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Why are there laws of nature?
Posted: 25 September 2011 03:06 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I think a likely reaction to this question is that laws of nature are foundational to why questions, we can’t go deeper and so the question is inappropriate/meaningless.

My main objection to that is there must be a reason because it would be so very highly unlikely that the actual world would have these regularities. Each time a regularity held it would be a coincidence with the probability of it holding every time being infinitesimally small.

A second objection is imagine if we did observe gravity fluctuating say, we’d ask why and so it seems reasonable to ask why it doesn’t.

Stephen

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Posted: 25 September 2011 06:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It’s a mystery, Stephen…

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Posted: 25 September 2011 06:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Why are there some questions for which there are no answers?

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Posted: 25 September 2011 07:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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StephenLawrence - 25 September 2011 03:06 AM

I think a likely reaction to this question is that laws of nature are foundational to why questions, we can’t go deeper and so the question is inappropriate/meaningless.

My main objection to that is there must be a reason because it would be so very highly unlikely that the actual world would have these regularities. Each time a regularity held it would be a coincidence with the probability of it holding every time being infinitesimally small.

A second objection is imagine if we did observe gravity fluctuating say, we’d ask why and so it seems reasonable to ask why it doesn’t.

Stephen

Suppose some mechanism (for lack of a better word) X provides an explanation for the laws of nature.  Couldn’t we then just as easily ask why there is X?  Then we might find X[1] as an explanation for X and so on with X[2] explainging X[1], etc.  So I don’t think it’s inappropriate/meaningless to ask the question.  But I do think it’s unrealistic to expect to find the bottom turtle (so to speak) even if there is one.  How would we recognize it?

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Posted: 25 September 2011 08:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I think ‘Why are there laws of nature’ is an intriguing question.  One thing is for sure - we don’t know the answer today.  We could ask if it is conceivable that we ever will.  Well, ever is a long time (if we don’t blow our selves up with nuclear weapons or destroy ourselves by AGW, that is).  I’m not sure if it is completely impossible we might know one far off day.  It seems that we may have reached the end of the chain of ever smaller or more fundamental particles.  There does not - AFAIK - seem to be any internal structure to electrons, or quarks.  We may not be doomed to discover end endless chain of ever smaller and more fundamental particles. 

The only possible reasons for the laws of nature I can imagine would be some necessary self-reinforcing truth, something like a physical axiom, a property of reality that must be be true.  Not so much a theory of everything, but an axiom of everything.

Of course that is just words.  Human brains (or at least my human brain) seems very reluctant to give up the idea that everything has an anteceent cause, or a reason.  But can the chain of antecedents be truly infinite?  If there are no infinities in nature, it would necessitate an end point somewhere.  Can we really go a million years - or a billion years - just finding more and more levels of antecedent?  Or would we eventually find a non-supernatural ‘causa sui’? 

Of course there is always the cheat of invoking the anthropic principle - if there weren’t laws of nature, we would not be here to discuss them!  But I’ve never liked the AP - it always seems like a ‘clever dick’ answer rather than a proper explanation of anything…

But I think we can’t answer the question posed right now.  Come back in a million years.

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Posted: 25 September 2011 09:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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dougsmith - 25 September 2011 06:36 AM

Why are there some questions for which there are no answers?

I gave one potential answer to this in the opening post, the question is inappropriate . an example of this is (probably) what is the purpose of the sun?

Another answer might be it’s a brute fact, brute facts can be analysed no further.

Another answer might be it has to be that way. Although I’d struggle with that because it would seem to make sense to me to ask why.

That’s all I can think of.

I don’t see that any of these apply to the laws of nature.

Stephen

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Posted: 25 September 2011 10:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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StephenLawrence - 25 September 2011 09:43 AM

I don’t see that any of these apply to the laws of nature.

Why not?

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Posted: 25 September 2011 10:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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GdB - 25 September 2011 06:08 AM

It’s a mystery, Stephen…

Yes but we can imagine possible solutions.

And we can take the view that the question has an answer, which if we do so, in itself has interesting implications, I think. In particular I’m thinking of the problem of induction.

Or we can try to justify the idea that the question has no answer, which again I think would be interesting.

So i believe it’s a useful question.

Stephen

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Posted: 25 September 2011 10:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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dougsmith - 25 September 2011 10:13 AM
StephenLawrence - 25 September 2011 09:43 AM

I don’t see that any of these apply to the laws of nature.

