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Tue Jun 19, 2012, 11:34 PM

Professor Chomsky Presents a Problem for Empiricists, Positivists, Materialists

is there a positive corollary to prof chomsky's negative argument?


much related to above video
http://www.commencement.uconn.edu/history/speeches/1999/1999_Chomsky.html
The 17th century scientific revolution reached its highest peak in the achievements of Isaac Newton. It is commonly held that Newton showed that the universe is an intricate mechanism, rather like the complex automata that captured the imagination of 17th-18th century thinkers, much as computers do today. But in fact what Newton demonstrated was exactly the opposite. Newton showed, much to his dismay, that the universe is not a mechanical device.

To quote a leading modern historian of physics, Newton showed that "a purely materialistic or mechanistic physics is impossible," that it is necessary to introduce into core natural science "incomprehensible and inexplicable facts" (Alexander Koyre).

Newton regarded his own conclusions as an "absurdity," and spent the rest of his life trying to find some escape, as did many other leading scientists, in fact for centuries. But in vain.


prof chomsky is critical of things he disagrees with


file this under filosofy forum not found

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Reply Professor Chomsky Presents a Problem for Empiricists, Positivists, Materialists (Original post)
tiny elvis Jun 2012 OP
struggle4progress Jun 2012 #1
jeepnstein Jun 2012 #2
tiny elvis Jun 2012 #3
Humanist_Activist Jun 2012 #4
tiny elvis Jun 2012 #13
laconicsax Jun 2012 #14
tiny elvis Jun 2012 #15
laconicsax Jun 2012 #19
muriel_volestrangler Jun 2012 #20
Humanist_Activist Jun 2012 #16
muriel_volestrangler Jun 2012 #5
daaron Jun 2012 #6
Jim__ Jun 2012 #7
eqfan592 Jun 2012 #8
Jim__ Jun 2012 #9
muriel_volestrangler Jun 2012 #21
Jim__ Jun 2012 #22
daaron Jun 2012 #23
Jim__ Jun 2012 #25
daaron Jun 2012 #26
Jim__ Jun 2012 #27
daaron Jun 2012 #29
eqfan592 Jun 2012 #32
Jim__ Jun 2012 #33
eqfan592 Jun 2012 #34
Jim__ Jun 2012 #35
skepticscott Jun 2012 #10
tiny elvis Jun 2012 #12
daaron Jun 2012 #17
Jim__ Jun 2012 #24
daaron Jun 2012 #28
muriel_volestrangler Jun 2012 #30
Jim__ Jun 2012 #31
tama Jun 2012 #36
daaron Jun 2012 #37
tiny elvis Jun 2012 #11
muriel_volestrangler Jun 2012 #18

Response to tiny elvis (Original post)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 10:00 AM

1. I generally find myself agreeing with Chomsky

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Response to tiny elvis (Original post)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 12:01 PM

2. Chomsky is a problem for everyone.

That's why I enjoy reading him so much.

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Response to tiny elvis (Original post)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 04:04 PM

3. is there a positive corollary to prof chomsky's negative argument?

this question is for those who agree with what he says

for those who disagree
a description of gravity beyond its function would be as fabulous as the ever elusive graviton

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Response to tiny elvis (Original post)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 04:35 PM

4. "The 17th century scientific revolution reached its highest peak..."

"in the achievements of Isaac Newton."

Frankly I think this is an absurdity, of course its the peak of 17th century science, because it was one of the highest discoveries of that century, science is now in the 21st century, and its too early to tell what the peak will be in 21st century science. Indeed, we shouldn't put Newton up on too high a pedestal, many of those inexplicable facts of his day are explainable now. I frankly hate this line of argument, it assumes that physics or other sciences are stuck in some past century when that's far from the truth.

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Response to Humanist_Activist (Reply #4)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 12:48 AM

13. what bends space and time into fields of influence?

newton brought up a problem still unsolved
a promise for the future is a platitude

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Response to tiny elvis (Reply #13)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 02:06 AM

14. Umm...matter does.

 

This was actually worked out nearly 100 years ago.

