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Thread: Laws of Nature... emergent property of matter or immaterial rules imposed upon matter?

  1. Top | #51
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    Assuming our view of nature is broadly correct, all that we have access to as individuals, a direct and unmediated access, an access which is as good as actual knowledge, are our perceptions. So, we can say we know our perceptions. Yet, there is no way for us to decide how similar to the physical world our perceptions are. We cannot step out of the theatre of our perceptions to have a good look at the physical world and see if it's really like what our perceptions tell us. So the real nature of the physical world really is anybody's guess. Obviously, according to our view of nature, our perceptions need to bear some relation to our environment and therefore to nature. But we don't know what this relation really is, essentially because this relation can only be outside our perceptions. We certainly have a view about it but we cannot from our perceptions properly deduce what nature is really like. All we can do is hope that the same causes will produce the same effects, and that the same natural event will produce the same perceptions so that from the same perceptions we can assume that the same natural event did occur. Yet, this does not tell us what this event is at all, merely that the same completely unknown event did occur at different points in time. There's no harm in believing that what our perceptions show to us is the actual reality around us. There has been no harm in that for apparently now something like 300,000 years so we can probably trust our perceptions. But it is nonetheless a false belief. It is a false belief and we are unable to tell which part of our representation of nature might be accurate or indeed if any part is accurate. It has to be good enough to be useful, just as a word is good enough to be useful as a means of communication even though a word cannot possibly look or be anything like what it is supposed to refer to. All we can do is hope that the objects that appear in our perceptions, a tree, a house, the moon, are useful representations. The so-called laws of nature we have invented are in fact laws of a fictitious world presented to us by our perceptions. Our perceptions are not exactly conventions like words are, but they are as good as conventions. They are whatever turned out to be useful means of representation during our evolution from bacterium to homo sapiens. Perceptions are essentially arbitrary representations. They need not bear any ressemblance with reality as long as they keep being useful. That aspect of our nature would be more readily apparent if we could communicate effectively with other animals species. Hence, laws of nature as we think of them aren't anything like the reality of the physical world. We can hope that there are regularities, but it is naïve to think that these regularities are accurately represented by the laws we invented. We could still assume the existence of actual laws of nature, unknowable but in existence nonetheless, but it seems simpler to just remain agnostic in this respect. All that is needed is a mechanism by which nature manages to appear regular to us. It doesn't necessarily need to be guided by laws. It just has to appear to be regular. If it can do that without any laws, so be it. The fact that we are too dumb to see how it could do it has to be irrelevant.
    EB

  2. Top | #52
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    Quote Originally Posted by Speakpigeon View Post
    Assuming our view of nature is broadly correct, all that we have access to as individuals, a direct and unmediated access, an access which is as good as actual knowledge, are our perceptions.
    Right, okay, well, this is a wishy-washy notion that we don't know things about the external world because we don't have direct access to it but instead we have access only to internal mental percepts of the external world provided to us through sensory perception. It's like saying we really don't see things because our mind doesn't have direct access to the world around us leaving us to interpret the signals provided through our visual senses. Next, we'll be led to believe we don't really drive since the vehicles our bodies are in aren't in direct contact with the road our vehicles are on. I, personally, wouldn't hold the notion that we don't know things about the world around us just because the neurons in the brain don't have physical contact with the objects in nature, and by "know," I don't mean it in some God like sense where it's impossible to be incorrect. It's always logically possible to be mistaken, even when actually correct. From your statement, we can deduce that we might be mistaken about what we think we know. I don't dispute that.

    Hence, laws of nature as we think of them aren't anything like the reality of the physical world. We can hope that there are regularities, but it is naïve to think that these regularities are accurately represented by the laws we invented.
    The laws we invent are not laws of nature. If we invent them, then they are laws of man. They are not laws meant to govern nature (of course--nature would never abide by our commands) but merely to (hopefully) reflect the causal nature of nature.

