Posts Tagged ‘Epistemology’

Nature Of The Physical Law & Reaction Law

December 5, 2016

Human laws are modelled, in spirit, after physical laws. So it is socially important to realize how physical laws are established, and that they are not immutable. Physical laws are established by observation (some direct, some axiomatic; yes, a paradox). However, if you read the magazine “Wired”, you may feel that physical laws are established, like the Bible or the Qur’an, by the sheer power of a personality cult:

“LAST MONTH, NASA researchers dropped news with potentially huge consequences for space travel and science as a whole: They ran an experiment whose results seem to defy the very laws of physics, and could change how we travel through outer space. Problem is, experts say that it’s incredibly unlikely that Isaac Newton is wrong. Instead, the most likely explanation is the team simply made a mistake somewhere along the way

The team was testing a theory that there’s a new way to propel satellites, instead of using rockets powered by a limited supply of fuel. So they put a radio antenna in a specially designed, sealed container. Turned on, the antenna bounced 935MHz radio waves (similar to those used by some cell phones) around, and the container apparently moved a tiny, tiny bit. This violates Newton’s third law of motion, one of the basic tenets of physics.

Loosely put, Newton taught us that no action can occur without an equal and opposite reaction.”

[WIRED from August 2014:]

Reaction = Action Is An Experimental Fact. Or Was, Until Recently. Does not have to stay that way

Reaction = Action Is An Experimental Fact. Or Was, Until Recently. Does not have to stay that way

Right, the article is from 2014. However, the riddle got more interesting in 2016, when the same tests were conducted in hard vacuum… with the same results (it was initially thought that radiation heated air, which expanded, creating a push; without air, that counter-idea failed).

Who are these “experts”? People who gave the Nobel Prize to each other? Newton did not “teach” us that action = reaction inasmuch as he demonstrated it (thanks to arcane mathematics). Before I explain what I mean, let me mention that Richard Feynman wrote a famous book “The Character of the Physical Law” (which I read). Feynman observes that there is a hierarchy of laws. Here I will observe something even more subtle: there is a hierarchy of how fundamental laws are viewed as fundamental.


Newton ASSUMED this “Third Law”, he made an hypothesis of it (and the law was probably known to cannoneers for centuries). Using in part this action = reaction hypothesis, Newton was able to deduct, from a large axiomatic system, with lots of arcane mathematics, theorems. And some of these theorems had practical consequences which were found, or known, to be true (Kepler laws). So it was reasonably assumed that Newton’s Third Law was correct: it is an axiom the use of which bring the correct theorems. The same sort of reasonings established the First and Second Laws of motion, which were discovered by the stupendous genius Buridan, three centuries BEFORE Newton.  

To my knowledge, the Third Law was first stated by Newton. However, that law was certainly well-known by Roman artillery engineers, who were used to catapult large masses at enormous distances: they knew of the recoil all too well. Roman and European Middle Age artillery enabled to seize cities (armies which were less competent in artillery found seizing cities difficult to do; the Turks used Hungarians engineers to breach the walls of Constantinople with giant guns).

Thus we see there are two sorts of physical laws: those we assume as axioms, and then we certify them, because the mathematical logic they give rise to bring apparently correct results. Other natural laws are observed directly.

For example, the so-called “Standard Model” can be viewed as a sort of giant law. It uses, in its axioms, the so-called Higgs boson, and that was indeed found (sort of).

Thus direct observations can suggest a law (say action = reaction; or gravitation) which then is established through the axiomatic method (heavily used in modern physics). Actually the case of gravitation is even more interesting: observations suggested an attractive force. Then Ismaël Bullialdus, a French priest-astronomer-mathematician found a reasoning why it should be an inverse square law (Bullialdus has a crated named after him on the Moon). Armed with Bullialdus inverse-square law, Isaac Newton used the inverse square law as an axiom to “deduce” Kepler’s laws  (I wrote “deduce”, because, centuries later, it was called into question whether Newton had properly demonstrated Gauss’ law, which reduce, gravitationally speaking, planets to massive points)

Examples of laws observed directly are numerous: they include the classical laws of optics, of forces (depicted by vectors; but one cannot use vector theory to prove how force behave… because vectors are abstracted forces), much of electrical behavior, etc.

Some laws were deduced from axiomatics before being demonstrated experimentally. Newton’s crowning achievement was more or less) demonstrating the equivalence of Kepler Laws with the 1/dd inverse square universal attraction law… given the laws of “Newtonian” Mechanics.

