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Who says 'physics' is the only correct description of macroscopic phenomina?

  1. Jan 3, 2004 #1
    People were explaining things fine with other systems (EG the olde four-element idea) untill we started looking through enourmous microscopes. So what's to say those other systems aren't TRUE for the parts of the world they represent (in this case the macroscopic universe)? What really defines the 'truth' anyway?

    Modern science is accepted as 'truth' because it describes all (or most) phenomina accurately. Einstein's theories of relativity are also accepted as 'truth', even though they only hold for non-quantum objects; only a limited number of phenomina. So might other, "disproved" or "outdated" theories also be 'true'? What actual reason is there to think they are false?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 4, 2004 #2


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    Thinking back, the only times I have spent overnight in a place that wasn't wired for electricity and electric lights was when I was camping. My parents though could remember living in unwired homes, lit by candles and kerosene lamps. Not just overnight, as in a power outage, but all the time.

    We forget what a wonder it was when people could suddenly turn a switch and have light. When you could have a cold box in your house that would keep food fresh a long time.

    All of that wonder was courtesy of the heroic scientists who broke with the superstition of the past and paved a way for knowledge and technology. Go back to the four humors? Nuts to that!
  4. Jan 6, 2004 #3


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    We define what is true, and we do by by incorporating our experiences, our views around us. If we were to remain still, then what we see as true would stay constant. But we cannot stay still. Our existence neccessitates the change in our experiences, and so we must adjust what we see as true to fit.

    Perhaps there is an ultimate truth, and we are reaching towards it, with each step changing our scale to reflect the "real one" by evaluating relative truths. Then, if we know all the truths, we would know what it means for something to be true.
  5. Jan 25, 2004 #4
    What you said here is wrong.

    First paragraph...

    What is true does not depend on a persons definition. It does not depend on our experiences, etc. If we stood still we would still see things changing arround us. If you disagree go downtown and stand still. And yes we can stand still. I do it every night when I sleep.

    Second paragraph...

    I know what it means for something to be true because I have defined what is meant by truth. If something is true it is established by a valid perception.
  6. Jan 25, 2004 #5
    What you said Sikz is a very good point. I brought this up in other forums where they are afraid of questions like yours. The first reply following your post did not address what you are saying. All you were asking is that the explanation at that time was sufficient for those people and therefore it was correct.

    In fact, many ancient or so called 'non-modern' cultures have known what science is only discovering for thousands of years. Take for example modern logic. Long before the so called modern logic was developed Eastern cultures had developed systems of logic that were extremely sophisticated. Westerns have a hard time understanding it today and the insights that come from it are still unknown to the so-called sophisticated modern thinkers. An example for contemplation is the classification of phenomena into permanence and impermanence. Try asking a physicist what the difference is.

    What we forget is the modern science came from Europe which spent a good deal of time in the dark ages while in other parts of the work traditions of scholarship were flourishing. Modern thought is still in its infancy and its claim to be explaining correctly things for the first time is higly arrogant and indicative of the lack of historical understanding and cross cultural curiosity.
  7. Jan 25, 2004 #6
    FZ what do you think could be an "ultimate truth"? What it be even defined as a truth or something else? I like the idea, I think it could pose a nice theory.
  8. Jan 25, 2004 #7
    No one is afraid of questions like that. In fact, people confronted you head on when you ridiculed giving a physical description of fire on a physics forum. Just because people stay within the context of physics doesn't mean a lack of understanding in other areas. Your argument was a joke.

    In your opinion, this forum is worse. Nevermind. No point in hijacking this thread just for another argument.
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2004
  9. Jan 25, 2004 #8
  10. Jan 25, 2004 #9
    I believe wisdom can be found in older systems and modes of thought. As far as the four elements of Aristotle, I can't accept that everything is made out of earth, air, fire, and water. Also, Einstein's E=mc^2 relation has been invaluable in particle physics.