While it's pretty obscure, you may have heard about it. It's called General Relativity and it was worked out by one of the lesser-known scientists of the 20th century--Albert Einstein.

To be fair, most physicists don't even know much general relativity or Einstein. It isn't like it won the Nobel Prize and transformed our view of the universe.

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Response to laconicsax (Reply #14)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 03:56 AM

15. matter, gravitation are not superior answers to the answer that god did it

newton and einstein described the effects and some functions of gravity
what is the mechanism of the force created by a body in any state?
what creates a force through any space that affects material exactly like constant acceleration in the direction of the force's origin?
einstein did not know
is it a traveling particle with a force opposite to its motion?
this remains unknown

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Response to tiny elvis (Reply #15)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 05:48 AM

19. They are vastly superior answers.

 

With "god did it," you don't know anything. Not only does it fail to answer any questions, it creates more that can't ever be answered. In effect, you're adding another layer of ignorance--moving backwards and preventing progress towards uncovering any answers.

In general relativity, we understand the "how," but not the "why." The way that matter and radiation curve spacetime is understood to a high degree of precision and can be used to predict and analyze a wide variety of phenomena. We don't have all the answers, but we're actually looking for them and developing new tools that can be used to find answers to other unknown questions.

Even if it's discovered that general relativity is wrong, that discovery will help move us in the right direction. The beauty of science is that it's always moving forward. Compare that with "god did it," where we can be just as ignorant as stone age hunter-gatherers.

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Response to tiny elvis (Reply #15)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 05:49 AM

20. Yes, they are superior

They have predictive power. They predict that the part of light is bent by matter, and these predictions prove correct; they predict the effects on time that have then been observed.

Saying 'God does it' has never enabled anyone to reliably predict something.

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Response to tiny elvis (Reply #13)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 04:00 AM

16. As laconix said, matter does...

what we are trying to determine now is what causes matter to have mass to be able to bend spacetime. The theoretical particle, called Higgs-Boson, though may more appropriately be termed a field that permeates matter, is the best candidate, and we are trying to detect it as directly as possible.

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Response to tiny elvis (Original post)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 06:26 PM

5. You can find the quote here; it seems to mean that forces acting at a distance are needed

As for Query 23 (31), it starts with the question:

Have not the small Particles of Bodies certain Powers, Virtues, or Forces, by which they act at a distance, not only upon the Rays of Light for reflecting, refracting, and inflecting them, but also upon one another for producing a great Part of the Phaenomena of Nature? For it's well known, that Bodies act one upon another by the Attractions of Gravity, Magnetism, and Electricity; and these Instances shew the Tenor and the Course of Nature, and make it not improbable but that there may be more attractive Powers than these. For Nature is very consonant and conformable to her self.


Newton does not tell us outright—any more than he does in the Principia—what these various "Powers" are. Just as in the Principia, he leaves that question open, though, as we know, he holds them to be non-mechanical, immaterial and even "spiritual" energy extraneous to matter.'

How these Attractions may be perform’d, I do not here consider. What I call attraction may be perform’d by impulse, or by some other means unknown to me. I use that Word here to signify only in general any Force by which Bodies tend towards one another, whatsoever be the Cause. For we must learn from the Phaenomena of Nature what Bodies attract one another, and what are the Laws and Properties of the Attraction, before we enquire the Cause by which the Attraction is perform’d. The Attractions of Gravity, Magnetism, and Electricity, reach to very sensible distances, and so have been observed by vulgar Eyes, and there may be others which reach to so small distances as hitherto escape Observation; and perhaps electrical Attraction may reach to such small distances, even without being excited by Friction.