As I said, the laws of mechanics were greatly deduced by Buridan and various engineers, generations before Newton.

Could the same be going on now? Who knows?

It is a question of observation. Ultimately physics, nature, is what is observed, nothing less. It gets to be more than what is observed, because of our imagination, and the fact it needs to use the logics and maths it knows.

Meta-lesson? Politics degenerated in the West, in the last 50 years, because what was really going on was observed only in a fragmentary way. This is in particular the drama of so-called “left”, or progress. We have to stick to what is observed.

In the case of democrats, what was observed is that “Democrats” selected a candidate who was the object of 4 Congressional inquiries (Sanders had none, never had any).

Now they insult us.

Patrice Ayme’

Deep Science Is Always Born Philosophical

February 12, 2015


Philosophy, and science have the same longing, truth. They go at it in, roughly, the same way. However, the data set philosophy uses, even in its mature form, is much more general. This makes philosophy more “meta”, and thus indispensable to create anything really new in science, be it even a new lab method.

So the debate “Philosophers and Physicists” in Scientia Salon is tongue in cheek.

Einstein offered philosophical considerations in domains far from physics. Yet, if one knows him well, one can see how his general philosophy positively impacted his scientific work.

Epistemology, the study of how we come to have knowledge, is a meta-discipline.

Newton: Mathematician, Physicist, “Natural” Philosopher

Newton: Mathematician, Physicist, “Natural” Philosopher

Yet, epistemology is essential to establish new methods in science. A recent example is datation using genetic material: the practice became more precise, because how we came to the previous knowledge was questioned, and then modified into better knowledge.

Edge science is nearly always entangled with practical epistemology. This makes scientists at the edge of science philosophers of science in a practical sense.

Whether the philosophical method has been useful in Twentieth Century science should not be a debate: Frege, Russell, Poincare’, etc., were also full blown philosophers. Many, if not all, of the top, fundamental physicists, used the philosophical method. The Foundational debates were all deeply philosophical always (as early as Aristotle, Averroes, Tycho, Bruno, Galileo, Newton, Laplace, Gauss, Riemann, Maxwell, Mach, Cantor, etc.).

The fight between Einstein and his sponsor Planck about the photoelectric effect was philosophical.

Bohr defended (his view of) Quantum Mechanics with philosophy (thanks to Born’s interpretation it became permanent).

Better: Karl Popper engaged in a correspondence with Einstein about Non-Locality. Out of that came the Popper experiment and the EPR.’s_experiment

Can philosophy be practical? In science? Sure. Even in mathematics: for philosophical reasons, the Dutch topologist Brouwer rejected some infinite methods in mathematics. This brought, half a century later, mathematics that could be used in ATMs and other machines.

Science is after truth. Philosophy is also after truth. Both are also after defining what truth could be, and what propositions may be formulated and which ones may be provable.

Introducing only observables in physics was attributed to Einstein by Heisenberg, in a heated exchange about the Copenhagen Interpretation, where Heisenberg accused Einstein to have taught him that way.

But Einstein had got the notion from Poincare’. As found in Henri’s “La Science et L’Hypothese” plus Poincare’ papers on what Poincare’ called the “Principle of Relativity”, complete with the constancy of the speed of light, which, latest news, is not really constant (as I expected).

Philosophy is also after truth.

Even the truth that there are no truths about some matters.

Science also excels at the truth that there are sometimes no truth about some matters… and science has learned to overcome that: for example there is no definition, stricto sensu, of elementary particle. Elementary, yes, particle, no… But that does not prevent physicists of discovering them, at least in Feynman diagrams.

The difference between the notion of truth in philosophy and in science is just a matter of degree.

Buridanus established the erroneous labeled “Newton’s First Law” in a treaty he wrote about Aristotle. That same Buridan taught students, and established with them the basic idea of graphs, and what became the Oxford Computing School.

Aristotle, fully admirable and experimentally oriented in biology, was spectacularly wrong about inertia. That became a big deal as his students Antipater, Craterus and Alexander established a fascist political paradigm that was to reign until, well, Buridan’s time.

Thus truth in philosophy, politics, society and science are entangled.

This stays true to this day: “High Energy Physics” was long well financed, in part because the leaders of the military-industrial complex cannot fail to have noticed that they need “high energy”.

