Friday, 25 October 2013

Physics and the Authoritarian Need for Control

I believe that the principle that guided early scientists was the belief that all things needed control. As examples:

                Animals must be tethered or retained by fenced fields

                Soldiers must be disciplined

                Workers must be (micro)managed

                Machines must be controlled

                God controls the Universe


I’m sure you get the point.

Thus Newton’s mechanics are full of control.

A body remains in a state of rest or of uniform motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an external FORCE.

Bodies remain in orbit because of the gravitational FORCE.

STANDARDIZED measures were proclaimed.

Thus laboratory experiments, naturally, were performed within constraints. Gas would be in a container so its volume, pressure and temperature were CONTROLLED.

One can, of course, argue the necessity of all this, because experimental proof requires repeatability, and so on.

That’s all well and good. The question is: has this deprived us of a whole lot of understanding about the behaviour of space/time/matter/forces in uncontrolled situations? There are no fixed containers around newly forming stars. Have we got a false idea of the constant arrow of time?

Relativity has given us (among other things) an inkling of the need to think about different spacetime reference frames. In daily life we think readily of changes in spacial dimensions versus time, but always regard the passage of time as unvarying. What if it is spacetime that is fixed in its progression and the rate of passage of time is variable? If time “stood still”, space would have to expand, in order to compensate. (That might account for the inflation epoch in “Big Bang” theory).

What if there are no rules?

Personally I think chaos theory is misnamed. For me, “chaos” means “no rules”. Imagine if gravity was randomly variable versus time? Now that would cause real chaos!

While I admit I tend to think of probabilistic approaches to problems as being cop-outs for not understanding some underlying process, it does appear that there’s a lot of probability “going on” in the universe. Could it be that the laws of physics that we hold to be true are, themselves, random in nature, and we just happen to be enjoying a spell of apparent consistency?

Hold on to your hats folks!

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