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Where Do the Laws of Nature Come From?

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the you-say-anthropic-i-say-platonic dept.

Math 729

mlimber writes "The NYTimes science section has up an interesting article discussing the nature of scientific laws. It comes partly in reply to physicist Paul Davies, whose recent op-ed in same paper lit up the blogosphere and solicited flurry of reader responses to the editorial page. It asks, 'Are [laws of nature] merely fancy bookkeeping, a way of organizing facts about the world? Do they govern nature or just describe it? And does it matter that we don't know and that most scientists don't seem to know or care where they come from?' The current article proceeds to survey different views on the matter. The author seems to be poking fun at himself by quoting Richard Feynman's epigram, 'Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.'"

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Pratchett's Law (1, Offtopic)

gbulmash (688770) | more than 6 years ago | (#21741958)

My favorite law is what I call Pratchett's Law: "One-in-a-million chances crop up nine times out of ten."

Damn shame about his recent Alzheimers diagnosis [slashdot.org] .

- Greg

Re:Pratchett's Law (-1, Offtopic)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742056)

What are the odds that he'll make a full recovery?

They wouldn't be anywhere around a million to one, would they?

Re:Pratchett's Law (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21742250)

Unless the tried this Sure Shot Recovery [myminicity.com]

Re:Pratchett's Law (5, Funny)

Forge (2456) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742442)

Yeah too bad.

On a more serius note. The laws of nature were written by God. After writing them he set about building a Universe to the specifications allowed by those laws.

Either that or he built a universe, made it work and these laws are just documenting how his code functions.

Nomic is the answer. (5, Funny)

roguegramma (982660) | more than 6 years ago | (#21741992)

Obviously, the Laws of Nature came up in a big game of Nomic.

Next question please.

Alternate universes (3, Interesting)

Besna (1175279) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742006)

An interesting and related question is how the laws can be tweaked, yet still conform to the anthropic principle. One could imagine a smaller universe, where the sentients would not be so spread out. Play with the equations, and run simulations. The neuroscientists will have to get involved once we understand sentience more.

Re:Alternate universes (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21742072)

I wrote a law tweaking program that plays out serveral univeral collapses [myminicity.com]

Re:Alternate universes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21742420)

someone post a link to this ass-hat's mini-city on myspace

Re:Alternate universes (1, Interesting)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742086)

More importantly: if the fundamental laws of the universe are changing (as some posit), how would we know? Can we separate natural laws from the universe that they are derived from/created in?

Industry Needed (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21742192)

Natural laws and universal laws are seen to be one and the same [myminicity.com]

Re:Alternate universes (2, Insightful)

hal9000(jr) (316943) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742336)

More importantly: if the fundamental laws of the universe are changing (as some posit), how would we know? Can we separate natural laws from the universe that they are derived from/created in?

Apparently this is a useless question since it is the philosophy of science. I have to wonder why smart people think they are smart about everything. Isn't science supposed to have rigor and thorough analysis, and if so, wouldn't that mean rigor and analysis about itself? Theories of metaphysics (not the new age shit that word is associated with, but about fundamental stuff about physics or science), epistemology (what we know and how we know it), and language all inform our science and scientific thought. Failing to understand that is a failure to understand the very activity a scientist is engaged in.

Re:Alternate universes (2, Insightful)

Smidge204 (605297) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742464)

More importantly: if the fundamental laws of the universe are changing (as some posit), how would we know? Can we separate natural laws from the universe that they are derived from/created in?

Well, if they change fast enough, it could become apparent that the equations and constants we've been using for 200 years now are no longer accurate (with respect to the results they used to produce). That would be a pretty big flag I'd think.
=Smidge=

Re:Alternate universes (4, Funny)

Brian Gordon (987471) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742146)

NO, never run any simulations! If it can be shown possible to simulate a universe, it's infinitely likely that we're in some sub-simulation of someone's universe simulation [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Alternate universes (5, Insightful)

PresidentEnder (849024) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742272)

What's wrong with that? As long as no one can tell the difference, we might as well go on living as we have. How much would it influence your actions to know that you were a simulation within a simulation? Everything still happens the same way.

quickly now (5, Funny)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742414)

remove the above poster for reprogramming before any of the other subjects notice

Re:quickly now (1)

Brian Gordon (987471) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742484)

Aw, meddling in the simulations? That would screw up the results. Unless you get funding based on how many levels deep your simulated universes construct simulations of their own :)

Re:Alternate universes (1, Insightful)

Brian Gordon (987471) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742456)

Because life has no meaning, and because at any second someone could hit Ctrl-C and kill us all instantly, erasing our entire life's work, because the whole of human existance could be some process running in the background of a lab workstation, because someone would be watching us... because someone would be responsible for human suffering.

Maybe it wouldn't make any difference to an animal, but I have psychological investment in the existential.