So why all the recent aggressivity of second, third, of even lower order physicists against “philosophy”? Simply because incoherent Quantum Field Theory and complete flight of fancy (SUSY, Strings, Inflation Now, etc.) have ruled physics, under the chimp like mood “shut up and calculate”, in recent decades.

Many philosophers of science have directed sharp critiques at this contemporary elite thinking in physics, and their judiciousness has made physicists furious (because they feel threatened, they remember the cancellation of the SSC).

Some insist upon labels. So and so was employed officially as a philosopher: ‘what did he do, I did not read him, I can’t read him, so why does it matter to scientists?’

Feynman was a practical philosopher. He needed his philosophy for his physics. Actually some of his “proofs” in physics use a special, Feynman-made notion of “truth”. According to Feynman-truth, Feynman discovered some things. But somebody with a different notion of truth would view physics differently (Feynman would agree with what I just wrote; actually he basically wrote this, in particular cases, say about E = mc^2, or “virtual””particles”).

French philosophers of science such as Bachelard and then his successor, Canguighelm, were actually scientists: the former as a physicist, the second was a Medical Doctor.

In turn, the one some would view as a glorified parrot, Thomas S. Kuhn, used Bachelard’s notion of “epistemological rupture” (coupure or rupture épistémologique) as re-interpreted by Alexandre Koyré to develop his theory of paradigm changes.

Wikipedia lists nearly 1,000 French philosophers (and they miss quite a few!) Many of these were of a scientific or mathematical background.


Here is an example: I claim the Multiverse error is based in a philosophical subtlety, which was missed by everybody. I feel that Planck nearly spotted explicitly the nature of the error, and it’s Einstein, his protégé’, who instigated it (this is rather ironical, as, in the end, without realizing it, Einstein came to be opposed to himself in the debate on the Foundations of Quantum Physics).

A lot of the progress in science, and even technology, has to do with questioning how we know what we think we know. That’s essentially philosophical. The more fundamental the scientific questions, the more one has to question how it is that we got to these conclusions.


Here is another example: the end of Cretaceous mass extinction. Alvarez, the geologist son of Alvarez the Nobel in physics, asked his dad how one could prove that there was an impact. The dad answered: Iridium, it’s rare on Earth, but found on asteroids. So Alvarez went to look for Iridium, and found it, thus demonstrating there was an impact.

However, I scoffed. I knew there had been other impacts. I also knew there was the Deccan Traps hyper-volcanism at the same time. The numbers, about the magnitudes did not fit. So, philosophical question: how sure were we that the Iridium did not come from the center of the Earth? I did not see the Alvarez and their followers even consider the question.

Yet, it was impossible they were not aware of it. So this was fishy scientific logic.

Science is about certain knowledge. How do we get there? By making alternatives impossible. The asteroid extinction conclusion cannot pretend to be science, because a (more probable!) alternative was not excluded.


By the way, latest news show that my point of view is winning: yes Iridium can come from the core, yes the extinction’s chronology seems volcanically driven.

In other news, Coel, one of the scientist-professors-commenters and writers at Scientia Salon, said, basically, that scientist are practical epistemologists.

Coel also made a broadside against those who are ravaged by superstition to the point they demand respect for their superstitions, by confusing respect and tolerance (a point I long made).

Should we entertain those fanatics (= those who come from the fanum, the temple), we would have to respect Abraham the would-be child killer, because we are tolerant? Of what? The veneration for those who bind children to offer them to gods, or dogs?

Knowledge, and the search thereof, is more united than it looks.

Knowledge died in Antiquity because epistemology died. And that died, because fascism (“Hellenistic Kingdoms) blossomed.

Patrice Ayme’


Big Bang Proof Turns To Dust

September 22, 2014

Dust peppers outer space, around the enormous Milky Way galaxy. The Milky Way is much more massive than any other galaxy in the fifty galaxy strong Local Group (only the giant Andromeda has a comparable mass). So, naturally, it has a lot of dust. The dimly radiating dust grains are aligned with our galaxy’s magnetic field. The galactic magnetic field’s swirling gives a polarization to the dust glow, just as a crystal’s alignment polarizes reflected light.

