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The One Theory Fallacy

Most people will agree that there can only be one reality, and that there for this reason can be but one explanation to the physical world as we know it. Even if we believe in multiple realities, there has to be a single explanation to tie it all together.

There is no reason to object to this position. However, where things go astray is when this intuitive truth is used as an argument for focusing all attention around a single theory. The idea that we must all work within a set framework of ideas in order to make progress is at the heart of the troubled state of modern science.

In an eagerness to get to the truth, premature decisions have been made. Scientists have settled on a number of ideas from which any dissent is seen as counterproductive, or even treasonous. Originality is not awarded, but punished.

The Inquisition, no room for dissent

By Dr. Nuno Carvalho de Sousa Private Collections – Lisbon, Public Domain,

The idea behind this attitude is that things have by now been pretty much completely figured out, and that all that remains is a bit of tweaking here and there. Anyone who questions this is nothing but an ignorant or a troublemaker.

What people supporting this attitude fail to see is its destructive impact on the creative process. The idea that all has been figured out is mind-numbing and depressing. No-one with a creative streak will be attracted to a field in which only a few problems remain.

Even if it was in fact the case that all has been figured out, making a point of this is the last thing we should do. New ideas and theories should be encouraged. Anything that fits and explains observational evidence should be met with curiosity. This may divert some energy away from other work, but it will have the benefit of sparking the imagination of creative minds.

The way forward in science is not to focus all attention on a single idea, but to let ideas run freely. A healthy scientific environment does not contain a single theory, but a multitude.

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