Re:Alternate universes (1)

Moderatbastard (808662) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742606)

because at any second someone could hit Ctrl-C and kill us all instantly, erasing our entire life's work, because the whole of human existance could be some process running in the background of a lab workstation
Still, look on the bright side: if the galactic operator did send us the cosmic sigkill, we'd hardly be upset or disappointed about it.

Re:Alternate universes (5, Funny)

Torvaun (1040898) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742684)

Look on the even brighter side: maybe the galactic operator is using Windows, and Ctrl-C will just copy our universe.

Re:Alternate universes (1)

Yetihehe (971185) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742674)

Maybe it wouldn't make any difference to an animal, but I have psychological investment in the existential.
I'm suicidal you insensitive clod!
On a serious side, not everyone is scared entire universe would just end. What if you are hit by a car? Then for you universe ends.

Re:Alternate universes (1)

Eternauta3k (680157) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742832)

Well, if we're deep enough in the simulation chain [qntm.org] , where the actions of one level are the same as the level below, anything you do to the simulation will be done to the real world. You could alter the universe.
That's what's wrong.

Re:Alternate universes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21742724)

"An interesting and related question is how the laws can be tweaked"

We already do it in a small way, whenever you catch a leaf falling, you've just tweaked the laws of nature, we might even say conscious agents are a feedback law change the laws of nature (i.e. build new configurations) right now we do it on the small level with machines, chemistry, etc, in the future it may be possible to do crazy things, we just don't know.

probably impossible by definition (3, Interesting)

Quadraginta (902985) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742804)

The argument I've found most persuasive, and IIRC correctly from a Berkeley physics seminar umpty years ago by Hawking, shared by at least some first-rank cosmologists, is that the physical laws we have will ultimately prove to be the only possible logically consistent set.

That is, "alternate" universes are ipso facto impossible, because there is no other set of physical laws that are consistent with each other. And imagining them is somewhat like asking whether God can make a stone so heavy he can't lift it, or imagining being your own grandfather via a time-travel machine: a mere exercise in word-play, allowed only by the fact that English is a sufficiently illogical and ambiguous way of communicating that all kinds of nonsense can be put into words and "make sense" grammatically without making the least bit of sense logically.

i think its clear (5, Insightful)

El Pollo Loco (562236) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742014)

Maybe I missed the point of this, but I don't see how scientific laws can be anything BUT a description of nature. We're not creating laws. I can't write a law saying gravity doesn't exist. Scientific laws/theories are merely descriptions of nature.

Re:i think its clear (4, Interesting)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742132)

A question is, though, do those laws apply at all times and places, or are we just "discovering" them here, and now? As far as I know, there's nothing prohibiting a gradual gauge change over time and space. Perhaps those innocuous gauge shifts really DO have an effect somewhere/when. What we generally call "laws" should be universally applicable (or their restricted domains should be stated), but what if they're only applicable here/now? Are they just shadows of higher-dimensional laws which may undergo sudden changes as some higher-dimensional phase change goes on?

      Perhaps the arbitrary laws you can write down really do apply.

        This all strikes me as a form of hidden variables theory. Or perhaps just cosmic navel-gazing.

The change would be part of the law (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742256)

Suppose we had a complete understanding of the laws of the universe.

By definition that would include what laws apply under what conditions and what laws apply at a given time and place.

Until we have that, we don't understand the universe.

Of course, we may realize that the laws of the universe as they are now came into being only 3 hours ago and everything before then is just a false image.

Re:i think its clear (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21742354)

It's a non-issue. Laws of nature are, by definition, theories which have been tested and found to be applicable over and over again. Scientists are always looking for ways to falsify their theories. That is the very essence of science. They are fully aware that not finding contradictions to their theories doesn't mean that no contradictions exist. They are looking for changing "constants" and they even know about effects which run counter to known "laws of nature", but that doesn't make the laws useless, because the circumstances where the laws don't apply are known.

Re:i think its clear (5, Insightful)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742438)

From a scientific standpoint it doesn't matter. All the "laws" we have now are essentially just best guesses made on available data. If in the future we discover circumstances under which those laws no longer apply the laws will be amended to reflect those conditions under which they don't apply. The original laws of Newtonian mechanics were quite sufficient to describe the behaviors that Newton was observing, but were later found to be insufficient and were updated. This is the scientific process, it's a gradual refinement of understanding in an attempt to approach a set of laws that can used to accurately describe and calculate the universe (and possibly beyond).

