Mathematical models

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"In these and similar ways, the progress of science has itself shown that there can be no pictorial representation of the workings of nature of a kind which would be intelligible to our limited minds. The study of physics has driven us to the positivist conception of physics. We can never understand what events are, but must limit ourselves to describing the pattern of events in mathematical terms; no other aim is possible - at least until man becomes endowed with more senses than he at present possesses. Physicists who are trying to understand nature may work in many different fields and by many different methods; one may dig, one may sow, one may reap. But the final harvest will always be a sheaf of mathematical formulae. These will never describe nature itself, but only our observations on nature. Our studies can never put us into contact with reality; we can never penetrate beyond the impressions that reality implants in our minds.

Although we can never devise a pictorial representation which shall be both true to nature and intelligible to our minds, we may still be able to make partial aspects of the truth comprehensible through pictorial representations or parables. As the whole truth does not admit of intelligible representation, every such pictorial representation or parable must fail somewhere. The physicist of the last generation was continually making pictorial representations and parables, and also making the mistake of treating the half-truths of pictorial representations and parables as literal truths. He did not see that all the concrete details of his picture - his luminiferous ether, his electric and magnetic forces, and possibly his atoms and electrons as well - were mere articles of clothing that he had himself draped over the mathematical symbols; they did not belong to the world of reality, but to the parables by which he had tried to make reality comprehensible. For instance, when observation was. found to suggest that light was of the nature of waves, it became customary to describe it as undulations in a rigid homogeneous ether which filled the whole of space. The only ascertained fact in this description is contained in the one word 'undulations', and even this must be understood in the narrowest mathematical sense; all the rest is pictorial detail, introduced to help out the limitations of our minds. Kronecker is quoted as saying that in arithmetic God made the integers and man made the rest; in the same spirit we may perhaps say that in physics God made the mathematics and man made the rest.

To sum up, physics tries to discover the pattern of events which controls the phenomena we observe. But we can never know what this pattern means or how it originates; and even if some superior intelligence were to tell us, we should find the explanation unintelligible. Our studies can never put us into contact with reality, and its true meaning and nature must be for ever hidden from us. "


The above is a quote from physics and philosophy by sir fames jeans

I want to know if the position he stated in this passage hold for most philosophiers and scienctist? ( note: i am not asking for your opinion. I am asking if the position that is stated is widely accepted or not.)
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
verty
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Is it held by you?
 
  • #3
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Is it held by you?
If is curious that you even ask.
 
  • #4
verty
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You were the one who posed the question. It just seemed like you should start by giving us your interpretation.
 
  • #5
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I want to know if the position he stated in this passage hold for most philosophiers and scienctist?
No, modern philosophers or respectable scientists would not identify themselves with these (rather elementary) views:

Although we can never devise a pictorial representation which shall be both true to nature and intelligible to our minds, we may still be able to make partial aspects of the truth comprehensible through pictorial representations or parables.
This is no more true of science then it is of everyday human experience i.e. when I look at a table my passive brain devises a pictorial representation that is not true to reality. Obviously we are satisfied with these "partial aspects of truth" rendered comprehensible through "pictorial representations and parables" i.e. the parable of the table.

Perhaps this philosophy would find solice in contemporary nihilism, because those philosophers argue using many of the same techniques which are used by logical positivist. The bottom line is that humans have not evolved to the point where positivism is appropriate, there is still too much out there too learn i.e. in ptolemy's day only the kinematics of planetary motion were discussed and not the dynamics because positivism was in vogue.
 
  • #6
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No, modern philosophers or respectable scientists would not identify themselves with these (rather elementary) views:

than may i ask what is the modern conception?


This is no more true of science then it is of everyday human experience i.e. when I look at a table my passive brain devises a pictorial representation that is not true to reality. Obviously we are satisfied with these "partial aspects of truth" rendered comprehensible through "pictorial representations and parables" i.e. the parable of the table.
my take on it is rather if this "partial truth" is ever "enough" to understand the deepest level of reality. You example is rather "simple". My question is: Can we really understand the deepest level of reality using using human pictorial representation. I think we can pretty much know how billiard ball works, but can we really using it to understand the behavior of subatomic particles? It is like saying A is like B, and B is like A. We are going nowhere. Let using take another example. I always feel that there is something mysteries about the laws of nature. Let us take newtons inverse square law. Why is it exactly 2 and not 2.34.... or Why is it that the magnatic field always in the direction obey by the right hand rule when the current is going in a certain direction? We have have many interpretations/"theories" of how nature works( feynman gave three different models of how the inverse square laws, ), but nature seems to only speck in one single language, that if of mathematical "models". The question of "why" nature is the way it is? I don t see how science can every answer that. So in that sense, the think the passage is correct.
 
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  • #7
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You were the one who posed the question. It just seemed like you should start by giving us your interpretation.

ok. My answer is some where bettween yes and no.
 
  • #8
verty
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If mathematical models didn't fit nature, wouldn't that be more odd?
 
  • #9
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If mathematical models didn't fit nature, wouldn't that be more odd?
That are two way of look at it. You can reckon that nature might be like a giant chess board, and that a sort of pictorial representation is possible, and that the underlying rules are really very simple, and sciencetist using math to quantifies rules, pattern, regularity in this giant chess board. The problem with that is that it is no the case in the real world.
 
  • #10
verty
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The problem with that is that it is no the case in the real world.
It isn't? .
 
  • #11
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It isn't? .

Yes. read feymann ` s character of physical laws
 
  • #12
Hurkyl
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I disagree entirely with the philosophy espoused in the opening post.

Mistake #1: equating "human pictorial representation" with "understanding".