Whatever these "Powers" may be, they are, in any case, real forces and perfectly indispensable for the explanation—even a hypothetical one—of the existence of bodies, that is, of the sticking together of the material particles that compose them; a purely materialistic pattern of nature is utterly impossible (and a purely materialistic or mechanistic physics, such as that of Lucretius or of Descartes, is impossible, too):6

The Parts of all homogeneal hard Bodies which fully touch one another, stick together very strongly. And for explaining how this may be, some have invented hooked Atoms, which is begging the Question; and others tell us that Bodies are glued together by rest, that is, by an occult Quality, or rather by nothing; and others, that they stick together by conspiring Motions, that is, by relative rest amongst themselves. I had rather infer from their Cohesion, that their Particles attract one another by some Force, which in immediate Contact is exceeding strong, at small distances performs the chymical Operations above-mention’d, and reaches not far from the Particles with any sensible Effect.


http://www.sacred-texts.com/astro/cwiu/cwiu12.htm


And that's sort-of admitted by Chomsky:

The classic scholarly study of the history of materialism describes Newton's achievements as the destruction of materialism or physicalism, in any serious sense of the terms. It reviews how the expectations and goals of the pioneers of the scientific revolution, and their materialist predecessors, were abandoned, and we gradually "accustomed ourselves to the abstract notion of forces, or rather to a notion hovering in a mystic obscurity between abstraction and concrete comprehension," a "turning-point" in the history of materialism that removes the doctrine far from those of the "genuine Materialists" of the 17th century and before, and deprives it of much significance.


I don't think 'materialism' is used today to mean a theory that doesn't include forces that act at a distance; so the idea that Newton had shown "a purely materialistic or mechanistic physics" to be impossible doesn't match with our current understanding of the terms.

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Reply #5)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 07:38 PM

6. I like your assessment.

 

I don't think 'materialism' is used today to mean a theory that doesn't include forces that act at a distance; so the idea that Newton had shown "a purely materialistic or mechanistic physics" to be impossible doesn't match with our current understanding of the terms.


We have to be cautious about inferring the correct meaning of "materialism" by context. There's materialism as a philosophical concept, which would inform economic theorists who coined a "materialism" of their own, versus materialism as we think of it now in the shadow of 20th century science. What the author of the article may have been referring to is the clockwork deistic cosmos that gained favor among Faustian types during the Enlightenment. Newton was an adherent of the Arian heresy (no relation to the Aryan heresy) and seemingly had something of an animistic sense of god's involvement in history and nature.

The clockwork universe well over a century ago. Materialism now appears to refer, in a philosophic/cosmological not economic context, to your basic quantum mechanically compliant, relativistically compatible, standard model, Copenhagen interpreted, evolutionarily progressive (?!?) liberally artistic worldview informed by the modern sciences.

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Reply #5)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 08:13 PM

7. Chomsky recognizes that today's science doesn't exclude action at a distance.

One of his claims is that our common understanding of the world has an innate limitation that interaction between bodies can only happen through body-body contact. When we dropped the scientific requirement that scientific explanations should be repeatable through constructible models , we lowered the standard of proof. One of the implications of this is an acknowlegement that there are mysterian aspects to the world. A part of his argument is that while many people today mock a mysterian philosophy, modern science is riddled with implicit mysterian assumptions. Ultimately, I take the thrust of his argument to be that human knowledge of the universe can never be complete, and the failure of the original attempt to derive a mechanical explanation for the universe is evidence for this.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #7)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 08:29 PM

8. A question.

When we dropped the scientific requirement that scientific explanations should be repeatable through constructible models , we lowered the standard of proof.


Could you explain this a bit further, maybe with some examples?

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Response to eqfan592 (Reply #8)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 09:06 PM

9. Rather than give my understanding, I'll refer you to 12:20 - 13:00 of the video.

I spoke from memory, and the actual words used by Chomsky - referring to Galileo - was to something like "construct a mechanical model." He gives an example of a device that would mimic the tides. Again, I don't have the text and am quoting from memory of the video; but the part of his talk I was referring to was around the 12:20 - 13:00 minute mark.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #9)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 06:02 AM

21. He talks about an artisan constructing a physical model

That's your 'constructible model', but he doesn't say that not having that is a 'lowering of the standard of proof'. He says it made it difficult for people to understand - then, anyway. Yes, an artisan cannot reproduce an inverse square attractive field, so they can't produce a machine to mimic tides.