Re:i think its clear (2, Interesting)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742588)

For a long time, Newton's laws were considered universal, and then Einstein showed how they only work to very closely estimate solutions to a specific subset of physical phenomena, over a certain range, etc. So obviously, our "laws" are just useful estimation techniques, and should not be considered as having any permanent relation to life, the universe, or other difficult and complex topics. Science doesn't mean anything special unless we prescribe some other equally artificial meaning to some results (i.e. numerology).

conservation laws prohibit this (3, Insightful)

Quadraginta (902985) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742654)

As far as I know, there's nothing prohibiting a gradual gauge change over time and space.

You bet there is. All the conservation laws (e.g. conservation of energy, or of momentum) rely on the fact that physical laws do not change with time or position in space. If there was a "gradual change" in physical laws, e.g. if the constant in Coulomb's Law or Newton's Law changed slowly from position to position, or over time, then energy and momentum would not be conserved.

And, of course, the fact that energy and momentum are conserved has been verified experimentally in excruciating detail.

Re:conservation laws prohibit this (1)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742742)

Yes, that's why I specified "gauge" change, not just tacking on some constants. I'll still believe Noether's Theorem until they pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Re:i think its clear (1)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742178)

Actually there are places where gravity doesn't exist. A comedy club, for example.

Re:i think its clear (1, Funny)

Sanat (702) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742190)

"I can't write a law saying gravity doesn't exist."

Science has not yet learned the use of "intent". If you intend to accomplish something and you are in balance with self then it will occur.

Example was Peter walking on the water with Jesus. When his mental mind told him it was impossible to walk on water then he began to sink.

My personal experience was walking on hot coals that were hot enough to melt an aluminum can. I walked for 40 feet through the oak coals and not a burn on my feet.

As a side note... the coals were so hot that you had to stand back about 6 feet or so to be comfortable... but when I began to walk I superseded the physical law of my feet getting burned.

Further use of intent is if you wanted to measure light as a particle then it would be a particle. If you wanted light to be a wave then it would be so.

These types of things work from an interdimensional energy that science has not yet grasped. Eventually they will from observation of things like firewalks or handling hot iron without being burned and understanding that intent is the power behind things occurring.

Re:i think its clear (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21742360)

Walking on coals is down to sweat and keeping the time a foot stays in contact with the coals to a minimum, next time try standing still and see how long you last.

Re:i think its clear (1)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742380)

If you intend to accomplish something and you are in balance with self then it will occur.
If you intend to do something, and it doesn't occur, then does that mean you're not in balance with yourself? That's as good an escape as saying that some god you prayed to has a "deeper plan"!

Re:i think its clear (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21742514)

We need a -1 Time Cube moderation I think, or possibly -1 electric universe that we can group all these nut jobs together under, then if anyone really wants to read about this sort of thing they can change the weighting on that. Perhaps we can even be more diplomatic about it and make it a -1 Dubious Logic.

Re:i think its clear (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742528)

My personal experience was walking on hot coals that were hot enough to melt an aluminum can. I walked for 40 feet through the oak coals and not a burn on my feet.

Except that the trick here isn't your intent, but the fact that you were walking, so the head didn't have enough time to get to your feet before they lost contact to the coals. Had you been standing on the coals, your feet would have been burned, no matter how much you'd intended the opposite.

There's nothing involved here that isn't explained by the known laws of nature. More details can be found e.g. at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firewalking [wikipedia.org] (and no, that's not where I have my knowledge from, it's from a show on German TV quite some time ago, where they actually measured the temperature at the feet).

Re:i think its clear (1)

tabrnaker (741668) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742754)

Yes, but what about people that actually do have control, and not just westerners looking for a spiritual joyride. How does science explain monks being able to raise body temperature at specific sites by 17 degrees?

Re:i think its clear (1)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742820)

How does science explain monks being able to raise body temperature at specific sites by 17 degrees?
Natalie Portman.

No not really. (3, Informative)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742812)

"My personal experience was walking on hot coals that were hot enough to melt an aluminum can. I walked for 40 feet through the oak coals and not a burn on my feet.

Further use of intent is if you wanted to measure light as a particle then it would be a particle. If you wanted light to be a wave then it would be so.

These types of things work from an interdimensional energy that science has not yet grasped. Eventually they will from observation of things like firewalks or handling hot iron without being burned and understanding that intent is the power behind things occurring.
"
No. You didn't bet burned because you where walking and your feet where dry. Your feet didn't stay in contact with the coals long enough for the heat to be conducted to them.
Coals are actually pretty poor conductors of heat.
Had they put a steel plate over the coals and let it reach the same temperature you would have gotten badly burned.
It wasn't your intent, magic, or some power. It was good old thermal dynamics.

Re:i think its clear (1)

verifiedCoward (33059) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742204)

I can just imagine God pulling over a violator and writing a ticket for exceeding c.

Re:i think its clear (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742234)

Yes, they come from observation and modelling nature and trying to explain how and why stuff works. Our understanding is, and always has been, incomplete and under refinement. We continually refine these laws as we progress.

