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Rational Mayhem

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Posted by Aurino Souza on October 10, 2002 20:34:28 UTC

Harv,

I'm not sure you realized it was I who wrote the post. I just stepped in because I think Dick has given up by now, since you're obviously not willing to go where he wants to take you. While previously I would tend to agree with him, on the basis that he's making the same assumptions made by physicists, nowadays I realize he's claiming to take more out of his paper than his assumptions would allow him. Which is just a matter of saying I think you're absolutely right.

But I still find something worth thinking about. Dick has admitted his paper is just a trick so he must have something else in mind. What that something is, I have no idea. At one point I thought the whole idea was that physics was not a description of reality, but rather a set of rules which apply to any self-consistent mathematical description of anything. When I told him that, he was quite happy and declared I was the first person who truly understood his work.

Now understanding one idea is not the same as agreeing with it. I do think there's something strange about physics, but I can't quite put my finger on it. What I find strange is that the same equations, some quite complex ones, keep popping up in scenarios which at first look totally dissimilar. For instance, the equations that describe current flowing through an electric circuit are exactly the same ones that describe the movement of your car's suspension system or the changes in temperature inside your house. They are exactly the same! How can that be?

What do resistors, capacitors, inductors, have to do with shocks, coils, steel, furnaces, walls, have in common? From a mathematical standpoint quite a lot, as any physicist or engineer knows. In a nutshell, the whole story is that there are only three ways to describe the relationship of kinetic and potential energy through time, namely, one is either proportional to the other, or it is proportional to the integral of the other, or it is proportional to the derivative of the other. Any other relationship can be described as a combination of those three.

It doesn't stop there. You can go up and up the abstraction ladder you see more and more similarities between increasingly disparate concepts, as I once mentioned to Alan about applying Maxwell's equations to analyze city traffic problems. I wasn't kidding, it's perfectly possible, although not necessarily practical. So the question for me is, how far can you go up the abstraction ladder until you reach a point where you lost all touch with the physical world? A point where the mathematical relationships remain valid even in the absence of anything they might refer to?

I'm not competent to climb that high, I don't know if anyone is, but the question remains unanswered.

It's not as simple as you think, and it's not as simple as Dick tries to make it. At least not for me.

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