A neat scale model can be nice for demonstrating something; but it has not always been necessary. We don't reject Euclid if we don't have physical models of everything he talks about.

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Reply #21)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 07:54 AM

22. "For Galileo real understanding requires a mechanical model,that is a device that an artisan can ...

"... construct, at least in principle, hence intelligible to us."

He was not talking about proof but rather about intelligibility - that was an incorrect recall of the word by me. And he does continue talking about this and at about 17:00 says that we lowered the standard of intelligibility. This is all to what I take to be his larger argument that our innate understanding is limited to mechanical processes and that when dropping the requirement that scientific explanations be mechanical, we accepted that we could not fully understand the world.

Euclid, of course, is a different topic not really involved with the scientific revolution of the 17th century. But, my somewhat foggy recollection of Euclid and Greek mathematics in general is that geometric proofs had to be constructed with just a straight-edge and compass - i.e. they did require a constructible example. The Greek requirement of these types of constructions is probably why they never quite made it to calculus. The method of exhaustion is just about there; but the Greeks did not use infinity in any of their proofs. IIRC, Archimedes derivation of the value of pi went to an 96-sided polygon.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #22)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 08:41 AM

23. RE: intelligibility of models in modern physics.

 

A big part of the reason our experiments are less intelligible is that they must test models designed for vector spaces with more than three dimensions. It's not that we've "lowered the standard" so to speak, of intelligibility - it's that the models themselves cannot be visualized. It's quite impossible to visualize a hypersurface, but most of modern science involves greater than three dimensions. Consequently, we have been forced by the pursuit of knowledge to rely on mathematics to give us an intuitive sense of what's happening in these models that accurately predict observables.

If anything, the bar for intelligibility has been raised, not lowered - but there's a limit to intelligibility, as well. We just can't envision some of the physics we can mathematically describe. Certainly we have to tackle experimentation differently. At some point, we have to fly with instruments only.

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Response to daaron (Reply #23)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 09:10 AM

25. Have you watched the video?

Your post completely ignores everything Chomsky said. His point was that at the dawn of the scientific revolution, mechanical explanation were sought to explain phenomena. Mechanical explanations because they were completely understandable. Newton's description of gravity did not give any mechanical explanation, a point recognized by Newton and his contemporaries and seen as a shortcoming of his work.

Yes, we accept these types of explanations today. But that is an indication that the we have given up the original goal of the scientific revolution. We accept that we cannot fully understand the universe. We should try to define the limits of our capacities.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #25)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 09:17 AM

26. I watched the part referred to.

 

And understand his and your point, I think. I'm saying that I disagree that we have given up the original goal of the scientific revolution. I think the revolution is ongoing, based on society's ongoing ignorance of it's inner workings.

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Response to daaron (Reply #26)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 09:41 AM

27. If you want to discuss what Chomsky said, you really need to listen to what he said.

Otherwise, you just place the burden on me to constantly explain why your point isn't relevant.

A discussion about the state of science or the philosophy of science is way too general to try to discuss here. Chomsky's talk puts reasonable limits on the discussion.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #27)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 09:44 AM

29. Sorry. Didn't realize this was a Chomsky-only thread. Nevermind. nt

 

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #9)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 11:41 AM

32. He never mentions a lowering of the standard of proof, tho. At least not in that segment or...

...for some time after. A lowering of the standard of intelligibility, yes, but that is not one in the same as proof.

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Response to eqfan592 (Reply #32)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 11:49 AM

33. Yes, I acknowledged that in post #22. - n/t

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #33)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 12:00 PM

34. Ooops, my bad, I missed that.

I even read through that too but managed to miss that sentence completely the first time. Sorry!

