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Laws Of Physics And Math Aren't Just Matters Of Opinion

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Posted by John Morgan Powell on April 18, 2001 07:54:16 UTC

It's late so I might not be too coherent, but I think I can see why Alex (and I) have problems with some of your opinions.

You seem to be saying that because these questions are issues of philosophy, not science, that they are matters of opinion. Your philosophy has just as much claim to being true as that of Alex. In questions about physics we consider this like claiming that gravity is just a philosophical question, an opinion. If you don't believe it, it won't affect you.

Maybe where physics ends and philosophy begins is not as clear as it might have been in the past.

I took great pride when I realized that it was no longer the philosophers who told us how the world was formed, why things fell, or how the universe was created, it was scientists. Philosophers who want to contribute to cosmological questions today have to read science journals like Scientific American to discover what science says this month about the kinds of things that used to be in the exclusive domain of philosophy. The philosopher that ignores science (e.g., the CBR) should not be considered relevant today. Because philosophers have to rely on the scientists more than perhaps they ever did in the past, perhaps many scientists are trying to "do the philosophy" themselves. Because their training is in science, not philosophy, they will probably do a shaky job of it.

Maybe part of Alex's (and my) philosophy of science is this: the laws of physics exist independent of our understanding of them. For example, gravity will cause things to keep falling towards the Earth whether we completely understand it or not. When our understanding changes, that won't cause gravity to suddenly produce different results. Good experimental results are never invalidated by improved theories just what the results mean, how they should be interpreted. The principles of mathematics are the same everywhere, although the nomenclature might change. All advanced civilizations will agree on the value of the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle. Otherwise their circles wouldn't work. It's not just a matter of opinion or something you can legislate.

Some State legislature seriously considered legislating the value of pi to be 3 or some such thing for reasons of simplicity. Some insistent disapproval by mathematicians and scientists from around the country caused enough doubts among the legislators that they didn't follow through with the law.

I warned you I might become incoherent. I'm off to bed.

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