A few years ago I read a very thought provoking paper by Victor Stenger called Where Do The Laws Of Physics come from: PDF link
Basically it postulates they come from point of view invariance. I have researched it a bit and do not agree it is true of all laws eg the laws of Quantum Mechanics can't be deduced from it (despite Stenger's claim) but it really is astonishing what can eg the laws of Classical Mechanics can be deduced from Quantum Mechanics and Galilean Invariance.
I am curios what objectivism makes of this.
There is certainly a strong Kantian influence in modern physics, but there are dissenters and mixed cases, as well. The Stenger paper, as I understand it, seems somewhat mixed.
The main metaphysical and epistemological content of the paper is stated in the paper's opening sentences:
The laws of physics were not handed down from above. Neither are they rules somehow built into the structure of the universe. They are ingredients of the models that physicists invent to describe observations. Rather than being restrictions on the behavior of matter, the laws of physics are restrictions on the behavior of physicists. If the models of physics are to describe observations based on an objective reality, then those models cannot depend on the point of view of the observer.
Rejection of "rules somehow built into the structure of the universe" certainly sounds like a rejection of the law of identity. And "models that physicists invent to describe observations" typically become a license to sever models enitrely from whatever it is that physicists "observe," and to focus intead on the "clean and pure" mathematical manipulations of the models themselves. Physicists look for models that most lend themselves to such manipulation, at the expense of largely abandoning any enduring concern for how well the models actually correspond to reality, i.e., to whatever it is that physicists "observe," and with no solution for the problem of how to "conceptualize" instances where the models don't correlate fully to reality. The passage above seems to recognize the idea of "objective reality" as real and absolute, and man as an "observer" of it, while striving primarily to unravel relationships between "models" rather than how best to formulate models that are closely representative of reality.
Despite some dubious philospohical formulations, it appears to me that this paper as a whole may have great value in showing a wide range of mathematical relationships between various different principles of physics. To that extent, it could be a highly illuminating attempt at integration of otherwise disparate principles.
The main Objectivist criticism of fields like Quantum Mechanics is the lack of effort (often active opposition) to relate mathematical equations to a conceptual meaning in an objective reality. Sometimes the physicists can't even agree on what the individual terms in the equations refer to in observational data, and the essential "postulates" on which any practical application of the Q.M. equations depend are generally little more than heuristic "rules of thumb."
For those who are interested in learning more about Quantum Mechanics at an introductory level, I have found the following sources to be helpful to me in my own informal studying during the past few months:
From the Stenger paper: "If the models of physics are to describe observations based on an objective reality, then those models cannot depend on the point of view of the observer."
This viewpoint seems heavily influenced by the ideas of Immanuel Kant, specifically the idea that actual knowledge requires that the consciousness of the observer have no role in the acquisition of the knowledge -- that the identity of one's consciousness have no impact on the nature of the knowing -- that objective reality is beyond the grasp of any particular consciousness.
Objectivism completely repudiates this. Consciousness, and its identity, are essential to the act of objectively understanding reality, and that includes formulation of the laws of physics.
I have not read more of Stenger paper, so it could be that its apparent thrust is mitigated further on, but from a first look, I'd say it is at odds with Objectivism, because Objectivism holds that the nature of consciousness is essential to knowing as such.
Kant tried to disqualify consciousness on grounds that it has identity. Ayn Rand's famous quote on this follows:
"His argument, in essence, ran as follows: man is limited to a consciousness of a specific nature, which perceives by specific means and no others, therefore, his consciousness is not valid; man is blind, because he has eyes—deaf, because he has ears—deluded, because he has a mind—and the things he perceives do not exist, because he perceives them."
See here: http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/kant,_immanuel.html
answered Oct 05 '11 at 11:28
John Paquette ♦
"Where do the laws of physics come from?"
Nowhere. The laws of physics don't have a source; they just are -- like the universe itself.
We can use our senses and our mind to observe the universe and to apply conceptual logic (induction) to come up with various mathematical descriptions of what we perceive. But the laws would exist whether or not humans were around to describe them.
Or, to directly contradict the paper quoted in the original question: They are rules built into the structure of the universe.
answered Oct 30 '11 at 02:50