For example: "stuff falls down" becomes a description of gravity which might one day become something about strings wor whatever, when that is probperly figured out. "Human flight is impossible" because "heavier than air flight is impossible" which then became laws of aeronautics and one day might morph into something else.

Re:i think its clear (4, Interesting)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742386)

I agree, but I disagree. So many people (Platonists) think these laws exist outside of human experience, and it's so obvious that they don't. WHAT they try to describe does, but there's a big difference. We can say a^2 + b^2 = c^2, but the very notion of a triangle is completely circumscribed by human experience, and the notion of abstract notation is also a human thing. To say such a relation exists a priori is where I believe rationalism runs off the rails into a kind of metaphysics of "belief" as opposed to empirical science, and where empirical science mistakes itself for reality.

We ARE creating the laws, but what we create them ABOUT is something we do not have control over. The universe and human evolution rolled those dice aeons ago. Yes, you COULD write a law that says gravity doesn't exist, IF the law you write permits the kind of observations we make regarding objects in space/time. In fact, this is an interesting example. The Einsteinian view is that gravity (in and of itself) doesn't exist. It is our perception of how objects behave in curved space time. In the other ring, you have physicists who are bound and determined to shoe-horn gravity into some grand design of particle physics, and are on a continuous (and IMHO, quixotic) quest for the Graviton.

So, you grab a brick, hold it out. Let go. It falls. The effect of it falling on release we can call "gravity", but whether gravity exists as a REAL force in the universe, or just some weird effect of space/time warpage is another issue. So, yes, you CAN write a law that says "gravity doesn't exist" as long as your law accounts for the behaviour exhibited in the test of your dropping the brick.

What is insightful about your brief post is the point that what we call "Scientific Laws" are merely descriptions of nature. The laws are Scientific, and are therefore, tentative. They will remain "true" only as long as they can be proven to be true. Once some genius comes along and disproves it, or, more likely, incorporates it into some larger understanding, it will cease to be "true". Science is not based on absolute permanent truth. Scientific truth is ALWAYS provisional. It is so, as it is a product of language - a tool of our species.

RS

Re:i think its clear (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742728)

So many people (Platonists) think these laws exist outside of human experience, and it's so obvious that they don't.
So let's take Kepler's laws concerning planetary motion. Are you saying that before human life evolved, planets followed hexagonal paths round the sun?

Answer: (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21742020)

The Bible, or possibly the Koran.

Re:Answer: (1, Troll)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742476)

OK now this is dumb. The AC's post (he was obviously going for "funny") is only flamebait if athiesm itself is a religion calling for holy war against all Jews, Christians, Muslims, Bhuddists, Hindus, and other nonbelievers; er, I mean, well you know what I mean.

If mention of religion offends your athiestic sensibilities your faith in the nonexistance of God must be weak indeed. If you can't stand someone making fun of your religion then your faith in God must be equally weak.

If Mr. Coward were to have said "God" instead of "the Bible" I would have to agree with him and if you want to know why, I wrote two articles several years ago at K5 explaining where my spiritual beliefs come from. Gecko Poker [kuro5hin.org] is about some strange wierdness I witnessed while in Thailand when I was in the USAF ("The bhuddist priests do things that make Kwai Chaing Cane look like a clumsy dork."), and Death [kuro5hin.org] about the time I died an an auto accident.

You can choose to believe that elephants exist or you can choose to believe that the photos are Gimped, but once you see an elephant nobody is going to convince you that there are no such things.

The article itself is flamebait if you ask me. I can understand completely why the parent poster chose to remain anonymous in this nest of athiests who whistle past the graveyard.

As I said in Bloody Sunday [slashdot.org] , thank God for the athiests!

-mcgrew

ZOMG religion! (3, Interesting)

commisaro (1007549) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742028)

Unfortunately alot of people use the "perfectness" of the Universal constants as "proof" of an "intelligent designer". Dennett has a great discussion of the flaws in this arguments in chapter 2 of "Darwin's Dangerous Idea".

intelligent design isn't (4, Insightful)

Speare (84249) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742042)

And does it matter that we don't know and that most scientists don't seem to know or care where they come from?

Am I the only one who thought this sentence smacked of Intelligent Design proposition?

See, I find no conflict between science and spirituality; I find a LOT of conflict between fans of science and fans of specific flavors of spirituality (religions). The Yankees and Red Sox don't really spend a lot of time foaming at the mouth about their opponents, but the rest of the folks in the stadiums sure do. If spirituality offers guidance as to WHY we're here, then science attempts to explain HOW. Either question can be ignored and you'll still live, honestly. Both questions may be answered and the answers may or may not satisfy you. The only difference that I see, which puts me in the science camp, is that scientists at least try to prove themselves wrong.