    We could still assume the existence of actual laws of nature, unknowable but in existence nonetheless, but it seems simpler to just remain agnostic in this respect.
    I know there are laws of nature with at least the same confidence I have there is a causal reason for a rock will fall from my hand if let go. Might be wrong. Not wrong, but might be. Actually right. Might be wrong. Not wrong. Might be right. Am right. Always might be wrong. Always might be right. Actually, only one of the two. Hence, and simplified, actuality implies possibility while possibility doesn't.

    Question, if there are laws of nature, am I talking about statements and formulas created thus invented by man to reflect the underpinnings of the observed regularities or are laws of nature the underpinnings of the observed regularities? I say the latter, and I'm pretty sure I'm right.

  3. Top | #53
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    Quote Originally Posted by fast View Post
    Right, okay, well, this is a wishy-washy notion that we don't know things about the external world because we don't have direct access to it but instead we have access only to internal mental percepts of the external world provided to us through sensory perception. It's like saying we really don't see things because our mind doesn't have direct access to the world around us leaving us to interpret the signals provided through our visual senses. Next, we'll be led to believe we don't really drive since the vehicles our bodies are in aren't in direct contact with the road our vehicles are on.
    There is nothing wishy-washy about the idea that our perceptions don't need to be true of the world around us. Science agrees with me.

    There has been two main drivers for this idea. First, writings by many philosophers, and prominent among them, Plato, Descartes and Kant. And then science itself. I think they bear equal responsibility. Philosophy introduced the idea while science showed how it could work in practice, and indeed how it worked in some specific instances: How our representation of the world around us is mediated by an organic perception system, how evolution works by selecting whatever works, how the things supposedly perceived are irrevocably removed from us, for example science says that the twinkling star we think we see in fact no longer exists as we see it, and possibly no longer exist at all, how what we think of as elementary particles don't in fact behave as such, for example, what looks like the straightforward trajectory of a particle is now understood as not a trajectory at all, but more something like a set of local events, each one independent from the other, with all events merely probabilistically occurring in neat succession and very nearly along a straight line, thus merely giving the appearance of a trajectory.

    A very simple example of how science shows how it can work are colours. Science says that light is best described as electromagnetic waves, which broadly are energy the quantity of which is fluctuating at very, very high frequencies over space and time. Crucially, science says light is nothing else but these electromagnetic waves. From this you have to deduce that light is not, and does not contain, colours, at all. Instead, colours should be understood as entirely in our perceptions. A red light at a crossroad is not itself red. Our perception system makes it out as red. It's an arbitrary representation, a convention, a picture. The real world is behind the picture and we can't step outside to look behind the picture. All that we have is the picture. And crucially, this also shows why it works. As drivers we better be able to tell red from green. It doesn't matter that we should be able to know the real state of the traffic light.

    A good analogy is provided by computers. Computer programmes can be very effective, including now driving trains, aircrafts, cars and all sorts of machines. Yet, they don't have anything inside them that would resemble our perceptions or indeed the world around them. All the knowledge they have available to them to select the next of their actions that will be nearly always effective are symbolic codes. These codes are arbitrary and vary in effect from one type of computer to the next, and they have been so written because the programmer believed they would result in the computer doing the expecting things, not because the codes would somehow be true of the world, or represent the world. In fact, what we call a code, is not even anything like a code. Look into a computer and you won't see anything like a programme written anywhere. What we call a code is itself a convenient fiction. All a computer could be said to contain are electronic elements in various magnetic states interacting with each other. And then even that is just another, more elaborate fiction. Still, it works and that's all that we need.

    Quote Originally Posted by fast View Post
    I, personally, wouldn't hold the notion that we don't know things about the world around us just because the neurons in the brain don't have physical contact with the objects in nature, and by "know," I don't mean it in some God like sense where it's impossible to be incorrect. It's always logically possible to be mistaken, even when actually correct. From your statement, we can deduce that we might be mistaken about what we think we know. I don't dispute that.
    That's good but then I don't see why you want to insist that you know anything. All that you should say is that may be you know something, which even I accept may be true.

