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Math Science

Where Do the Laws of Nature Come From? 729

Posted by kdawson
from the you-say-anthropic-i-say-platonic dept.
mlimber writes "The NYTimes science section has up an interesting article discussing the nature of scientific laws. It comes partly in reply to physicist Paul Davies, whose recent op-ed in same paper lit up the blogosphere and solicited flurry of reader responses to the editorial page. It asks, 'Are [laws of nature] merely fancy bookkeeping, a way of organizing facts about the world? Do they govern nature or just describe it? And does it matter that we don't know and that most scientists don't seem to know or care where they come from?' The current article proceeds to survey different views on the matter. The author seems to be poking fun at himself by quoting Richard Feynman's epigram, 'Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds.'"
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Where Do the Laws of Nature Come From?

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  • by roguegramma (982660) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:08PM (#21741992) Journal
    Obviously, the Laws of Nature came up in a big game of Nomic.

    Next question please.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Darinbob (1142669)
      If Nature is a game, is it skill based or class based? Einstein has already postulated that it is a dice-less game. Modern quantum physics however suggests at least some die rolling is involved, but the number and type of dice is unknown. Is the dice bag full of uniform D6, or is it a nerdy mixture of shapes, such as D-up, D-down, D-strange, D-charm, etc?
  • Alternate universes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Besna (1175279) * on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:08PM (#21742006)
    An interesting and related question is how the laws can be tweaked, yet still conform to the anthropic principle. One could imagine a smaller universe, where the sentients would not be so spread out. Play with the equations, and run simulations. The neuroscientists will have to get involved once we understand sentience more.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Billosaur (927319) *

      More importantly: if the fundamental laws of the universe are changing (as some posit), how would we know? Can we separate natural laws from the universe that they are derived from/created in?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by hal9000(jr) (316943)
        More importantly: if the fundamental laws of the universe are changing (as some posit), how would we know? Can we separate natural laws from the universe that they are derived from/created in?

        Apparently this is a useless question since it is the philosophy of science. I have to wonder why smart people think they are smart about everything. Isn't science supposed to have rigor and thorough analysis, and if so, wouldn't that mean rigor and analysis about itself? Theories of metaphysics (not the new age sh
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Smidge204 (605297)
        More importantly: if the fundamental laws of the universe are changing (as some posit), how would we know? Can we separate natural laws from the universe that they are derived from/created in?

        Well, if they change fast enough, it could become apparent that the equations and constants we've been using for 200 years now are no longer accurate (with respect to the results they used to produce). That would be a pretty big flag I'd think.
        =Smidge=
        • by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @04:59PM (#21743832)
          I would wander 'how fast' was changing fast enough to raise a flag. Would observing a flaw in a previously accepted law be large enough to act as a flag that the universe changed, or that our original understanding was insufficient?

          Though I suppose any change that was observable on such a scale would also be able to be proven if the data were still available and accurate.
    • by Brian Gordon (987471) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:17PM (#21742146)
      NO, never run any simulations! If it can be shown possible to simulate a universe, it's infinitely likely that we're in some sub-simulation of someone's universe simulation [wikipedia.org].
      • by PresidentEnder (849024) <wyvernender@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:27PM (#21742272) Journal
        What's wrong with that? As long as no one can tell the difference, we might as well go on living as we have. How much would it influence your actions to know that you were a simulation within a simulation? Everything still happens the same way.
        • quickly now (Score:5, Funny)

          by circletimessquare (444983) <<circletimessquare> <at> <gmail.com>> on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:34PM (#21742414) Homepage Journal
          remove the above poster for reprogramming before any of the other subjects notice
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Brian Gordon (987471)
          Because life has no meaning, and because at any second someone could hit Ctrl-C and kill us all instantly, erasing our entire life's work, because the whole of human existance could be some process running in the background of a lab workstation, because someone would be watching us... because someone would be responsible for human suffering.

          Maybe it wouldn't make any difference to an animal, but I have psychological investment in the existential.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by teslatug (543527)
            Interesting thought, if that were the case, how long do you think would pass between the simulator thinking they're going to press Ctrl-C and the program actually terminating? I'm guessing billions of years in our time. Of course it could have decided to do this billions of years ago, but in any case, chances are it wouldn't happen before we all died anyway.
          • by spun (1352) <{moc.oohay} {ta} {yranoituloverevol}> on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @06:13PM (#21744896) Journal
            There are three basic approaches to this existential dilemma. First, decide based on arbitrary experiences that one particular explanation is right. Second, decide that no particular explanation matters since you can't know which one is right for sure, and get on with your life. Third, go batshit insane.

