28 May 2011

Laws of Nature

I'm not as comfortable as are some with the phrase "laws of nature."

One way of framing the issue of "physicalism" versus various non-physicalist or dualist views of the world is to ask whether humans or something about human nature constitutes an exception to the laws of nature. If the ansawer is "no" then (runs this line of thought) you are a physicalist.

Not so fast! I have to say. The phrase "laws of nature" implies something ironclad, and this biases whatever constitutes the "physicalism" thus defined. For all we know, though, every 'law of nature' may be probabilistic. That almost certainly is the case with the second law of thermodynamics, for example. The reason heat disperses is that there are lots and lots of molecules moving about and the law of "large numbers" applies. If there is a small group of fast-moving molecules that start off as a tight knot (a hot spot, in macro terms) and a surrounding group of slower-moving molecules, (cooler surroundings) then the fast ones will disperse into the slower ones, even though some specific fast-moving molecules will be moving toward one another some of the time. At a macro level, that won't matter.

I'm out of my debt there and shouldn't go any further, but the bottom line is that the famous 2d law is a statement of probability, which at the macro level looks like an inevitability.

Suppose every law of nature, even gravity, turns out to be probabilistic. This means that we will be in a position to accept something like ideas of free will as applied to human nature without making of the human mind an "empire inside the empire." This line of thought, as you can see, points us toward Penrose, quantum computing, etc.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Mitchell Monaghan here,

If the universe is probabilistic
one could argue that that is just a different kind of law. We could say that there is the law of probabilism or that we don't know the law yet, since if we did we could predict with greater accuracy.
One could argue that the universe does have a regularity, a law that is discernable, but that we can't with our simple minds, make out the conditions to make such an accurate prediction.
So, on may conclude that free will is not lawless, nor unpredetermined, but simply refers
to our human lack of discernment.
In other words, whether there is or is not universal law---is an assumption, a premise, an initial point of view, not a conclusion.

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.