• apokrisis
    4.2k
    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
    1k
    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
    5.7k


    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
    4.2k
    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
    4.2k
    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
    6.5k
    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
    164
    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
    4.2k
    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
    2.9k
    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
    4.2k
    Poor SX. Always peevish to discover he has been re-inventing the wheel.
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