            Buddha was asked a number of questions by a wise philosopher of the time, such as "Is there a soul," "Is there a God" and "Is there life after death?" Buddha refused to answer because the answers aren't important. If they are important to you, there is a more basic question you should be asking first, which is, "Why is it important for me to believe that I know the answers?"

            You will find the answer to this is always some variant of, "Because I'm afraid of dying and knowing the right things will help keep me from ceasing to exist." So the question becomes, why am I afraid of dying? And the answer is almost always something along the lines of, "Because I see myself as fundamentally separate from the Universe, and when I die, I'm gone."

            This is based on the fact that mind has privileged access to some of it's own internal state. No one else seems to know our internal worlds, and so we fear that when we die, those worlds will be lost. Worse yet, as we believe we are the only ones who can put them in their proper context, when we die, they might be misinterpreted.

            Well, buck up. You aren't separate from the universe. You are not a subject, observing the objects. You aren't a little man sitting in your head looking out through your eyes and hearing through your ears. The sense of self is just another sense, just another track in the recording. No one is listening because there aren't any such things as individuals to observe.

            Is that confusing or upsetting? Then you are stuck in dualistic thinking, and will always be, in some sense, scared of death. If you can let go of dualism and realize that there is no subjective observer separate from the objects observed, but that observation still exists, then you will be free and it won't matter one bit whether we are living in a simulation, or even whether there is a God, a soul, or an afterlife.
            • by martyros (588782) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:58PM (#21746268)

              What an interesting post! Very well put. Not often that I read a slashdot post that causes so much introspection.

              Two points. First, Buddha's observation relates only to questions about life after death. However, the question "Is there a God" doesn't necessarily have to do with "eternity". If you read the Old Testament of the Bible, there is no explicit mention of Heaven. (Or, at least, almost no mention of heaven -- haven't done a search.) There is a vague shadowy idea of the afterlife in terms of "Sheol", but that's nothing like what people think of heaven and eternity these days. Almost all of the focus of God and our relationship with him is about the here and now -- the blessings of walking with God and being a righteous man.

              Second, Buddha's observation about the source of the question may reveal something about us; but the question still remains as a question of fact, and it does matter. If Buddha I were on the Titanic, and I had heard people say that it was sinking, and I asked Buddha if he thought it was sinking and if we should try to escape on some lifeboats, his series of observational questions are still as valid as they are when asking about God. Yes, I want to know if the Titanic is sinking in part because I'm afraid of dying; and yes, that's in part because I'm afraid of what will happen to me when I die. But I must insist that the answer to the original question is still important, since how I believe and act will determine whether I die a cold icy death soon, or of old age after a long full life later.

              Similarly, the answer to the question of God's existence and nature -- whether I can live in a relationship with him now, and whether he will judge me after I die for how I've lived my life here -- will be of material significance to my happiness.

        • by maxwell demon (590494) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @04:28PM (#21743354) Journal
          You might start searching for buffer overflows which would enable you to change our reality.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by pragma_x (644215)
            In some small way, I can't help but think that maybe this is what high-energy particle physics is for.
        • by zippthorne (748122) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @04:30PM (#21743384) Journal
          If the universe is a simulation, then you should spend at least some of your day looking for cheat codes.
    • by Quadraginta (902985) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:57PM (#21742804)
      The argument I've found most persuasive, and IIRC correctly from a Berkeley physics seminar umpty years ago by Hawking, shared by at least some first-rank cosmologists, is that the physical laws we have will ultimately prove to be the only possible logically consistent set.

      That is, "alternate" universes are ipso facto impossible, because there is no other set of physical laws that are consistent with each other. And imagining them is somewhat like asking whether God can make a stone so heavy he can't lift it, or imagining being your own grandfather via a time-travel machine: a mere exercise in word-play, allowed only by the fact that English is a sufficiently illogical and ambiguous way of communicating that all kinds of nonsense can be put into words and "make sense" grammatically without making the least bit of sense logically.
      • by EllisDees (268037) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @04:30PM (#21743394)
        It could also be true that all configurations of physical laws would ultimately lead to life forming in one way or another. They can say that changing the charge of the electron by 2% would make life impossible, but we cannot truly know the macroscopic effects that such a change would have. Yes, the universe would be different, but to say that life couldn't form there is hugely arrogant IMHO.
      • by AHumbleOpinion (546848) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:58PM (#21744654) Homepage
        That is, "alternate" universes are ipso facto impossible, because there is no other set of physical laws that are consistent with each other.