Re:intelligent design isn't (0, Redundant)

Empiric (675968) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742088)

Either question can be ignored and you'll still live, honestly.

...temporarily.

The universe wasn't made by 'intelligent design' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21742324)

... though it was clearly created by a Genius. ...and have you ever known of any genius that didn't have at least some unusual personality traits?

Re:intelligent design isn't (0)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742560)

I agree, except that there need be no conflict, no "which camp do you belong in?" Science and spirituality are not mutually exclusive. There are no "camps" save for example Baptist vs Hindu, or Big Bang vs oscillating.

"But officer, I wasn't doing anywhere near 299,792,458 miles per second!"

-mcgrew

Re:intelligent design isn't (3, Informative)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742720)

"But officer, I wasn't doing anywhere near 299,792,458 miles per second!"
What, do you work for NASA that you don't know the difference between imperial and metric? That's meters per second, not miles per second.

Re:intelligent design isn't (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21742598)

is that scientists at least try to prove themselves wrong.
or better put, scientists try to prove other scientists wrong. The hard-headedness that some colleagues demonstrate when faced with opposing theories that have substantial backing data is a little disheartening at times... Religious or not, as a human it's difficult to escape the mechanism of cognitive dissonance in a perfect manner.

./brain-explode (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21742046)

Do they govern nature or just describe it?


If there's no intent behind it, is there really a difference between the two with respect to laws? I don't think so. A description of what something does and what it actually does, as long as the description is correct, are the same.

And does it matter that we don't know and that most scientists don't seem to know or care where they come from?


I've yet to meet a scientist who doesn't care where they come from, but most scientists are smart enough to tackle only problems they think can handle, and leave the rest on the back burner. No science is advanced enough for any but the most deluded scientist to think they can answer that question.

Re:./brain-explode (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21742230)

It's a NYT piece on theoretical physics - mental masturbation for the consumption by the literary (often scientifically illiterate) types. I see bogus dichotomies cooked up with fuzzy terminology. It's piece on science, and I suppose that's something most of us can applaud, but I wonder if the lazy approach taken does more harm than good in educating the public about science.

Re:./brain-explode (1)

InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742254)

"No science is advanced enough for any but the most deluded scientist to think they can answer that question."

...or the most elementary philosopher or theologian.

Re:./brain-explode (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21742394)

True, but the comment only related to scientists.

The philosophers do this even with knowns that have plenty of evidence (and still get weird answers that dont fit reality).

theologians tend to stick to any unkown they can grasp, and the cutting edge of barely knowns.

Yeesh (5, Funny)

InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742062)

Four different forces, superstrings, antineutrinos, strange quarks, neutralinos, gluons, and 26 dimensions.

The laws of physics are clearly the result of a bureaucracy.

Re:Yeesh (5, Insightful)

Animats (122034) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742328)

Four different forces, superstrings, antineutrinos, strange quarks, neutralinos, gluons, and 26 dimensions.

The laws of physics are clearly the result of a bureaucracy.

There's a basic frustration in physics today that things are just too complicated at the bottom. There's a classic comment by I. I. Rabi, "Who ordered that?", made when the muon was discovered. The muon is a "heavy electron", the first elementary particle discovered that doesn't appear in ordinary atoms. Muons didn't seem to be necessary to physics, but there they were. That was the end of simple subatomic physics, and nobody has been able to put the mess back in the box since.

Administranium (1)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742564)

Don't forget the 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, 11 assistant deputy neutrons, the moron force, and the peons.

Re:Yeesh (1)

SolidPeace (1200469) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742762)

Exactly. Science becomes a heap smarter when there is real necessity banging on the door. Every major advance, the simple beautiful relationships have come at times of great cultural and social change. Society is forced to accept new ways that require new justifications to fit into citizens meager religious viewpoints and only the simplest of recurring notions can breach through. Science, like society, has been living off cheap energy and the ensuing ease bureaucracy provides. The simplifiers and dejargonizers are drowned out. Complexity is their mantra, they point to their own ineptitude in the face of the 'complexity' of the world as a justification to them continuing as experts (classically religion but found all too often in lazy scientists).

God (2, Insightful)

vga_init (589198) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742068)

Even if you're not very religious, if you sat down and tried to imagine what God could possibly be, or what function He/She/It could possibly have, I think this one would be rather high on the list.

Re:God (1)

physicsboy500 (645835) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742344)

Even if you're not very religious, if you sat down and tried to imagine what God could possibly be, or what function He/She/It could possibly have, I think this one would be rather high on the list.
I would like to say that you will probably be modded troll or offtopic for that comment even though I don't think it is warranted in this case. While I'm not sure about your particular viewpoint of what "God" constitutes, because you used a capitol letter in the word "God" I will assume you mean the Christian humanoid man in the sky (I clarify this because the term has had its use in nearly every religion and even by non-religious people to.) Religion has indeed been the explanation for many unknowns in the past and a good number of people do indeed turn to religion to explain forces, however (as the dissenting non-religious viewpoint) I find it equally likely (if not moreso) that instead of this humanoid man always existing, instead the properties which curve space-time and generate magnetic fields always existed. It simply depends if you want to turn to Science or Religion for a response.