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Response to eqfan592 (Reply #34)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 01:44 PM

35. No problem.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #7)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 10:27 PM

10. Mysterian?

Is that the same as MysteriaN? Or MYSTERIAN?

And of course human knowledge of the universe can never be complete, practically or theoretically. That was proven a long time ago, so why are you acting like it's some sort of revelation here? Do you just like to do a little jig every time you see those arrogant scientists put in their place and shown how stupid they really are?

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #7)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 11:22 PM

12. u da man

more than that,
i think the prof means that the limits of understanding which remain over centuries,
remain because those obstacles to understanding defy reason and always will
acceptance of observations is not the same as understanding
and if a force does not work in accord with material or mechanical means, is it necessarily material?

my question to those who agree is
do you have a positive argument for immaterial forces?

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #7)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 05:35 AM

17. Hm. Either Chomsky doesn't quite understand our common understanding -->

 

or maybe I don't understand what he/you are really getting at. The four fundamental forces are exerted via gauge bosons, according to the standard model, but these shouldn't be understood as bodies, even when we're bouncing particles off each other in the lab. Bosons, like all quantum particles, possess wave-particle duality and act as both bodies and waves. So it's more like wave-body/wave-body contact at that scale. At larger scales of observation, it's all body-body contact, sure, but it's understood that we're studying masses composed of particles bound together by nuclear and atomic forces (weak, strong and EM).

I'm not sure when science dropped the requirement of repeatability - as far as I'm aware, that still holds. Maybe the more important part is that the experiment be "constructable"? But I'm not sure what is meant by this. Perhaps this is in reference to cosmological theories, such as the Big Bang, or string theory? But 'we' (meaning they) are performing repeatable experiments to validate various elements of BB theory - as in the search for the Higgs boson. It's an ongoing and active area of research. As for string theory - well, even it's proponents look forward to an experimental model to validate or invalidate that theory.

In all, I just don't understand really what Chomsky's point of all this is - finding mysterious phenomenon in particle physics? Hell, ask any physicist and they'll tell you straight up that's why they got into science in the first place. It's just too meta for the journals, and that's not a bad thing. Journals are for the physics - the meta-stuff has to hang out with all the other unprovable assertions and psychological motivations rattling around in scientific brains. Should they stop working on mysterious phenomenon just to write some prose in praise of the existence of problems they don't understand? I just don't get it. Why do we need 'mysterian' philosophy, whatever that neologism means?

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Response to daaron (Reply #17)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 09:02 AM

24. By "common understanding" Chomsky was referring to our innate capabilities.

The goal of the scientific revolution of the 17th century was to come up with an understandable model of the universe, a mechanical model of the universe. The reason they sought a mechanical model is that demarcates the limitation of what we can completely understand. Galileo, Newton, et al saw this as the desirable end of science. Yes, today, we all accept non-mechanical explanations, we also all accept that scientific explanations are not completely comprehensible - for example, quantum theory. Science has become instrumentalist.

I didn't say anything about repeatability, nor, IIRC, did Chomsky. See post #22 for a further explanation of mechanical model.

Chomsky gives a pretty good preview of his point in the first two and a half minutes of the video including what he means by mysterianism.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #24)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 09:42 AM

28. I get it. I just don't get it.

 

Why "mysterianism"? Why coin a new word and ask for it to be imposed? It just doesn't seem particularly illuminating, and sort of compatiblist (see I can do it too). 'There be epistemological dragons', it seems to say, 'so who knows what might be in there - God, even.' I would prefer to argue that 'our' innate capabilities have been expanded by the pursuit of scientific knowledge - open to anyone who pursues it earnestly. While not intelligible, perhaps, a person can get used to quantum mechanics, and come to have an intuitive sense of what it's all aboot.