    Quote Originally Posted by fast View Post
    Hence, laws of nature as we think of them aren't anything like the reality of the physical world. We can hope that there are regularities, but it is naïve to think that these regularities are accurately represented by the laws we invented.
    The laws we invent are not laws of nature. If we invent them, then they are laws of man. They are not laws meant to govern nature (of course--nature would never abide by our commands) but merely to (hopefully) reflect the causal nature of nature.
    I certainly accept that by laws of nature we usually mean laws that really are somehow an integral part of nature itself, as opposed to merely our representation of nature. But the question is whether what we mean is true of the world. Personally, I don't think so and I have long been advocating for scientists to drop this expression for their vocabulary as misleading and essentially teleological.

    The term 'regularities' doesn't seem to connote laws of nature. Regularity is something we observe in nature just as we think we can observe a star or an atom. Regularity is a measure of the physical world and scientists seem to understand the distinction between the measure and the thing measured. Laws of nature don't seem that way. The expression seems to suggest there is something else beyond what is effectively observed. But if physical laws existed in nature, scientists would expect that it should be possible to observe them one way or the other and I'm sure none of them is thinking in those terms.

    Quote Originally Posted by fast View Post
    We could still assume the existence of actual laws of nature, unknowable but in existence nonetheless, but it seems simpler to just remain agnostic in this respect.
    I know there are laws of nature with at least the same confidence I have there is a causal reason for a rock will fall from my hand if let go. Might be wrong. Not wrong, but might be. Actually right. Might be wrong. Not wrong. Might be right. Am right. Always might be wrong. Always might be right. Actually, only one of the two. Hence, and simplified, actuality implies possibility while possibility doesn't.

    Question, if there are laws of nature, am I talking about statements and formulas created thus invented by man to reflect the underpinnings of the observed regularities or are laws of nature the underpinnings of the observed regularities? I say the latter, and I'm pretty sure I'm right.
    You should be more critical of your own expressions: in what physical sense could laws of nature underpin observed regularities? The expression seems to suggest that laws of nature would exist as causal agents. How could that possibly work? Nature surely isn't a big machine operating on a programme of physical laws? Where would these laws be and what would be their mode of action? How could they drive physical events and if they did not, why would they exist at all and why call them "laws"? It all looks like a total mystery!
    EB

  4. Top | #54
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    Quote Originally Posted by fast View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by untermensche View Post

    I fail to see your distinction.

    We see an apple fall to the earth and we conclude it fell because of "laws".

    We conclude the "laws" are there based on the behavior of things we can observe.

    We cannot observe any laws.
    Agreed.
    You are both looking at it in simplistic (as in, easy to communicate) terms.

    There is a chair sitting in the corner of the room... wait, the chair is "sitting".. so it can "stand up" if it wanted to? It has a butt to sit on? Is the chair tired, so it is sitting?

    why does a ball always want to roll downhill and not uphill? Wait, the ball has wants? It desires, and pleads for "downess"? how crazy is that talk?

    "laws" are an extinct term of the past, in science.. it is too imprecise... too easy to misunderstand the intended meaning (as I believe you are). What was meant by "law" way back then was "a theory that has so much evidence for, and not a shred of evidence against, that it would be inconceivable in any foreseeable future for the theory to be upended or abandoned by additional understanding". The hubris of "ancient science" is over. We don't say things are laws anymore. Otherwise, it would be called the "Law of Evolution" by now.. .but we don't use those absolute terms anymore.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Malintent View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by fast View Post
    I fail to see your distinction.

    We see an apple fall to the earth and we conclude it fell because of "laws".

    We conclude the "laws" are there based on the behavior of things we can observe.

    We cannot observe any laws.
    Agreed.
    You are both looking at it in simplistic (as in, easy to communicate) terms.