        I don't think the problem is with internal consistency of a set of laws, but compatibility with us. I believe Hawking argues that other sets of laws are possible, just incompatible with life. That our existence requires the current set. Regarding fundamental numbers (electron charge, etc): "The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life."
  • i think its clear (Score:5, Insightful)

    by El Pollo Loco (562236) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:09PM (#21742014)
    Maybe I missed the point of this, but I don't see how scientific laws can be anything BUT a description of nature. We're not creating laws. I can't write a law saying gravity doesn't exist. Scientific laws/theories are merely descriptions of nature.
    • Re:i think its clear (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gardyloo (512791) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:17PM (#21742132)
      A question is, though, do those laws apply at all times and places, or are we just "discovering" them here, and now? As far as I know, there's nothing prohibiting a gradual gauge change over time and space. Perhaps those innocuous gauge shifts really DO have an effect somewhere/when. What we generally call "laws" should be universally applicable (or their restricted domains should be stated), but what if they're only applicable here/now? Are they just shadows of higher-dimensional laws which may undergo sudden changes as some higher-dimensional phase change goes on?

            Perhaps the arbitrary laws you can write down really do apply.

              This all strikes me as a form of hidden variables theory. Or perhaps just cosmic navel-gazing.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:31PM (#21742354)
        It's a non-issue. Laws of nature are, by definition, theories which have been tested and found to be applicable over and over again. Scientists are always looking for ways to falsify their theories. That is the very essence of science. They are fully aware that not finding contradictions to their theories doesn't mean that no contradictions exist. They are looking for changing "constants" and they even know about effects which run counter to known "laws of nature", but that doesn't make the laws useless, because the circumstances where the laws don't apply are known.
      • by orclevegam (940336) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:35PM (#21742438) Journal
        From a scientific standpoint it doesn't matter. All the "laws" we have now are essentially just best guesses made on available data. If in the future we discover circumstances under which those laws no longer apply the laws will be amended to reflect those conditions under which they don't apply. The original laws of Newtonian mechanics were quite sufficient to describe the behaviors that Newton was observing, but were later found to be insufficient and were updated. This is the scientific process, it's a gradual refinement of understanding in an attempt to approach a set of laws that can used to accurately describe and calculate the universe (and possibly beyond).
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        For a long time, Newton's laws were considered universal, and then Einstein showed how they only work to very closely estimate solutions to a specific subset of physical phenomena, over a certain range, etc. So obviously, our "laws" are just useful estimation techniques, and should not be considered as having any permanent relation to life, the universe, or other difficult and complex topics. Science doesn't mean anything special unless we prescribe some other equally artificial meaning to some results (i
      • by Quadraginta (902985) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:48PM (#21742654)
        As far as I know, there's nothing prohibiting a gradual gauge change over time and space.

        You bet there is. All the conservation laws (e.g. conservation of energy, or of momentum) rely on the fact that physical laws do not change with time or position in space. If there was a "gradual change" in physical laws, e.g. if the constant in Coulomb's Law or Newton's Law changed slowly from position to position, or over time, then energy and momentum would not be conserved.

        And, of course, the fact that energy and momentum are conserved has been verified experimentally in excruciating detail.
    • by sm62704 (957197)
      Actually there are places where gravity doesn't exist. A comedy club, for example.
    • Yes, they come from observation and modelling nature and trying to explain how and why stuff works. Our understanding is, and always has been, incomplete and under refinement. We continually refine these laws as we progress.

      For example: "stuff falls down" becomes a description of gravity which might one day become something about strings wor whatever, when that is probperly figured out. "Human flight is impossible" because "heavier than air flight is impossible" which then became laws of aeronautics and one

    • Re:i think its clear (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:32PM (#21742386) Journal
      I agree, but I disagree. So many people (Platonists) think these laws exist outside of human experience, and it's so obvious that they don't. WHAT they try to describe does, but there's a big difference. We can say a^2 + b^2 = c^2, but the very notion of a triangle is completely circumscribed by human experience, and the notion of abstract notation is also a human thing. To say such a relation exists a priori is where I believe rationalism runs off the rails into a kind of metaphysics of "belief" as opposed to empirical science, and where empirical science mistakes itself for reality.

      We ARE creating the laws, but what we create them ABOUT is something we do not have control over. The universe and human evolution rolled those dice aeons ago. Yes, you COULD write a law that says gravity doesn't exist, IF the law you write permits the kind of observations we make regarding objects in space/time. In fact, this is an interesting example. The Einsteinian view is that gravity (in and of itself) doesn't exist. It is our perception of how objects behave in curved space time. In the other ring, you have physicists who are bound and determined to shoe-horn gravity into some grand design of particle physics, and are on a continuous (and IMHO, quixotic) quest for the Graviton.