Last March, cosmic inflation enthusiasts claimed to have seen ripples at the origin of time. They claimed to have used a telescope that was sensitive enough. Yet they used a sort of postcard lifted from the European telescope Planck, to evaluate how much galactic dust there was, polarizing the light. That was, at best amateurish, or scientific fraud, and, at worst, a scam on the tax paying public, who wants to be enlightened, not defrauded.

We Fraud, Therefore We Sink. How Inflation > Cosmic Polarization

We Fraud, Therefore We Sink. How Inflation > Cosmic Polarization

[That was the hope from Harvard’s Kovac; it just bit the dust. At least the picture is pretty.]

The Planck researchers were flabbergasted by the behavior of their American colleagues. They knew the dust could mimic the predicted signal from the Big Bang. No doubt the “Publish Or Perish” syndrome was at work again: say whatever to become a celebrity, being a celebrity is what a career is about. Damn careful thinking. Many a Harvard professor has appeared to believe that, whatever they say, whatever they do, it will be accepted. Unfortunately, they have often been proven right. And not just in physics, but economics, finance, politics, morality, philosophy. That makes Harvard the keystone of plutocratic propaganda.

Now, it turns out that this swirling pattern touted as evidence of primordial gravitational waves — ripples in space and time from the universe’s explosive birth — could all come from magnetically aligned Milky Way dust. A new analysis of data from the Planck space telescope concludes that the tiny silicate and carbonate particles of interstellar space could account for as much as 100 percent of the signal detected by the BICEP2 telescope and announced to big light and great banging this spring.

Do we need Cosmic Inflation, and its many absurdities? Of course not:



Now that we have Dark Energy (or Phantom Energy), we simply do not need Inflation Theory.

Dark Energy is a fact. Inflation theory a far-fetched stream of ideas which leads to universes exploding in every way, all the time, all over the place, a blatant absurdity, if there ever was one.

Indeed, having an uncountable number of universes on every pinhead is even more incredible than having to count how many angels sit on a pinhead, as some Medieval naïve religious types used to ponder.

In the scenario of the Big Bang we have now, space expansion accelerates in an hyper exponential way for a while (“inflation”), then decelerates until close to the present era, before re-accelerating from Dark Energy. This is weird, and logically contrived.

The most logically economical theory, from the barest known facts, is that cosmic expansion is completely due to Dark Energy. In that case, the universe is more like 100 billion years old. Nuclear synthesis of helium, lithium, etc. are generally rolled out to claim the Big Bang had to have synthesized them. However, those light elements could have been created thanks to some of the energetic phenomena observed since the Big Bang theory was elaborated (such as galactic core Black Holes).

The 3 degree K radiation could be due, in part to other phenomena than cosmic expansion. However, expanding for 100 billion years could be enough of an explanation.

Here we are faced with two theories explaining just as much. However, one uses an axiom (inflation) that is not a fact, but a fancy idea… And which is not even needed. Clearly Occam Razor ought to be applied, and Inflation and its Big Bang, decapitated.


And why does all this matter, for broader thinkers? First there is the poetry of it all. That enormous galaxy, our home, makes hearts melt with the possibilities, and perspectives.

The old name for galaxies was “island universes”. Kant worked on that for his thesis. The size of the Milky Way is baffling. It contains stars which are 13.6 billion years old (just 6,000 light years away, and uncomfortably close, if you ask me, to the presumed birth of the universe according to the Big Bang. It’s like a Freudian slip: ’Oh, and our Milky Way is old as the universe…’).

Secondly, and more importantly, scientists are supposed to roll out the most impressive, innovative, yet rigorous thinking. Yet, from Unobservable Strings, to Wishful Supersymmetry, to much Crazy Cosmology, there is a bad smell, and a poor show out there. Of course, the degradation of public logic suits the plutocracy just fine.

Thus, although it does not look like it, much the over-excitement in some areas of extremely speculative physics has much to do, you guessed it, with the fancy multiverses in finance, gouging We The People. Namely, if we learn to tolerate irrationality in physics, so will we, all over, as physics is supposed to be the shining example on a hill.

Hence the desire to impose the greatest rationality, and the strictest probity in physics, from the most general philosophical point of view. And for those who want to insure a sustainable civilization, and enough of the biosphere to survive to make it so.

Patrice Ayme’

P/S: the essence of the preceding scientific ideas was sent to several popular physics and science sites. None of the sites published it. I was witness, in the past, of reviewers stealing ideas during the peer review process, or suppressing ideas which showed them to be wrong. This systemic censorship could be somewhat related.