Ideas do have value because they form the hypothesis for further testing. Using the scientific method, an hypothesis may be shown to be true or false. Scientific theories form around hypotheses that have been shown to be “true” through multiple iterations of the scientific method and under different conditions. But a scientific theory is not the end result of the scientific method. Like hypotheses, theories can still be proven or rejected when new information becomes available. Theories can also be modified as more information is gathered so that the hypothesis becomes more defined and the accuracy of the prediction becomes greater over time.
Theories increase scientific knowledge when they are put to practical use. Scientists use theories to develop inventions, find a cure for a disease, or figure out the best way to address behavioral issues with students. But regardless of the number of times a theory has proven useful, it still doesn’t become “concrete proof.” Hypotheses and theories can be proven false — but they can’t be proven true, which would require testing them under every possible condition.
A law is a description of an observed event or experience that holds true every time it is tested. But it isn’t of much use in expanding our knowledge because it doesn’t explain why something is true; it just states that it is true. A theory, on the other hand, explains observations that are gathered during the scientific process. When you adopt a theory to drive behavior because the theory seems to have considerable scientific validity, it’s still important to use it to expand your repertoire rather than to assume it will work in every case. For example, Response A produces Behavior B IF Conditions C.
Psychology will always be considered a “soft science” because the workings of the human brain are not directly observable or measurable in any absolute way. There are no “laws” regarding human behavior. So Karen’s idea of beginning with a theory and then modifying it to fit the characteristics of individual students is about as close as we can get to a solid foundation for our own behavior. The trick is to recognize the power of one’s own beliefs as one chooses an operating theory! :-)