      So, you grab a brick, hold it out. Let go. It falls. The effect of it falling on release we can call "gravity", but whether gravity exists as a REAL force in the universe, or just some weird effect of space/time warpage is another issue. So, yes, you CAN write a law that says "gravity doesn't exist" as long as your law accounts for the behaviour exhibited in the test of your dropping the brick.

      What is insightful about your brief post is the point that what we call "Scientific Laws" are merely descriptions of nature. The laws are Scientific, and are therefore, tentative. They will remain "true" only as long as they can be proven to be true. Once some genius comes along and disproves it, or, more likely, incorporates it into some larger understanding, it will cease to be "true". Science is not based on absolute permanent truth. Scientific truth is ALWAYS provisional. It is so, as it is a product of language - a tool of our species.

      RS

      • Re:i think its clear (Score:4, Interesting)

        by DamnStupidElf (649844) <Fingolfin@linuxmail.org> on Wednesday December 19, 2007 @03:51AM (#21749238)
        So many people (Platonists) think these laws exist outside of human experience, and it's so obvious that they don't. WHAT they try to describe does, but there's a big difference. We can say a^2 + b^2 = c^2, but the very notion of a triangle is completely circumscribed by human experience, and the notion of abstract notation is also a human thing. To say such a relation exists a priori is where I believe rationalism runs off the rails into a kind of metaphysics of "belief" as opposed to empirical science, and where empirical science mistakes itself for reality.

        Existence is a tricky thing, because it is also purely a human concept. By claiming that mathematics does not exist outside of human experience you are also implicitly claiming that the universe itself does not exist outside of human experience. Everything we know about the universe has been derived from human experience, which is ultimately no more real or unreal than our experience of mathematics, since both experiences exist only within the human mind. There is no objective viewpoint from which to consider existence or reality. Our minds must approach both the universe and mathematics in exactly the same way; perform experiments, observe the results, make up theories about what is happening, and try to disprove them. From the human perspective mathematics is as much a part of the universe as matter and energy, so it is not absurd to claim that mathematics exists outside of human experience.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by syousef (465911)
        a^2 + b^2 = c^2 only applies for Euclidean geometry. In spherical geometry Pythagoras does not apply and angles of a triangle don't add to 180

        See:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagorean_theorem [wikipedia.org]
  • ZOMG religion! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by commisaro (1007549)
    Unfortunately alot of people use the "perfectness" of the Universal constants as "proof" of an "intelligent designer". Dennett has a great discussion of the flaws in this arguments in chapter 2 of "Darwin's Dangerous Idea".
  • by Speare (84249) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:11PM (#21742042) Homepage Journal

    And does it matter that we don't know and that most scientists don't seem to know or care where they come from?

    Am I the only one who thought this sentence smacked of Intelligent Design proposition?

    See, I find no conflict between science and spirituality; I find a LOT of conflict between fans of science and fans of specific flavors of spirituality (religions). The Yankees and Red Sox don't really spend a lot of time foaming at the mouth about their opponents, but the rest of the folks in the stadiums sure do. If spirituality offers guidance as to WHY we're here, then science attempts to explain HOW. Either question can be ignored and you'll still live, honestly. Both questions may be answered and the answers may or may not satisfy you. The only difference that I see, which puts me in the science camp, is that scientists at least try to prove themselves wrong.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by yusing (216625)
      most scientists don't seem to know or care where they come from

      Completely wrong-headed statement. Any laws which have been established in any particular discipline are taught to students immediately. They're used and discussed endlessly as the basis for all kinds of problem-solving decisions. In physics, for example, the law of conservation of momentum has been verified a million more times than Darwin has incited insecurity. Anyone who wishes to do so can easily search for an example in which that law is v
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by master_p (608214)
      "If spirituality offers guidance as to WHY we're here, then science attempts to explain HOW."

      Ok then. Since you are a spiritual person, and you have understood that spirituality offers guidance as to WHY we are here, please enlighten us: WHY ARE WE HERE?

  • Yeesh (Score:5, Funny)

    by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:12PM (#21742062)
    Four different forces, superstrings, antineutrinos, strange quarks, neutralinos, gluons, and 26 dimensions.

