• Akanthinos
    756
    if we admit both senses, to the degree that nature is not 'well-regulated' in the 2nd sense ('efficient'), it is because it is not well-regulated in the 1st sense ('extension'). There's a logical priority here which one must be careful to attend to.StreetlightX

    Ah! Agreed, and well put.

    I'm still thinking about the negativity of what we can call natural laws. I'll get back to you on this one. I have to babysit an anxiety-ridden doberman that could well enough murder me in my sleep. :worry:
  • StreetlightX
    2.4k
    I'm still thinking about the negativity of what we can call natural laws.Akanthinos

    I was thinking about this too, and especially the curious idea - let me know if you agree - that even positive injunctions in the law are, in a way, simply double negatives. As in, if there's a law that says 'you must drive on the left side of the road', what's 'really' going on is an injunction to the effect of 'you must not not drive on the left side of the road'. Or in more general terms, everything that counts as 'legal' is in fact simply not-illegal. And good luck with the doberman lol.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    3.9k
    The usual view is that physics must find something definite, crisp, determinate, atomistic, once it drills down to the bedrock of existence. This is why the micro-physical laws are taken to describe something substantially real while the macro-physical laws - like the second law of thermodynamics in particular - are dismissed as merely emergent in the sense of being descriptive illusions. A way of summing over the fine detail as a convenience.apokrisis

    The problem is that physics never does drill down to the bedrock of existence. Metaphysics and ontological speculation, propose some principles of existence, that's what does the drilling, and physics may take some of these for granted, as the "bedrock". But all the experiments by which physics purports to prove these principles as general "laws" are very restrictive and cannot support the claim to universality of the principles.

    This is why the micro-physical laws are taken to describe something substantially real while the macro-physical laws - like the second law of thermodynamics in particular - are dismissed as merely emergent in the sense of being descriptive illusions. A way of summing over the fine detail as a convenience.apokrisis

    The "micro-physical" suffers from the exact same issue as the "macro-physical", in the inverse way. The human perspective is in the midrange so any extrapolation in either direction produces an approximation. So any claim that laws applied to the micro represent what is real, is just as mistaken as any claim that laws applied to the macro represent what is real.

    The issue is not "the emergence of laws", as if "laws" are some sort of entity which come into existence, and are responsible for creating stability through placing constraints on physical reality. The issue is the limitations in the human capacity to create laws which have universal applicability.
  • SophistiCat
    376
    Reading your glosses of Cartwright's attacks on the laws of nature (as well as one of her shorter papers), I have to wonder who is she arguing with? And just what exactly is she attacking?

    To the extent that the positions that are being attacked are not vague generalities, here is what I can make out:

    1. As a preliminary observation, what is meant by "laws of nature" in this context are specific statements, rules, equations that have traditionally been so called. So Newton's Law of gravitation is one such law.

    2. And the criticism seems to come down to this: No one law of nature specifies the behavior of everything, ever, in all domains and all contexts.

    Well, duh? How is that a criticism? Yes, a scientific "law" usually describes a particular regularity in a prescribed context and against the background of a specific theoretical framework. Or even just one principal component of what may be a superposition of regularities. How is that controversial?


    Also, to better understand where Cartwright is coming from, it would help to note that she belongs to a powers/capacities/dispositions school of thought as regards causation. Things exercise their natural capacities in certain circumstances, and that is how everything happens in nature. You can see how the view of the "dappled world" comes about. While every given thing has a specific nature, a world filled with a bunch of different things with no overriding organizing principle (since all principles are local and attached to particular things), on the whole it's going to look "dappled."

    There is a wide variety of views on causation, and no one of them dominates - indeed, different views do not necessarily exclude each other. I lean more towards causal pluralism myself (which Cartwright also advocates), but the powers-capacities view is perhaps my least favorite. It has a homely, intuitive appeal, but as an analytical tool I think it is very limited, and science does not sit well with it.
  • fdrake
    1k
    I'm tempted to try to start a reading group for this paper discussing Rosen:

    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/03081079.2012.689466?needAccess=true