Why not?

Leaving aside the answer I said I struggled with it’s because it’s way too unlikely that the universe would keep behaving in accordance with these laws.

Stephen

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Posted: 25 September 2011 10:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Stephen,

the PC apeman did the thinking already for you.

For God’s sake, what does this mean?

it would be so very highly unlikely that the actual world would have these regularities.

I would even say that it is impossible not to find regularities. Try to find out yourself, and tell us your result.

StephenLawrence - 25 September 2011 10:14 AM

And we can take the view that the question has an answer, which if we do so, in itself has interesting implications, I think. In particular I’m thinking of the problem of induction.

I once already gave you the answer. Induction is proven by induction. That is not logical. It is true by induction. Find out, what the difference is between a ‘logical proof’ and a ‘proof by induction’.

[ Edited: 25 September 2011 10:48 AM by GdB ]
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Posted: 25 September 2011 10:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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StephenLawrence - 25 September 2011 10:22 AM
dougsmith - 25 September 2011 10:13 AM
StephenLawrence - 25 September 2011 09:43 AM

I don’t see that any of these apply to the laws of nature.

Why not?

Leaving aside the answer I said I struggled with it’s because it’s way too unlikely that the universe would keep behaving in accordance with these laws.

That’s a non sequitur. The question I was after is why you think these responses don’t apply to the laws of nature. In order to answer that question one has to assume there are laws of nature, and address the responses in turn.

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Posted: 25 September 2011 10:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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StephenLawrence - 25 September 2011 10:22 AM

Leaving aside the answer I said I struggled with it’s because it’s way too unlikely that the universe would keep behaving in accordance with these laws.

That’s the horse behind the cart. The universe does not ‘behave’ like it does because there are natural laws. We find natural laws because the universe is as it is. The universe does not behave how we expect. That is the reason that science is so difficult.

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Posted: 25 September 2011 10:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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For God’s sake, what does this mean?

it would be so very highly unlikely that the actual world would have these regularities.

It means that it’s highly unlikely that gravity will continue as it has done.

Induction is proven by induction. That is not logical. It is true by induction. Find out, what the difference is between a ‘logical proof’ and a ‘proof by induction’.

I don’t believe this for a moment Gdb, there is no way we can tell that the universe will continue as it has done from induction itself.

Stephen

[ Edited: 25 September 2011 11:28 AM by StephenLawrence ]
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Posted: 25 September 2011 11:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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GdB - 25 September 2011 10:51 AM
StephenLawrence - 25 September 2011 10:22 AM

Leaving aside the answer I said I struggled with it’s because it’s way too unlikely that the universe would keep behaving in accordance with these laws.

That’s the horse behind the cart. The universe does not ‘behave’ like it does because there are natural laws. We find natural laws because the universe is as it is.

What you are saying is the universe just is and that’s the end of it.

And so questions like does the universe have to be that way or what is the probability of it being that way are inappropriate and meaningless.

Is that it?

Stephen

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Posted: 25 September 2011 11:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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dougsmith - 25 September 2011 10:48 AM
StephenLawrence - 25 September 2011 10:22 AM
dougsmith - 25 September 2011 10:13 AM
StephenLawrence - 25 September 2011 09:43 AM

I don’t see that any of these apply to the laws of nature.

Why not?

Leaving aside the answer I said I struggled with it’s because it’s way too unlikely that the universe would keep behaving in accordance with these laws.

That’s a non sequitur. The question I was after is why you think these responses don’t apply to the laws of nature. In order to answer that question one has to assume there are laws of nature, and address the responses in turn.

Lets assume there are laws of nature and they are brute facts.

The reason I think I don’t live in that world is because if I did it would be more likely that the laws of nature will break down tomorrow than that they won’t.

I think the laws continue into the future either because they must given the past or at least because it’s highly likely.

Stephen

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Posted: 25 September 2011 11:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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StephenLawrence - 25 September 2011 11:50 AM

Lets assume there are laws of nature and they are brute facts.

The reason I think I don’t live in that world is because if I did it would be more likely that the laws of nature will break down tomorrow than that they won’t.

I think the laws continue into the future either because they must given the past or at least because it’s highly likely.

If they break down then they aren’t laws of nature, by definition.

I assume by “laws of nature” you mean “past regularities”, and what you’re doing is re-running Hume’s (or Goodman’s) problem with induction all over again ...

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