    The laws of physics are clearly the result of a bureaucracy.
    • Re:Yeesh (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Animats (122034) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:30PM (#21742328) Homepage

      Four different forces, superstrings, antineutrinos, strange quarks, neutralinos, gluons, and 26 dimensions.

      The laws of physics are clearly the result of a bureaucracy.

      There's a basic frustration in physics today that things are just too complicated at the bottom. There's a classic comment by I. I. Rabi, "Who ordered that?", made when the muon was discovered. The muon is a "heavy electron", the first elementary particle discovered that doesn't appear in ordinary atoms. Muons didn't seem to be necessary to physics, but there they were. That was the end of simple subatomic physics, and nobody has been able to put the mess back in the box since.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by kmac06 (608921)
        I disagree. Since the mounting evidence of quark theory began, particle physics has simplified immensely. You have the leptons (3 families, two particles in each + antiparticles), the quarks (3 families, two particle in each + antiparticles) and the force-carrying particle (photons, gluons, W/Z bosons, and maybe gravitons). That's it! The rules governing these interactions are relatively simple. Certainly not easy to apply, but still simple.
      • Re:Yeesh (Score:5, Funny)

        by Odin's Raven (145278) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:30PM (#21744288)

        That was the end of simple subatomic physics, and nobody has been able to put the mess back in the box since.

        Maybe if they took that danged cat out of the box, they'd have enough room...

      • Re:Yeesh (Score:4, Insightful)

        by jfengel (409917) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @06:20PM (#21745020) Homepage Journal
        It's certainly interesting that we had an approximation (Maxwell, Newton) which as so simple it seemed that it must be fundamental, or nearly so. If there was anything more fundamental, one would expect it to be even simpler: why should a more-complex set of rules just happen to have a nice, neat approximation right at the scales where humans happen to be able to observe them easily?

        I suspect that one day we'll find out that there's a very good explanation, but I'll be darned if I have any idea what it is.
  • God (Score:2, Insightful)

    by vga_init (589198)

    Even if you're not very religious, if you sat down and tried to imagine what God could possibly be, or what function He/She/It could possibly have, I think this one would be rather high on the list.

    • Even if you're not very religious, if you sat down and tried to imagine what God could possibly be, or what function He/She/It could possibly have, I think this one would be rather high on the list.

      I would like to say that you will probably be modded troll or offtopic for that comment even though I don't think it is warranted in this case. While I'm not sure about your particular viewpoint of what "God" constitutes, because you used a capitol letter in the word "God" I will assume you mean the Christian humanoid man in the sky (I clarify this because the term has had its use in nearly every religion and even by non-religious people to.) Religion has indeed been the explanation for many unknowns in th

  • Quoting the summary:
    most scientists don't seem to know or care where they come from

    Doesn't it make sense to worry about figuring out what the laws are before we worry about where they came from?

    Truman: How long would it take to build an atomic bomb?
    Scientist: Nobody knows how to do that. But I can tell you why the laws of nature made it possible.
    • Quoting the summary:
      most scientists don't seem to know or care where they come from

      Doesn't it make sense to worry about figuring out what the laws are before we worry about where they came from?

      Truman: How long would it take to build an atomic bomb?
      Scientist: Nobody knows how to do that. But I can tell you why the laws of nature made it possible.

      Worrying about where they came form would be a good indicator your a bad scientist since your anthropomorphizing your work. Laws in Science are just terse observations.

  • by TheNarrator (200498) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:19PM (#21742158)

    Equivocation is the use in a syllogism (a logical chain of reasoning) of a term several times, but giving the term a different meaning each time. For example:

            A feather is light.
            What is light cannot be dark.
            Therefore, a feather cannot be dark.

    Nature has Laws.
    All Laws are made for the purpose of governing.
    Nature has laws that are made for the purpose of governing.

    Notice that the first and second time the term "Law" is used it has a different meaning.
  • by CodeShark (17400) <ellsworthpcNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:19PM (#21742162) Homepage
    Because it really puts the so called "faith vs. science" argument into perspective. That argument quite simply boils down to how a scientific mind goes about answering one question: do the so-called "laws of nature" work because that's how the universe "IS", or is the universe the way it is because that's how the "laws of nature" were designed? [Or my thought: Even a "God" has to use the laws of nature to organize things into interesting things like universes, planets, beings, etc...]


    I particularly liked the card game of bridge analogy and the author's conclusion where he stated:We don't know, and might never know, if science has overbid its hand. When in doubt, confronted with the complexities of the world, scientists have no choice but to play their cards as if they can win, as if the universe is indeed comprehensible. That is what they have been doing for more than 2,000 years, and they are still winning.