(just what the heck is "human pictorial represntation" anyways?)

Mistake #2: assuming that we cannot picture things faithfully.

Mistake #3: assuming that observation is insufficient for studying reality.
 
  • #13
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I disagree entirely with the philosophy espoused in the opening post.

Mistake #1: equating "human pictorial representation" with "understanding".

(just what the heck is "human pictorial represntation" anyways?)

Mistake #2: assuming that we cannot picture things faithfully.

Mistake #3: assuming that observation is insufficient for studying reality.

If "pictorial representation" is not the way to ture understanding, and i am curious as to what "is" true understanding? People can reduce physical phenonmen to fundemental laws, and even reduce those those laws from a more fundenmental set of physical laws, but we will never be able to explain the origin of those laws, why they exist, or why they have the form that they do. Therefore, I assert that true understanding can never be attained. We can only content with what we can do, which is to extract patterns and regularities in nature.
 
  • #14
verty
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Paraphrasing: "We must be content with what we can do, which is to extract patterns and regularities in nature."

Okay then.
 
  • #15
Hurkyl
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Therefore, I assert that true understanding can never be attained.
Then why did you post all that other stuff irrelevant to this assertion?

(And how can you assert that when you don't even know what true understanding is?)
 
  • #16
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Then why did you post all that other stuff irrelevant to this assertion?

(And how can you assert that when you don't even know what true understanding is?)

the reason i ask is not because i " don t know". I was merely trying to understand your point of view.

Don t tell me it is irrelevent if you can t see the connection. If all we can understand are patterns, but without deep understanding of why they are what they are, then how can there be complete understanding?
 
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  • #17
verty
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Let's suppose that you did know by some miracle why those patterns were there. That would mean that you knew about some other existents in another universe or whatever. But then you wouldn't know why that other universe was there. You would still not have complete understanding, right?

So perhaps complete understanding would be understanding those why's to infinity, an infinity of why's. But then why is it that there is an infinity of why's? So what is it exactly that you could know to complete your understanding, if you could know it?
 
  • #18
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Let's suppose that you did know by some miracle why those patterns were there. That would mean that you knew about some other existents in another universe or whatever. But then you wouldn't know why that other universe was there. You would still not have complete understanding, right?

So perhaps complete understanding would be understanding those why's to infinity, an infinity of why's. But then why is it that there is an infinity of why's? So what is it exactly that you could know to complete your understanding, if you could know it?


I don t know what you trying to say here. It is too vague for me.
 
  • #19
verty
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You say our understanding is not complete, but that must mean that you can delimit that which is missing from our understanding. But if what is missing from our understanding is the why of the commonalities and principles of nature, then the why of the why is also missing, and the why of the why of the why.

Suppose by some miracle you know the why of these patterns, that God configured the big bang and caused it to bang. Now, why did God do that? Why was God in such a mental state as to do that? See, there is another why to be answered. So what is it that would complete your understanding?
 
  • #20
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You say our understanding is not complete, but that must mean that you can delimit that which is missing from our understanding.
I don t see how that might be the case. We might see more clearly what can t be done, say it is unknowable. To imagine you can extract more information from it is absurd.
 
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  • #21
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To imagine you can extract more information from it is absurd.
It seems to me that to say that our knowledge is incomplete but that one can't say anything at all about its complement seems absurd to me. If you can't define the whole of which our knowledge is necessarily a proper subset, then I would put it to you that that subset is the whole, and I don't see how you could refute it.
 
  • #22
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If something is unknowable, and we know what must be done to make it knowable, then does that not contradict the assumption that it is unknowable? Like i say before, if X is some unknowable, then we can not gain anymore information from X, because other wise, X is not unknowable. The statment becomes meaningless.
 
  • #23
verty
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Like i say before, if X is some unknowable, then we can not gain anymore information from X, because other wise, X is not unknowable.
I disagree. Unknowable to me means you can't know, but that doesn't mean that you can't know what you must know to know but can't. To me one can only call something unknowable if one knows that it is unknowable, and to know that something is unknowable is to know that one can't know what one is required to know in order to know it.

And taking that one step further, one may only say that what one must know to know something is unknowable if one knows what one must know to know that it is unknowable to know that which is unknowable.

Geddit?
 
  • #24
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I disagree. Unknowable to me means you can't know, but that doesn't mean that you can't know what you must know to know but can't. To me one can only call something unknowable if one knows that it is unknowable, and to know that something is unknowable is to know that one can't know what one is required to know in order to know it.

And taking that one step further, one may only say that what one must know to know something is unknowable if one knows what one must know to know that it is unknowable to know that which is unknowable.

Geddit?

We know that the most fundemental laws of nature in unknowable. There is really nothing more to say about. What information can get from it? You are saying there might be other "universes", but the assumption of other "universe" or infinity "number of universes" are really in your imagination. It is a meaningless statment, because it has no testable consequence. It is like saying, since we can t explain the laws of nature, and therefore god exist.


"It seems to me that to say that our knowledge is incomplete but that one can't say anything at all about its complement seems absurd to me. If you can't define the whole of which our knowledge is necessarily a proper subset, then I would put it to you that that subset is the whole, and I don't see how you could refute it."

The missing complement is the why part in every physical law. Why do nature chose to be a certain way, or have a certain form. There is nothing is say more. To explain the missing complement is to explain why nature chose to be what it is; this of course is something science cannot do.
 
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  • #25
verty
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I'm not saying that one must explain why, I'm saying that one should be able to delimit what one would need to know. For instance, to know that Christianity is true requires knowing at least that God exists, right? Are you denying that I can say this?
 

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