    Rosen's modelling relations constitute a conceptual schema for the understanding of the bidirectional process of correspondence between natural systems and formal symbolic systems. The notion of formal systems used in this study refers to information structures constructed as algebraic rings of observable attributes of natural systems, in which the notion of observable signifies a physical attribute that, in principle, can be measured. Due to the fact that modelling relations are bidirectional by construction, they admit a precise categorical formulation in terms of the category-theoretic syntactic language of adjoint functors, representing the inverse processes of information encoding/decoding via adjunctions. As an application, we construct a topological modelling schema of complex systems. The crucial distinguishing requirement between simple and complex systems in this schema is reflected with respect to their rings of observables by the property of global commutativity. The global information structure representing the behaviour of a complex system is modelled functorially in terms of its spectrum functor. An exact modelling relation is obtained by means of a complex encoding/decoding adjunction restricted to an equivalence between the category of complex information structures and the category of sheaves over a base category of partial or local information carriers equipped with an appropriate topology.

    Any takers? We'd get to learn some category theory!
  • apokrisis
    3.8k
    I'm tempted to try to start a reading group for this paper discussing Rosen:fdrake

    Howard Pattee did this nice critique of how Rosen turned overly Platonic and mathematical in his last work...

    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5891221_Laws_Constraints_and_the_Modeling_Relation_-_History_and_Interpretations

    Due to the fact that modelling relations are bidirectional by construction, they admit a precise categorical formulation in terms of the category-theoretic syntactic language of adjoint functors, representing the inverse processes of information encoding/decoding via adjunctions.

    The interesting question here might be whether it matters that the measurement process is itself informal - something quite apart from the formal model of causal entailment that is the law-expressing theory.

    So as a necessity of the modelling relation, the act of measurement (the encoding/decoding) is some kind of purpose-laden and pragmatic exercise in constraining the physics of the system in question so that it yields some number or value or sign. It is a fundamentally free action - a choice the modeller can make - in contrast to the modeller's representation of the world with a theory that is then utterly constrained, lawful, algorithmic and deterministic.

    So on the one hand, category theory might allow a representation of this relation - the way the modeller does pragmatically map algorithmic descriptions to a non-algorithmic reality. But then the connection between the map and the territory depends on this fundamentally informal and unconstrained business of measurement.

    In practice, habits of measurement are in fact constrained by the fact that they must work to achieve some goal or finality that the modelling relation represents. Measurement may have complete freedom, in contrast to the model's complete formality, yet the further thing of a purpose is used to prune the excessive degrees of freedom.

    However that is then an unmodelled real-world physical issue that an overly mathematical or formal approach to the story fundamentally fails to pick up. Any use of category theory couldn't actually deliver the kind of purely mathematical relational biology that was Rosen's ultimate goal.

    Again it is the usual central issue of ontology. We struggle to find a story that deals with the observers along with the observables.

    But as Pattee outlines, the modelling relation itself is very good for making it clear just where "laws" fit into things. They are the way we can see nature as if it were a mechanical reality implementing a formal system of causal entailment. And then the informal measurement side of the business - the encoding/decoding - is where the issue of the observer with a purpose can get buried safely as everything that really needs to be said about a pragmatic semiotic habit.

    The laws themselves are absolved of carrying the burden of telling the ontological truth. They become mere algorithms. The non-formalised part of the business is then our capacity not to feed garbage input into them, and also to recognise when the output might be obvious garbage.
  • Wayfarer
    6k
    ...where the issue of the observer with a purpose can get buried safelyapokrisis

    Do you have to drive a stake through its heart first, just to be sure?
  • apokrisis
    3.8k
    I was thinking about this too, and especially the curious idea - let me know if you agree - that even positive injunctions in the law are, in a way, simply double negatives.StreetlightX

    Constraints are apophatic in this fashion. Only that which could be predicted can also be forbidden. So possibilities could be ruled out as picked-out individual cases, yet nature can continue to be fundamentally surprising or probabilistic.
  • apokrisis
    3.8k
    There are no special constitutional Laws of Nature, or perhaps, the things we call Laws of Nature can only be so by analogy to constitutional law.Akanthinos

    The deepest physical laws look to capture mathematical symmetries. This is in fact a theorem - Noether's theorem.

    All the conservation laws that have allowed us to describe the Cosmos as a closed and coherent system - a Universe - derive directly from symmetry principles. Time translation symmetry gives conservation of energy. Space translation symmetry gives conservation of momentum. Rotation symmetry gives conservation of angular momentum.

    So this puts paid to the social constructionist angle that our laws of nature are some kind of pluralist bricolage.

