it?

I’m probably opening a huge can of philosophical worms here, but what do you mean by “the nature of reality?”

EDIT: I don’t know if I trust that definition of reality. Quantum mechanics tells us that the act of observing something changes the event being observed, at least at that particular level. I was going to say that gravity, for example, does exist independent of our perception of it. And so does evolution. Does that mean science accurately describes reality? It can certainly describe phenomena, but reality or the nature of reality is a broader topic.

I think this is as far a we can go. The “real” reality exists without us, however we describe our experience. Isn’t the OP talking a bit about Gödel’s theorems?

It tells us as much as we can know about reality; it’s our best tool for understanding what reality is like. The fact that it makes accurate predictions - often very accurate predictions - is evidence that it’s correct.

(my bolding)

I’m not that sure the bolded sentence is the best way to put it. I agree with what you said, but one could argue the science’s predictions are accurate because they interpret reality in an incorrect way but still get the “good” results because it also interprets the results incorrectly (Occam is turning in his grave right now).

But how can we even know if it can describe phenomena? Firstly all science descriptions are based on assumptions that we don’t know if are true, right? Then, without knowing the whole we can’t be sure that he parts are what we think they are, isn’t it? What i’m asking is, forgeting the assumptions part momentarily, if it’s possible to know parts of reality, if we don’t know the whole, because other parts could change what we think we know about another, right? - sorry if it sounds a bit confusing…

Of course that’s possible; it is however unlikely since two separate errors are unlikely to conveniently cancel themselves out like that. But something like that is possible, which is why I called it “evidence” and not “proof”. But given that science makes so many predictions that turn out to be true, enough to build a world technological civilization on, the likelihood that all or most are actually such conveniently canceling out errors seems incredibly small.


Because it works. Because treating those “phenomena” as real allows us to do real things. And because it holds together logically; it is consistent.

We know it describes phenomena because it makes accurate predictions.

Such as?

Knowing “what things are” isn’t as important as knowing “what things do”. We have no way of knowing what things really are. But we can know a great deal about what things actually do.

Science tells us what things do, not what things are.

Science starts from the assumption that things are knowable. If you don’t make that assumption, you can’t apply reasoning and there would be no point in trying to describe things scientifically. It also makes the assumption that things happen for a reason, although maybe that’s a way of restating that first assumption. If things happen for no reason, then we can’t find out why they happened, and again there would be no point in examining them that way. Beyond that, scientific theories are always provisional and can be modified or abandoned as new evidence is discovered. Do we know for a fact that things are knowable? I admit I’ve never thought about it, but I doubt there is any way to prove it. The best we could do, I think, is to say that scientific descriptions of some phenomena are very accurate and that their accuracy is a strong indication that some things are knowable. So as far as that goes, I’d say science can describe some elements of reality. But there are a lot of ways to describe reality and the physical laws of the universe are not the only way to do it.

The point of science is to describe reality. To go any deeper than that, you run into the limitations of definitions. You say science relies on assumptions we don’t know are true. What does it mean to be “true”? What does it mean to “know” parts of “reality”? Generally, these are words that are defined by science. We “know” the sun will rise tomorrow because we use science to determine the motions of the sun and Earth. We say it describes “reality” because it is not imaginary or fantastical, it is something we can actually observe and do experiments on.

If you want anything deeper than that, then you’re going to have to redefine what it means to “know” something, or what “reality” is.

Define “know”. The assumptions of science (basically that reality works in a consistent way) aren’t actually “known” to be true in the theory of knowledge sense, but they can be assumed to be true because they have been tested millions of times and have never been falsified. Science does continue to test them. For instance, on assumption is that the laws of physics work everywhere (excluding singularities) and this is tested by observing objects very, very far away and seeing if they appear to function by the rules we have here. And remember, the pretty fundamental Newtonian assumption that time is invariant got tested, failed, and a new physics was based on the result.

this topic fascinate me

Excuse my philosophical ignorance and I admit I might be missing a point or two. BUT if you hit a brick wall wouldnt you expect to encounter a hard surface, and always will hit a hard surface.
On what level is this not reality?

Assuming we are made of the materia that we are made of rather than x-rays.
I understand that the brick wall is in a sense hollow and made up of electromagnetic forces. But still this brick wall is for all purposes inpenetrateable. Is this not reality?
Is this philosophical masturbation or what do we mean by these kind of of questionings?

Did I just answer my own question or did I miss anything essential?