Verisimilitude is one of my favorite words which I can never remember to use, what it means, or how its pronounced. This blog post should change all of that.
The word refers to a ‘degree’ of truthfulness in a particular statement or hypothesis. The engine that drives science and innovation relies heavily upon the notion of verisimilitude. If statement ‘A’ is less false than statement ‘B’, then statement ‘A’ has more verisimilitude.
The meaning of verisimilitude differs subtly from ‘truthiness’—one of my fellow South Carolinian Steven Colbert’s stunt words. Truthiness refers to how truthful a particular idea or notion feels to a person ‘in their gut’, without paying any mind to facts or logic that might undermine their position.
In my previous post, I referred to Pluto’s demoted planet status, an event that occurred not because Pluto itself changed but because the scientific community adopted an updated taxonomy for celestial objects. The public backlash was bad and memorable, and the backlash by kids easily the most severe.
This update occurred for the same reason that all updates in science happen: over time science found a better model. A lot of folks have issues with the notion that science itself evolves, migrating to models of higher verisimilitude rather than operating as though it knows with certainty the basis for ground truth.
Some think ground truth itself is an illusion. Even so, we continue searching for meaning in the discovery of ever-more-fundamental particles in physics in an attempt to find that ground truth and fully describe our reality. Some jump that gap and rely on a higher power to bridge the divide.
Maybe it really is turtles all the way down. Figuratively speaking, of course.