    There is a chair sitting in the corner of the room... wait, the chair is "sitting".. so it can "stand up" if it wanted to? It has a butt to sit on? Is the chair tired, so it is sitting?

    why does a ball always want to roll downhill and not uphill? Wait, the ball has wants? It desires, and pleads for "downess"? how crazy is that talk?

    "laws" are an extinct term of the past, in science.. it is too imprecise... too easy to misunderstand the intended meaning (as I believe you are). What was meant by "law" way back then was "a theory that has so much evidence for, and not a shred of evidence against, that it would be inconceivable in any foreseeable future for the theory to be upended or abandoned by additional understanding". The hubris of "ancient science" is over. We don't say things are laws anymore. Otherwise, it would be called the "Law of Evolution" by now.. .but we don't use those absolute terms anymore.
    You haven't made any comment on the statements.

    I put "law" in quotes to show we have no idea what they are, just that the effect of them being there can be observed.

    Einstein talks about a bend in space, but that is an effect. The cause of the bend is the "law".

    But if there are effects there must be causes for the effects. Even if we can't understand the causes.

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    It's not the cause. The "law" is a description of what happens when certain conditions exist. It's like the "law" of burning oxygen and hydrogen.. heat and water are produced, unless you are in a black hole, then cold tetrahedral crystalline structures are produced.

    The bend is a repeated pattern that arises in the local universe again and again- when there is a certain energy density (including directional flow) in spacetime, there is a certain pattern of the evolution of the energy density in that region of spacetime.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kharakov View Post
    It's not the cause. The "law" is a description of what happens when certain conditions exist. It's like the "law" of burning oxygen and hydrogen.. heat and water are produced, unless you are in a black hole, then cold tetrahedral crystalline structures are produced.

    The bend is a repeated pattern that arises in the local universe again and again- when there is a certain energy density (including directional flow) in spacetime, there is a certain pattern of the evolution of the energy density in that region of spacetime.
    If something happens it has to happen due to a cause.

    A body at rest will remain at rest.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kharakov View Post
    It's not the cause. The "law" is a description of what happens when certain conditions exist. It's like the "law" of burning oxygen and hydrogen.. heat and water are produced, unless you are in a black hole, then cold tetrahedral crystalline structures are produced.

    The bend is a repeated pattern that arises in the local universe again and again- when there is a certain energy density (including directional flow) in spacetime, there is a certain pattern of the evolution of the energy density in that region of spacetime.
    When you say, "is a description," do you think descriptions are causal or deny that laws are causal?

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    Quote Originally Posted by untermensche View Post
    If something happens it has to happen due to a cause.
    Things existing without being caused is something happening without cause. That's just if things existing without cause is possible in reality.

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    Quote Originally Posted by fast View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Kharakov View Post
    It's not the cause. The "law" is a description of what happens when certain conditions exist. It's like the "law" of burning oxygen and hydrogen.. heat and water are produced, unless you are in a black hole, then cold tetrahedral crystalline structures are produced.

    The bend is a repeated pattern that arises in the local universe again and again- when there is a certain energy density (including directional flow) in spacetime, there is a certain pattern of the evolution of the energy density in that region of spacetime.
    When you say, "is a description," do you think descriptions are causal or deny that laws are causal?
    I think that descriptions are caused, and perhaps cause things to happen in some sense, so they are causal in that sense (being part of the causal chain).

    However, I'm arguing that the laws are just descriptions of repeated things we observe in nature- so mass of 10^23 kg will cause a specific acceleration towards it, an electromagnetic field will interact with certain substances in certain ways, etc. The law correlating mass to acceleration is not a "law", but rather a mathematical description of the observed properties of nature.

    The mass, that is related to the acceleration, is not necessarily causing the acceleration, rather looking at mass as separate from acceleration (as an independent entity) isn't necessarily a correct way of looking at things.

    I have to move my car....

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