    Interestingly enough, as a person of religious faith, I agree: scientists are winning the knowledge acquisition game faster than they ever have before -- and my faith is not threatened by the progress of knowledge at all for a simple reason: would it make sense for a designer (AKA a God) to organize/make a universe that doesn't follow comprehensible rules? or that this group of sentient beings known as humans can't set about on a centuries long search to understand what those rules are?

    Because what I reject is the limitation imposed by atheistic scientists that the answer to that first argued question must be presupposed towards randomness, not design.

    • by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:48PM (#21742660)
      "do the so-called "laws of nature" work because that's how the universe "IS", or is the universe the way it is because that's how the "laws of nature" were designed?"

      Our laws are wrong. We might never know what laws would most accurately describe the universe.

      "would it make sense for a designer (AKA a God) to organize/make a universe that doesn't follow comprehensible rules?"

      Why should the rules be comprehensible? Sure, we've comprehended some of it, but there's really no guarantee that our brains will figure it all out. Our brains certainly can't grasp more than 3 spatial dimensions.

      Also, why do you believe the actions of a deity have to make sense? A lot of things in the real world don't make sense to us. Common sense has been a regular failure at analyzing more than the most basic scenarios.

      "or that this group of sentient beings known as humans can't set about on a centuries long search to understand what those rules are?"

      Yes, I could see it being true that our brains - originally developed for hunting strategy and making weapons - would not be able to handle revealing the fundamental laws of nature. Then again, as I said, common sense regularly fails.

      "Because what I reject is the limitation imposed by atheistic scientists that the answer to that first argued question must be presupposed towards randomness, not design."

      I don't think the word "randomness" means what you think it means. If you are talking about evolution, it certainly does not progress at random. It is indeed nearly impossible for a bunch of particles to fly together and form a 747. But then, that is not what evolution is.
  • if great minds have grappled with a given subject matter and the answer has remained inconclusive to them, then it is certain that a definitive absolute final answer to the mystery will be found in the comments section of slashdot
  • Laws of nature are mere observations that folks who have lots of time have come to realize that they are almost always observed/followed. Of course, there will be fellas who go against the norm occasionally.

    Pretty soon (in a few generations), being gay will also be another "law of nature." But I still wonder how it works because being male, I have no desire for my fellow man. There are those who have the desire and I respect them.

    • by wiggles (30088)
      The mere fact that you posted this shows that you're either in denial or so far in the closet you're seeing stuff from 1980.
  • by Hawthorne01 (575586) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:27PM (#21742266)
    The lawyers of nature, of course.

    Duh.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Zordak (123132)
      Actually, it's the well-funded special interest group lobbyists of nature. Obviously Big Gravity and Big Quantum Mechanics have very disparate interests, so we're stuck with these laws we can't seem to reconcile.
  • Just for the record, I did not RTFA.

    And does it matter that we don't know and that most scientists don't seem to know or care where they come from?

    I always felt that science was a way of uncovering where these laws came from. It sounds like I'm talking in a circle but I feel that in order to understand the whole you need to understand the parts. At least in the questions of where something comes from. You dissect the whole down in parts and those parts in parts and eventually you find the questions to t
    • Re:Missing the point (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gstoddart (321705) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @04:06PM (#21742950) Homepage

      I always felt that science was a way of uncovering where these laws came from. It sounds like I'm talking in a circle but I feel that in order to understand the whole you need to understand the parts. At least in the questions of where something comes from. You dissect the whole down in parts and those parts in parts and eventually you find the questions to the tough problems.

      When in fact, science is discovering the opposite.

      Reductionism [wikipedia.org] has been the prevailing school of thought in science for a very long time. We've assumed if we could break things down into their constituent pieces, then we'd understand the bigger picture stuff pretty readily.

      Now scientists are starting really get a sense that the more they pull it apart into wee pieces, the less we know about how it all got put together in the first place. The complexity of what we have is, at present, far greater than our understanding of how the bits work.

      It would be nice to think that we would have an answer of the origins and we could fan our knowledge out from there. If that were the case science would be all but dead since we would have probably arrived at all possible answers at this point in time. Instead we're left peeling back layers and making theories about layer yet uncovered.

      In actuality, you end up like a child who has taken apart a complicated toy, and can't figure out how to put it together.

      Our knowledge has grown exponentially. But, the more we look at what we know, the more we realize the sheer scale of the stuff we don't know anything about. It's fascinating, but it's also humbling at the same time -- there's a lot more in some of these systems than we even have an inkling of understanding of.