Seems like a natural progression to me... (1)

Daverd (641119) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742074)

Quoting the summary:
most scientists don't seem to know or care where they come from

Doesn't it make sense to worry about figuring out what the laws are before we worry about where they came from?

Truman: How long would it take to build an atomic bomb?
Scientist: Nobody knows how to do that. But I can tell you why the laws of nature made it possible.

Re:Seems like a natural progression to me... (1)

king-manic (409855) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742150)

Quoting the summary:
most scientists don't seem to know or care where they come from

Doesn't it make sense to worry about figuring out what the laws are before we worry about where they came from?

Truman: How long would it take to build an atomic bomb?
Scientist: Nobody knows how to do that. But I can tell you why the laws of nature made it possible.
Worrying about where they came form would be a good indicator your a bad scientist since your anthropomorphizing your work. Laws in Science are just terse observations.

Fallacy of equivocation (4, Informative)

TheNarrator (200498) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742158)

Equivocation is the use in a syllogism (a logical chain of reasoning) of a term several times, but giving the term a different meaning each time. For example:

        A feather is light.
        What is light cannot be dark.
        Therefore, a feather cannot be dark.

Nature has Laws.
All Laws are made for the purpose of governing.
Nature has laws that are made for the purpose of governing.

Notice that the first and second time the term "Law" is used it has a different meaning.

Re:Fallacy of equivocation (1)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742672)

They say "time flies when you're having fun" but why would anybody want to time flies when they're having fun?

This sort of silliness doesn't happen in all languages, but it makes humor easier.

Re:Fallacy of equivocation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21742784)

But that's the question - Do they have a different meaning? Not that it is an answerable question.

Damn good article about faith... (5, Insightful)

CodeShark (17400) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742162)

Because it really puts the so called "faith vs. science" argument into perspective. That argument quite simply boils down to how a scientific mind goes about answering one question: do the so-called "laws of nature" work because that's how the universe "IS", or is the universe the way it is because that's how the "laws of nature" were designed? [Or my thought: Even a "God" has to use the laws of nature to organize things into interesting things like universes, planets, beings, etc...]


I particularly liked the card game of bridge analogy and the author's conclusion where he stated:We don't know, and might never know, if science has overbid its hand. When in doubt, confronted with the complexities of the world, scientists have no choice but to play their cards as if they can win, as if the universe is indeed comprehensible. That is what they have been doing for more than 2,000 years, and they are still winning.

Interestingly enough, as a person of religious faith, I agree: scientists are winning the knowledge acquisition game faster than they ever have before -- and my faith is not threatened by the progress of knowledge at all for a simple reason: would it make sense for a designer (AKA a God) to organize/make a universe that doesn't follow comprehensible rules? or that this group of sentient beings known as humans can't set about on a centuries long search to understand what those rules are?

Because what I reject is the limitation imposed by atheistic scientists that the answer to that first argued question must be presupposed towards randomness, not design.

Re:Damn good article about faith... (3, Insightful)

InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742660)

"do the so-called "laws of nature" work because that's how the universe "IS", or is the universe the way it is because that's how the "laws of nature" were designed?"

Our laws are wrong. We might never know what laws would most accurately describe the universe.

"would it make sense for a designer (AKA a God) to organize/make a universe that doesn't follow comprehensible rules?"

Why should the rules be comprehensible? Sure, we've comprehended some of it, but there's really no guarantee that our brains will figure it all out. Our brains certainly can't grasp more than 3 spatial dimensions.

Also, why do you believe the actions of a deity have to make sense? A lot of things in the real world don't make sense to us. Common sense has been a regular failure at analyzing more than the most basic scenarios.

"or that this group of sentient beings known as humans can't set about on a centuries long search to understand what those rules are?"

Yes, I could see it being true that our brains - originally developed for hunting strategy and making weapons - would not be able to handle revealing the fundamental laws of nature. Then again, as I said, common sense regularly fails.

"Because what I reject is the limitation imposed by atheistic scientists that the answer to that first argued question must be presupposed towards randomness, not design."

I don't think the word "randomness" means what you think it means. If you are talking about evolution, it certainly does not progress at random. It is indeed nearly impossible for a bunch of particles to fly together and form a 747. But then, that is not what evolution is.

Re:Damn good article about faith... (1)

hyperball (1038196) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742774)

the universe is ultimately unknowable, or the universe is completely intelligible = main line of discussion during the last 200 years of western philosophy.