    In the end, Nature seems to have had no choice about the fact that - if it is to exist - it must be shaped by these mathematical-strength "laws".

    Of course, the interesting thing is that the closure that is necessary for there to be a generalised state of Being is now likely to be emergent rather than fundamental. On the microscale, quantum mechanics shows that things aren't exactly closed and conserved – at least not in unambiguous fashion.

    So yeah, symmetry is the ideal limit state description. A story of effective laws. Yet still, as a finality, those symmetries are the inescapable destination of any evolution of a state of Being.

    The idea that the laws of nature are some kind of psychological convenience has to deal with the hard facts here.
  • Akanthinos
    756
    The deepest physical laws look to capture mathematical symmetries. This is in fact a theorem - Noether's theorem.apokrisis

    Noether's theorem can be rephrased with no mentions of laws : "If a system has a continuous symmetry property, then there are corresponding quantities whose values are conserved in time."
  • apokrisis
    3.8k
    If you don't want to mention the word "law" for some reason - and remember it's not me that defends the term - then what exactly would you like to call this kind of universal if-then statement?

    Scientists would elevate it to a principle of nature rather than merely a law of nature I guess. :razz:
  • Akanthinos
    756
    If you don't want to mention the word "law" for some reason - and remember it's not me that defends the term - then what exactly would you like to call this kind of universal if-then statement?apokrisis

    A rule isn't a law.
    A theorem isn't a law.
    A constant isn't a law.
    An algorithm isn't a law.

    Take your pick.
  • Janus
    5.1k


    Depends on your interpretation of the terms...any of them could be thought of as a law, or at least to entail or imply a law.
  • apokrisis
    3.8k
    Sorry, there is a misunderstanding here. I agree that "law" is a rather odd term to use. It does have misleading connotations. The reason that nature is "law-abiding" is because it is physically constrained by its own developmental history. So it is "constitutional" in that structural sense.

    The ontological issue I am then highlighting is that our efforts to define the laws/principles of nature are targeting something real, even if that reality is emergent. There are forms of organisation that are mathematically inevitable - even from locally random action - and so the Laws of Nature can't be treated as some kind of socially constructed bricolage.

    (And the same argument could apply to actual human constitutional laws - are they just a bunch of arbitrary social conventions or do they ultimately target something that is fundamental by way of "natural justice" and "human rights"?)

    Anyway, that leaves three views in play concerning the Laws of Nature.

    1) The laws are some kind of mysterious thing - the handiwork of God perhaps - that were written into the Creation of the Universe and determine the course of all physical action in some transcendent fashion.

    2) The laws are descriptions we freely invent that somehow both account for events in ways that are remarkably effective and yet also somehow have no particular claim to being "the truth" of reality. They never become more than social constructions.

    3) The laws are historically emerging constraints on free action in the Cosmos. They are the global regularities that emerge to regulate the dynamics of events. Information accumulates to create general contexts that give every action a common direction. And while the development of these regularities might be "random" on the individual scale, statistically they must evolve towards equilibrium balances. So "laws" - expressing the symmetries broken, and the symmetries arrived at - exist as mathematical-strength inevitabilities of that very process of evolving. There is nothing contingent about the ultimate outcomes of collective random action. Everything gets channelled into the common probabilistic "flow" which we describe as "lawful".

    I should be addressing these points to the OP of course. So SX correctly quoted this...

    In practice engineers handle irreversible processes with old fashioned phenomenological laws describing the flow (or flux) of the quantity under study. Most of these laws have been known for quite a long time. For example there is Fick's law... Equally simple laws describe other processes: Fourier's law for heat flow, Newton's law for sheering force (momentum flux) and Ohm's law for electric current....

    The trouble is that each equation is a ceteris paribus law. It describes the flux only so long as just one kind of cause is operating. [Vector addition] if it works, buys facticity, but it is of little benefit to (law) realists who believe that the phenomena of nature flow from a small number of abstract, fundamental laws.
    StreetlightX

    But then science moved on to think in terms of more global symmetry principles. Instead of leaving things where they might well seem some bricolage of local heuristics speaking to no universal hand, science rewrote Newtonian mechanics in terms of Lagrangians and Hamiltonians. Symmetry, and symmetry-breaking, became the general story holding all "laws" together in a constitutional framework.