      I think we're reaching the point where simple reductionism, while still driving basic science, opens up far more questions than the number of answers we get. We just didn't know enough to know we had to ask these questions before.

      Certainly, I don't think science is any where near answering the question of where the laws of nature came from. Philosophy and religion can try to do that, but their answers are just guesses as well -- some of this stuff isn't really "knowable" just yet.

      Cheers
  • by BlueParrot (965239) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:44PM (#21742578)
    It's not that we don't care where laws of physics come from, it's just that we have no testable explanation for it, so rather than bailing out with some nonsense like "goddidit" we merely accept that: For now, we don't really know.
  • by jackstack (618328) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:49PM (#21742668) Journal
    The "laws" of science simply *describe*. They do not govern.
    Here's a couple pearls I've picked up:
    "Science is the attempt to come up with systematic, coherent and useful descriptions of how the natural world works."
    - Chris Mack, litho guru

    Science always deals with models of reality, not the ultimate nature of reality.
    - http://www.lightandmatter.com/ [lightandmatter.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:50PM (#21742692)

    And does it matter that we don't know and that most scientists don't seem to know or care where they come from?


    I'm a scientist, and I come from Wisconsin. Who are these scientists who don't seem to know or care where they come from? They must be awfully odd people.
  • by caseih (160668) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:50PM (#21742694)
    The oped peice refers to religious faith as "belief without evidence." I believe this definition to be false. Certainly the characters who wrote in and were described by the Bible would not consider religious faith to be "belief without evidence." Rather they wrote what they considered to be personal evidence, with the hopes that readers of their words would likewise seek for their own personal evidence. Of course this area is, in the eyes of many, frought with difficulties. So certainly Dr. Davies can claim that these people have no evidence, but that doesn't make it true or untrue.

    • by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @04:09PM (#21743000)
      "Certainly the characters who wrote in and were described by the Bible would not consider religious faith to be "belief without evidence.""

      Your belief in the reality of these characters' existence, let alone of their accounts or beliefs, is what can be characterized as "belief without evidence". All religious stories contain characters with first-hand accounts. The problem is that people can also make up stories containing characters with first-hand accounts.
      • by saltydogdesign (811417) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @10:42PM (#21747596)
        I'm not judging the guy's argument, but I think you've mischaracterized it. I think his point is that faith is based on personal, subjective experience, as *demonstrated* by Biblical characters. He's not saying that faith is based on *their* experience.
  • Futurama (Score:5, Funny)

    by BlueParrot (965239) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:57PM (#21742822)
    -Isn't it strange that we exist?
    -No, God created the world, that is why you exist, hence answering the question once and for all.
    -But...
    -ONCE AND FOR ALL!!!!
  • by jemenake (595948) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @04:14PM (#21743090)
    I don't really consider them "laws". They're the reliable tendencies of the universe. It's like the conversations I have with people who try to convert me to their religion.

    Them: You say you don't believe in god because you haven't seen him... but you believe in electrons, don't you, and you've never seen them?
    Me: No. I don't believe in them.
    Them: You don't believe in electrons?
    Me: Like I said... I've never seen one. All I know is that, if I pretend that electrons exist, then I'm able to make all kinds of predictions that I can see. It might turn out that there aren't electrons at all. The universe might be set up completely another way... and our current set of "laws" manage to give us the same set of predictions. So, I only believe in electrons long enough to build a television set, so to speak.

    As a scientist, I should be ready to abandon any of these laws when they start failing to predict what I'm seeing... no matter how well it worked up to that point (see "Ultraviolet Catastrophe").

    It's like we've been invited to play a board game. We haven't been told the rules... but, by trial and error, we've managed to deduce enough about the gameplay that we're able to get along in the game fairly well. However, I doubt that the rules that we've deduced actually match the ones printed in the book that came with the game.
  • by Pfhorrest (545131) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @04:14PM (#21743094) Homepage Journal
    The entire argument as framed by the article seems to take for granted the assumption that for there to be universal, absolute, necessary truths, there must exist some sort of "thing" in which they are "written", some ontological entity to grant them their truth. This assumption seems entirely fallacious to me (and to entire schools of philosophy opposed to such Platonic realism).

