I just saw Lawrence Krauss speak about his new book,

*The Greatest Story Every Told — So Far*, with Alan Alda at the New York Public Library. And during the event Krauss reiterated a point I want to drive home here because I think it's really important.

It has to do with how we understand scientific theories and their relationship with one another. Many people have the mistaken impression that each new scientific idea disproves all the previous ideas of a particular area. For example, before Einstein we had Newtonian physics where we had Newton's laws of motion. However, Einstein's Special and General Theory of Relativity superseded Newton's laws of motion, giving us a more accurate mathematical description of the way large objects behave.

But Einstein didn't

*disprove*Newtonian physics, as if to say, Newton's equations fail to give us

*any*predictive power. Newton's equations got us to the moon after all. Einstein's equations just show us where Newton's equations break down. That is, Newton's equations are a

*close approximation*to the more accurate equations Einstein gave us, and they're accurate in a certain regime, but they break down dramatically at really fast speeds, like near the speed of light.

And where Special Relativity breaks down, General Relativity takes over. Special Relativity doesn't take into account accelerating reference frames, nor does it take into account gravity. But General Relativity didn't

*falsify*Special Relativity. Special Relativity is still accurate in it's regime — that is to say, in it's

*domain of applicability*. It's a description of reality at a certain level, within a certain range of circumstances. In other words, we need to think of scientific explanations as containers within other containers. Each theory or explanation is accurate within its container but not accurate outside of it. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the internal containers are false or disproven because a wider ranging theory eclipsed it.