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Proving a Negative Options
Posted: Monday, September 10, 2018 12:33:13 AM

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Joined: 3/23/2015
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Location: Burlington, Ontario, Canada
There's a belief that you can't prove a negative. It seems that this is a topic that might have been discussed on the Forum a while ago with its own thread, but I can't prove it happened either way. Whistle The data only goes back as far as 2009 on the Forum Search. TFD copyright is 2008.

If the argument that you can't prove a negative is NOT a fallacy, then I could argue that "You can’t prove human activity is not the cause of global warming” and it would be true.

The bank does not have much trouble proving a negative when an account is overdrawn.

Without going into a cave with only one entrance, how could you prove there's no bear in the cave? You do need time.

Notice, for a start, that "You cannot prove a negative" is itself a negative. So, if it were true, it would itself be unprovable. - another name for the fallacy.

Can you prove a philosophical negative?

Comments and/or arguments either way?

"Do the people you care about love you back?" Warren Buffett's measure of success
Posted: Monday, September 10, 2018 1:32:33 PM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 9/12/2011
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Location: Livingston, Scotland, United Kingdom
It is possible (by logic and logical "arithmetic" - set theory) to prove a negative.

However, you have to have all the right data.

You can't prove "gods don't exist" using negative evidence ("I've never seen one", "You can't show me one").
If you gather enough data from every person on the planet, you can come a conclusion
1. to the inductive proof "Most people say they have never seen a god. The few people who say they have seen one have no evidence (and their descriptions contradict each other)
2. To the proof that "A few people can show definitively that they have seen a god - therefor it is proven that one exists.

It takes a LOT of work to prove something like this and it really only gives a 1,000,000,000,000,000:1 probability

Wyrd bið ful aræd - bull!
Posted: Wednesday, September 12, 2018 10:12:28 AM

Rank: Advanced Member

Joined: 8/27/2016
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Location: Kotel’niki, Moskovskaya, Russia
Hope123 wrote:
There's a belief that you can't prove a negative.

Comments and/or arguments either way?

I started with this document and in the first paragraph it has:

a physicist at the University of Virginia, agrees, writing in his ‘Electric Blanket of Doom’ talk that ‘we can’t prove a negative proposition.’

Here you can read the original statement:

We can't prove a negative proposition — “power lines don't cause hives” — any more than you can prove you didn't commit last week's murder.

And there's a difference. To prove the positive - “power lines cause hives” - you just need to present one case of hives caused by power lines. To prove the negative you need to consider all cases of hives - past and future - and demonstrate that power lines were not their cause.

The problem lies in the infinity of the set of cases (not to speak of the futurity of some of them).


Не надо отчаиваться, товарищ.
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