Because what I reject is the limitation imposed by atheistic scientists that the answer to that first argued question must be presupposed towards randomness, not design.

my very humble proposition is that an ordered system can only arise from a random/chaotic state. See for example Wolfram's [wolframscience.com] work on rules and laws governing systems and the "phenomena" of complexity arising from simpler governing laws.

Re:Damn good article about faith... (2, Insightful)

Tiny Elvis (171954) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742778)

I can never get past the question: if the universe is so complex it needs a designer, what about a being complex enough to design such a universe? is it turtles all the way down?

i don't know, but i am certain of one thing: (5, Funny)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742170)

if great minds have grappled with a given subject matter and the answer has remained inconclusive to them, then it is certain that a definitive absolute final answer to the mystery will be found in the comments section of slashdot

Re:i don't know, but i am certain of one thing: (1)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742644)

if great minds have grappled with a given subject matter and the answer has remained inconclusive to them, then it is certain that a definitive absolute final answer to the mystery will be found in the comments section of slashdot


I have discovered the most eminent explanation for why the laws of physics exist, but unfortunately it is too long to fit inside a slashdot comment.

Re:i don't know, but i am certain of one thing: (2, Funny)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742682)

Hah! Mine's much simpler, but unfortunately slashcode won't allow perl.

The Who answered your question (1)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742722)

"Sickness will surely take the mind where minds can't usually go."

They are mere observations (1)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742198)

Laws of nature are mere observations that folks who have lots of time have come to realize that they are almost always observed/followed. Of course, there will be fellas who go against the norm occasionally.

Pretty soon (in a few generations), being gay will also be another "law of nature." But I still wonder how it works because being male, I have no desire for my fellow man. There are those who have the desire and I respect them.

Re:They are mere observations (1)

wiggles (30088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742304)

The mere fact that you posted this shows that you're either in denial or so far in the closet you're seeing stuff from 1980.

Re:They are mere observations (1)

fred fleenblat (463628) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742506)

Issues. You gots thems.

Navel Gazing (1)

pickapeppa (731249) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742214)

This seems like the grownup, nerdy version of "What if every time I leave the room it blinks out of existence?" Scientific laws are useful uber-assumptions that allow further research. Treat gravity as a given and start fuddling around with bending light, for instance. Without this concept we might as well speculate if its turtles all the way down or one turtle and it flies. Look! Lint!

Re:Navel Gazing (1)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742770)

This seems like the grownup, nerdy version of "What if every time I leave the room it blinks out of existence?"

When I was a teenager working at a drive in theater, there was a college kid taking a course in philosopy working there who believed this. After successfully arguing with him, he turned his back and said "you no longer exist."

So I threw a dirty wet rag and hit him square upside the head with it. End of conversation!

Where do the laws of nature come from? (4, Funny)

Hawthorne01 (575586) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742266)

The lawyers of nature, of course.

Duh.

Re:Where do the laws of nature come from? (2, Funny)

Zordak (123132) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742410)

Actually, it's the well-funded special interest group lobbyists of nature. Obviously Big Gravity and Big Quantum Mechanics have very disparate interests, so we're stuck with these laws we can't seem to reconcile.

Why do fundies keep coming up with this shit? (1)

Malevolent Tester (1201209) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742296)

Teleological arguments point to the existence of a Creator

They don't provide any evidence that aforementioned creator sent his son to get nailed to a plank of wood, or that Allah spoke through an epileptic child molester, or that buying Holy Healing Miracle Water off a televangelist will make you anything other than a gullible fuckwit.

And in answer to the article question, Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Missing the point (1)

east coast (590680) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742348)

Just for the record, I did not RTFA.

And does it matter that we don't know and that most scientists don't seem to know or care where they come from?

I always felt that science was a way of uncovering where these laws came from. It sounds like I'm talking in a circle but I feel that in order to understand the whole you need to understand the parts. At least in the questions of where something comes from. You dissect the whole down in parts and those parts in parts and eventually you find the questions to the tough problems.

It would be nice to think that we would have an answer of the origins and we could fan our knowledge out from there. If that were the case science would be all but dead since we would have probably arrived at all possible answers at this point in time. Instead we're left peeling back layers and making theories about layer yet uncovered.

At least that's the way I see it.

Philosophy of science is crucial (0)

Empiric (675968) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742498)

I think, as a historical question, for the integrity of science, "philosophy of science" is particularly important now.

