17 December 2005
Physics is considered one of the hard sciences and might be such, not because it’s based on a solid foundation, not because it aims to uncover this solid foundation. The real question might be: what exactly is that which the field of physics studies?
Ask someone within this discipline, and you’ll get a response along the lines of inquiry into the true nature of reality. You might catch the word “mechanics” along with things like inquiry, energy, forces, etc. and so on.
The core of this or any of the other hard sciences is a component having something that you can demonstrate. Ability of such demonstration mainly is what differentiates science from religion, regardless of those whom would mingle the two.
But does the availablity of performing a test or being able to verify its results imply a solid foundation?
In fact, children routinely provide examples of gravity working in predictable ways and have holes in the knee of their trousers as a memento. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they found the source when they found the ground at 9.8 meters per second squared from the playground equipment.
Higher up on the price tag of toys, we find the boy’s aunt Katherine conducting experiments with high energy physics. Another continent away is her cousin, Alfedo, helping construct the world’s new largest atom smasher. The concept being that it’s just a matter of trying with the right tools before we get enough clues to solve the puzzle.
Before going any further down this path, I must say that this is not quite a Philosophy 101 essay. There is no argument for or against any unseen mover, watchmaker or otherwise divine hand– not here.
My question is this. Are these puzzle pieces providing clues of the real thing or shadows cast by the genuine deal?
Enter string theory, m-theory, etc. Grand Unifying Theory. Whatever.
I’ll catch up with them in my next life, when they’ve decided on the number of dimensions to the universe/metarealm. (I’m busy with mythology.)
Yet they’re on to something, here. The nontechnical version is that there’s much more to reality than meets the eye, including assisted sight from electron microscopes and orbiting telescopes.
The various devices used in science essentially help minimize the effects of one constraint or another. When constrained by small size, we magnify. When limited by position, we stabilize. When hampered by vibration, we dampen the effects.
Effects of one thing seem to percolate to another thing, elsewhere. (No, I won’t be getting into quantum mechanics.)
Discovering these effects may be another way of understanding the hard sciences. It’s about seeing the world as a collection of interactions and side-effects while learning how to recreate it within a controlled and uniform way.
I propose that physics, chemistry and the like are actually studying constraints of implementation.
A passenger car, for example, typically has a sustainable top speed of ten to twenty percent above the speed limit. It would be impractical to build all cars for high performance racing when even those who may laugh at the posted speed limit will rarely if ever participate in a legitimate race. So then, the common family car has constraints: run it too hard and it’ll burn out. But then again, would you rather take your favorite relative to dinner and theater in a comfortable sedan or single occupant rally machine?
Of constraints, some we enjoy while others we dislike, and regarding a different set, our opinions may change with time.
When little Timmy has just fallen and put that first hole in his clothes, he’ll undoubtedly want to boycott gravity, especially when his mother sees what he’s done to his school uniform. Later in life, when he takes up figure drawing, he’ll very much enjoy the fact this his subject rests gracefully on a sofa without flying off the planet’s surface.
Other constraints with which we are all familiar include “objects in mirror are closer than they appear.”
And side-effects: most noticeable and welcome in winter would be warmth from the Sun’s rays.
One more worth mentioning: network congestion.
When your umbilical to the internet is sluggish or overburdened, web pages are slow to load and the rendering of images in your browser reveals how the bits are assembled in the graphics file. The line-by-line accumulation that draws the picture or the rough square blocks of color that get successively smaller, revealing a photograph in focus are consequences of how the image is contained within a file on the web server.
To anyone on a connection with reduced speed, these constraints are revealed.
So then, if our reality was merely a highly interactive virtual world, could it be that physics is just uncovering how the bits are assembled in the file? That is, are the hard sciences chasing side-effects of how nature was implemented?
Mind you, I make no judgement on such pursuits. I, personally, worked many years as computer programmer simply because I so enjoyed solving puzzles.
While some theorists understand gravity to have origins in another dimension and therefore define our experience of it as a side-effect, could they be much closer to truth than they realize?
Rather than seeing one or some of the forces of nature as essentially a secondary system, maybe it all is.