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Response to Jim__ (Reply #24)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 09:44 AM

30. They *thought* that a mechanical model demarcates what we can completely understand

where 'mechanical' meant 'in principle reproducible at a different scale', but that is a subjective opinion, and one which later generations of scientists and engineers have disagreed with. I personally can understand some models that cannot be constructed. I don't think this is about 'innate capabilities'; it's about preferences for how to model things. Galileo restricted himself; we don't.

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Reply #30)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 10:23 AM

31. I agree that any claim about the limit of our innate capacities is subjective.

However, the claim that Newton, Galileo, Descartes, Huygens believed this is fairly well documented in Chomsky's talk. I'm not sure if there is any real disagreement about that. I think Chomsky agrees with it. It's not something I've ever thought about, but something I will probably think about for a while. I don't think it's a question that should be dismissed out of hand. However, whether that opinion is correct or not, at least some scientists in the 20th century, e.g. Bohr and Heisenberg, accepted an instrumentalist role for science.

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Response to daaron (Reply #17)

Wed Jun 27, 2012, 06:27 AM

36. Also Einstein

 

was perplexed by the 'now' and the mystery of time. As this thread is filed under 'philosophy', lets continue in that vein. Standard scientific method is based on requirement of repeatability - or testability in more general sense - but the notion of repeatability implies certain notions about time and order of universe with it (linearity etc.), that science as a form of philosophical inquire cannot and should not be a priori limited to. The whole of each moment/quantum state is unique and not fully definable aka "mysterious"; and as unique, not repeatable (cf. no-cloning theorem of quantum physics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No-cloning_theorem).

Classical phenomena are (usually?) time irreversible aka entropic and quantum phenomena time reversible, or that's one way to define difference between classical and quantum and the main problem of putting together a decent GUT or TOE. A decent GUT or TOE does not need to depend from certain notion of time to be testable - to formulate and construct questions to be answered by nature, but it needs philosophical and conceptual clarity about it's basic premisses about time and order. It is also possible to develop theories starting from the 'now' or 'nows' of various "sizes" that can rewrite both past and future, combine that approach with classical limit and construct testable predictions e.g. about particle masses. If these predictions are not falsified by experimental data and/or are better in tune with empiricism than other theories with different premisses about time etc., then nature would be showing thumbs up for that theory and notion of time(s). But philosophically and ontologically such a theory - based on 'now' - would not be to my understanding mechanistic or final theory, but would be evolving with each moment of quantum state of universe.

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Response to tama (Reply #36)

Wed Jun 27, 2012, 02:43 PM

37. Hm. Is there a point in there, somewhere? nt

 

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Response to muriel_volestrangler (Reply #5)

Wed Jun 20, 2012, 10:45 PM

11. good digging, ms. v

as the prof mentions, materialism like russel's is not purely material
'purely materialistic' relates to 'genuine Materialists'
newton's theory described forces that act at a distance
that changed genuine materialism to what it is today,
descriptions of motion without understanding of cause, acceptance of still mysterious forces,
which 'deprives it of much significance'

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Response to tiny elvis (Reply #11)

Thu Jun 21, 2012, 05:39 AM

18. 'deprives it of much significance' is a subjective opinion

and, in my own opinion, that's a load of twaddle. There is immense significance in the forces of gravity, electromagnetism and so on; these forces are predictable, understood to an incredible degree, and knock the fields of things like theology or even Chomsky's own work on linguistics into the realm of complete guesswork. It's the understanding of them which forms the basis of modern technology.

These forces may be 'mysterious' to you, but I have a reasonable understanding of them, and physicists a very good one. If your definition of 'mysterious' is "not everyone understands them completely", then, OK, they're mysterious to some. But the failure of some part of the population to understand something does not have 'much significance', as you might say.

It's not that Newton, or anyone else, removed a reasonable idea of 'cause' from the ideas about motion; he corrected the ideas about what happens, and made people realise that it did not all depend on 'matter' directly touching in some form, and that such a claim had never been a decent explanation of things.

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