Now that the academic scientific orthodoxy has rallied to ensure for now that one disturbing inference, ID, is uniquely excluded, we'll need some way to deal with the aftermath--which is the bare fact that science is rife, throughout, with models which contain untestable inferential conclusions from tested empirical knowns. Given that this has always been the case (name the date -all- predictions of Einstein's model were experimentally verified--this year, was it--why'd we let him make that proposal in the interim?), is presently, and always will be--and we need only wait a half-hour for any given scientist to make such an inference without providing his testing model in any domain, the "cat is out of the bag" so to speak and well have to view "science" per se from a definitional perspective that reflects reality, without subsetting science down to a tiny shadow of its current scope. This isn't really an abstract question any more--it's the practical reality of fending off the appearance of bare hypocrisy in academia, by students who are paying attention to their educators' consistency on the matter.

A complex process, to be sure, but the risk is artificially limiting the scope of our investigation of reality at the outset, with literally untold damage to science and humanity.

Personally, I think Kuhn [wikipedia.org] is a good place to start in terms of perspective, and the demarcation problem [wikipedia.org] a good place to start as far as the overall issues at hand.

Re:Philosophy of science is crucial (4, Insightful)

ricree (969643) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742818)

Now that the academic scientific orthodoxy has rallied to ensure for now that one disturbing inference, ID, is uniquely excluded
There is nothing special or unique about ID's exclusion from being taught as science. Quite simply put, it doesn't actually make any testable predictions, it has no way to be falsified, and therefore it simply isn't science.

We don't really know, yet. (3, Insightful)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742578)

It's not that we don't care where laws of physics come from, it's just that we have no testable explanation for it, so rather than bailing out with some nonsense like "goddidit" we merely accept that: For now, we don't really know.

anyone who knows anything about science knows (5, Insightful)

jackstack (618328) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742668)

The "laws" of science simply *describe*. They do not govern.
Here's a couple pearls I've picked up:
"Science is the attempt to come up with systematic, coherent and useful descriptions of how the natural world works."
- Chris Mack, litho guru

Science always deals with models of reality, not the ultimate nature of reality.
- http://www.lightandmatter.com/ [lightandmatter.com]

Scientists Have No Roots? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21742692)

And does it matter that we don't know and that most scientists don't seem to know or care where they come from?


I'm a scientist, and I come from Wisconsin. Who are these scientists who don't seem to know or care where they come from? They must be awfully odd people.

Incorrect definition of religious faith (3, Insightful)

caseih (160668) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742694)

The oped peice refers to religious faith as "belief without evidence." I believe this definition to be false. Certainly the characters who wrote in and were described by the Bible would not consider religious faith to be "belief without evidence." Rather they wrote what they considered to be personal evidence, with the hopes that readers of their words would likewise seek for their own personal evidence. Of course this area is, in the eyes of many, frought with difficulties. So certainly Dr. Davies can claim that these people have no evidence, but that doesn't make it true or untrue.

Where'd they come from? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21742696)

I made them.

I disagree with Feynman (1)

SashaM (520334) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742740)

While I'm generally fond of Feynman, and having read (and enjoyed) his semi-serious autobiography, I agree with most of his opinions, I think he has it wrong with this one. Sure, science can and does advance without scientists ever worrying about the underlying philosophy, but I think many scientists would benefit from the introspection philosophy of science provides. Birds are dumb creatures, which would not benefit from reflecting on themselves or thinking about their thinking. Scientists are usually smarter than that. In fact, if it were up to me, I would make several courses in Philosophy of Science mandatory in all scientific undergraduate studies.

How, but not Why (1)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742766)

As of yet IIRC, we have been unable to use science to say WHY something happens, but only HOW it happens. I think in the cases where we have determined WHY something happens (example: Newton's gravity happens because of relativity) we can only use a "HOW" to explain it (we don't know WHY relativity is true).

IANAScientist, so please correct me if I got any of that wrong.

One interesting way to look at it is that Science explains the HOW and Religion explains the WHY.

Ain't nothing but quaternion math (0, Offtopic)

sweetser (148397) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742790)

Look at the simplest quaternion wave equation, and if you are good, you can pick out the Maxwell equations and an rank 1 approach to gravity.

Look at workable definition of a quaternion derivative (a 2 limit process, where first the 3-vector goes to zero, then the scalar, or the reverse), and there is a reason why change is different in classical physics versus quantum mechanics.

Understand from a group theory standpoint that (A/|A| exp(A-A*))* (B/|B| exp(B-B*)) = 1 has the three symmetries found in the Standard Model, and you understand why we have a standard model.

Have fun with quaternions, but don't quit the day job. If physics really is quaternion math done right, then there is no Higgs, our good friend GR is wrong in the way Newton's gravity theory is wrong (useful, but not ultimately spot on), string theory is flat wrong, there is no dark matter. That should cover most people with a job in physics today.

doug

Futurama (4, Funny)

BlueParrot (965239) | more than 6 years ago | (#21742822)

-Isn't it strange that we exist?
-No, God created the world, that is why you exist, hence answering the question once and for all.
-But...
-ONCE AND FOR ALL!!!!
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