    Take, for example, the Law of Non-Contradiction. This is a law of logic, you might even say THE law of logic: it says simply that for any proposition P (a proposition being what is expressed by a sentence in a given sense and context), either P or not-P. That's an exclusive OR there, so it's one or the other but not both. This is not just a law of language, of our way of expressing things, as Platonists often portray their opponents as claiming. Those who believe this law (which is almost, but not quite, everybody, Platonists and others alike) aren't just believing that, due to the arbitrary rules of all of our languages, it doesn't make any sense to say things like "both P and not-P" or "neither P nor not-P". They're saying that, completely independent of anybody speaking or even thinking anything, whatever state of affairs is described by "P" either obtains exactly as described, or it does not obtain exactly as described.

    This is a necessary truth; one of the most, if not THE most, fundamental of them. (All other laws of truth-functional logic can be reduced to this one law, really). Necessary truths could aptly be described as laws, in the same sense as laws of nature: necessary truths are true everywhere always and there could not possibly be a universe where they were not true.

    Now tell me, where is this fundamental law written (aside from our logic textbooks)? What is it that makes it true? Do we really need to posit some abstract metaphysical entity in Plato's heaven which is the ideal form of the Law of Non-Contradiction, in virtue of which our utterances of that law are true? Or can't we just say that it is necessarily true? Why must such laws be inscribed somewhere in order for them to be laws? This (along with the strawman "nominalism" that Platonists object to) is the metaphysical counterpart to the ethical position that things are only good or bad because someone (God, society, etc) says so, which completely destroys the idea of absolute, universal, and non-arbitrary standards of justice (justice dealing with duties or obligations, obligations relating to goods the same way that necessities relate to truths). Why must things be either decreed by heaven (whether there is a God there or just "Ideas") or by popular convention to be true? Cannot truth stand on its own?
  • by sherpajohn (113531) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @04:28PM (#21743348) Homepage
    Michael Polanyi's [wikipedia.org] book "Personal Knowledge - Towards a Post-Critical Philosphy" [google.com] addresses some of these issues. While he agrees there is are objective truths, he also postulates that "tacit knowledge" [wikipedia.org] leads much of scientific discovery. When I got it in 1988 it was about the most difficult book I had ever read. Actually it still is, maybe I should try reading it again, or re-embark on my quest for "knowledge" ;)
  • by Gibbs-Duhem (1058152) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @04:36PM (#21743480)
    Well son, when a mommy law of nature and a daddy law of nature like each other very, very much...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Macgrrl (762836)

      I get that you were joking, but I suspect it's more like where do small rocks come from?

      The two options are accretion (collection and bonding of smaller particles or concepts to gether to form a greater whole) or disintergration (breaking apart of a larger whole - only fragments remain).

  • by ILongForDarkness (1134931) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:37PM (#21744368)

    It seems to me there is no hope of ever explaining why the physical universe is as it is so long as we are fixated on immutable laws or meta-laws that exist reasonlessly or are imposed by divine providence. The alternative is to regard the laws of physics and the universe they govern as part and parcel of a unitary system, and to be incorporated together within a common explanatory scheme.

    In other words, the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency. The specifics of that explanation are a matter for future research. But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.

    Why? Why does an attempted description have to state the source? This is analogous to someone saying I'm a 6'2" white guy, and replying, you don't know anything until you can tell me where he was born. Who cares? You aren't trying to describe my home town but my apearance.

    As for a closed system, I'm not convinced that such a proof is possible or necessary. After all, how do you prove that two lines are in a plane? You take the dot product of them with the normal vector of the plane in question. Similarly it might be true that in order to prove our laws/find the source of them, you'd have to be able to construct something out side of them to compare them to. Otherwise at best you get a local view of things. And say you can prove the cause of them, what does it matter? Unless knowing the source of the laws allows you to get exact laws (eg, you know for certainty that the God of the bible exists and you can go to the bible for all answers), you still have to measure, do experiments etc, to find out what the laws are. In application, nothing might change too, because even if you know we are part of a multi-verse, the only laws that would be useful to us are the ones that are true in our local universe. Others might be interesting academically, but aren't necessary practically (by definition there is no way to pass between universes in a multiverse).

    As for the whole faith because you assume that the universe can be explained rationally bit. It is similar to the reasoning that you are better off believing in God because if you are wrong you loose nothing but if you are right you gain everything (Pascal's wager). If scientists are wrong, then the universe is unordered and their search will be futile. But if they are right, then they have the chance to know how things work, and perhaps find useful stuff along the way. Ever here the saying "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing expecting a different outcome"? This is that in reverse. It is only rational to continue to do the same thing you've done in the past if you liked the outcome the first time (in this case gained rational explanations of the things you observed).

C makes it easy for you to shoot yourself in the foot. C++ makes that harder, but when you do, it blows away your whole leg. -- Bjarne Stroustrup

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