    The terminology did switch from laws to principles - in particular, when it comes to dynamics, the principle of least action. An evolutionary ontology became wired in because the most general constraint is that everything should happen by using the shortest path available. Essentially nature is free to take any path to an outcome. And then, because all those paths are in competition, the optimum path is the one that - on the probabilistic whole - is going to be the one that emerges from the fray.

    So while to all outward appearances, science seemed to talk of externally-imposed and hence mysteriously transcendent laws, all the actual practice of formulating laws had switched to one based on notions of emergent, historically-conditioned, constraints.

    Hence my complaint about the political tenor of the OP. It is easy to attack "the laws of nature" when they are presented in a strawman fashion. The "Newtonian" idea of "laws" falls apart fast under any examination. But that doesn't then make this social constructionist/bricolage rhetoric of Cartwright - or those employing her here - any more correct.

    The truth of things is more interesting. Global regularities are emergent, but mathematically-inevitable, constraints on action. The Universe has a complex constitution due to a series of symmetry-breakings that have left it increasingly more organised in a hierarchical fashion. And this is a structure of "law" that science can target in legitimate fashion. In the end, there could be only the one answer in terms of "what exists".

    And for philosophy generally, this is important. As said, it ought to impact on even our human debates about politics and morality. For instance, the arguments of evolutionary psychology couldn't simply be dismissed out of hand.
  • apokrisis
    3.8k
    For interest....

    Today, we use the Lagrangian method to describe all of physics, not just mechanics. All fundamental laws of physics can be expressed in terms of a least action principle. This is true for electromagnetism, special and general relativity, particle physics, and even more speculative pursuits that go beyond known laws of physics such as string theory.

    http://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/user/db275/concepts/LeastAction.pdf
  • Wayfarer
    6k
    I don't see a whole lot of conflict between your (1) and (3) (leaving God out of the picture.) Global regularities that 'emerge' could easily be simply another way of saying 'laws of nature'. And my view is that whilst the laws or principles of nature that science discovers provide explanations across whole swathes of the phenomenal domain, science doesn't necessarily explain those principles. I suppose I have an instrumentalist or pragmatic view - that science is useful and powerful, but it's not inherently meaningful in an existential sense.
  • Caldwell
    132
    that science is useful and powerful, but it's not inherently meaningful in an existential sense.Wayfarer

    Existentialism has been very vocal about this.
  • apokrisis
    3.8k
    I don't see a whole lot of conflict between your (1) and (3) (leaving God out of the picture.)Wayfarer

    Funny. I see them as diametrically opposite. One is about immanence and causal emergence, the other is about transcendence and causal mystery.

    Global regularities that 'emerge' could easily be simply another way of saying 'laws of nature'.Wayfarer

    Well they are opposing metaphysics that target the same observables. They are related in that each has to explain the same recalcitrant realities. And perhaps both also share the anti-nominalistic view about the "hard reality" of these causal entities.

    The jargon used ought to reflect these distinctions in my view. But in a general way, we are all talking about what folk mean by the Cosmos appearing to have mathematical-strength regularities.

    I mean even "emergence" means very different things to the reductionist/nominalist and the holist/realist here. There is a bit of a verbal minefield to pick through. So I'm not wanting to get too hung up calling laws "laws". That's only the start of the disagreements. :)

    And my view is that whilst the laws or principles of nature that science discovers provide explanations across whole swathes of the phenomenal domain, science doesn't necessarily explain those principles. I suppose I have an instrumentalist or pragmatic view - that science is useful and powerful, but it's not inherently meaningful in an existential sense.Wayfarer

    But that is just you expressing your political agenda here.

    I'm not say that I don't have an agenda. I speak for natural philosophy. However I think I can point to the way science has actually unfolded as the best support for my metaphysics. A process or systems view has worked.

    And my emergent constraints approach has the advantage that there is no causal mystery. It appeals to collective or statistical behaviour. And our mathematical models of those explain why the patterns have no choice but to arise.
  • StreetlightX
    2.4k
    Poor Apo, who has to write so furiously away to cover over his elementary inability to distinguish between scope and modality, while suffering from pathological political paranoia at the same time. Some people really do have it tough.
  • apokrisis
    3.8k
    Poor SX. Always peevish to discover he has been re-inventing the wheel.
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