    The ideas of symmetries in physical laws, quantum mechanics, etc have many parallels with eastern religions. Fritjof Capra's book,
    The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism, is an excellent book that explores these ideas. It gets a lot of criticism. People mistakenly make the claim that he is saying that science and religion are the same thing. He only examines parallels, however, which is explicit in the title.

    I think the problem is people take a scientific theory out of the context it was originally written for and then complain when that theory doesn't work. Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity is good only within the framework for which it was made. People try to make the claim that everything is relative because Einstein said so. In fact, he never gave that theory the name "Special Relativity". It was originally called, "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies". It could have been called The Special theory of Invariance. C is invariant in SR. The space-time interval is another invariant.
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2004
  11. Jan 25, 2004 #10


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    My goal was to find an idea of truth that is useful, as opposed to neccessarily unattainable, given the limitations of our knowledge.

    I think you are using what students of the english language term an extended metaphor. An overextended metaphor, in fact. By staying still, I mean not learning anything new, something that can be plainly seen in the context of Sikz's statement. I am sorry that you failed to understand this.

    Then you have affirmed my first statement, have you not? You have defined an idea of truth, and thus have turned the problem into a soluble one of "consistency". Of course, your definition is problematic, setting up a potential tautology with talk of "valid" perception. How would you guage the validity of a perception, might I ask?

    I have no idea. Geez, can't a man get away with spout vague mumbo-jumbo these days?:wink:
  12. Jan 25, 2004 #11
    It is an initial, non-fradulent mind. That is the definition of a valid perception. A mind is a valid perception if it fits the definition.
  13. Jan 26, 2004 #12
    I feel that you're setting up a false argument. The 'four elemtents idea' was a scientific hypothesis in exactly the same way that special relativity or the heliocentric solar system is today, based on the evidence available at the time.

    The real question is whether we can improve on the scientific account of the universe, rather than just go on refining that same old metaphysically unsatisfactory view. I'm sure that we can, but it's tricky to prove it.
  14. Jan 26, 2004 #13
    Hahaha. Yeah, men can get away with mumbo-jumbo these days. I just though it would be interesting on how you or anyone else for that matter would classify an ultimate truth.
  15. Jan 26, 2004 #14
    I'll have a shot at truth.

    Within any system of logic a 'truth' is a theorem that doesn't contradict the other theorems or the axioms. Conceptions, perceptions, logical conclusions etc are all true or false in this sense, and only in this sense. (Hence Plato's allegory of the cave).

    It isn't obvious that this is true in the case of perceptions, but it is a philosophical orthodoxy that all perceptions are 'theory-laden' thus subject to the same lack of certainty as any theory. 'Experience' escapes this limit since it is not possible to be wrong about what you are experiencing, only about the cause or meaning of the experience.

    An 'ultimate' truth is presumably an assertion (or piece of knowledge etc) that is a completely true statement about reality.

    Two questions come up. Can we ever know a 'truth', and is there any such thing as a true statement about 'ultimate' reality?

    Aristotle, Plato, Russell and Popper (etc) doubt, for logical reasons, whether we can know for certain that any statement is true. For Aristotle (and Popper I think) certain knowledge (truth) is identical with the knower, thus can only be achieved through direct experience. The general suggestion is that no system of formal reasoning can produce certain knowledge, or knowably true statements. Goedel's proofs suggest this, and Quine argues much the same. It's hard to see how they can all be wrong given the strength and variety of their arguments.

    Non-dual philosophers go a step further, perhaps explaining why the above is true. According to them there are no assertions that can be made about reality that are true or false. This sounds a bit mystical but it is really just a logical extension of the above argument. Not only can we not reason our way to the truth because of our human failings, but it isn't even possible to do it in principle, not in any possible universe. Hence the hint from Lao Tsu when he says "true words seem to be paradoxical".

    However these folk also argue that it is possible to know truths about reality. This is because it is possible to know things that are true without being able to prove them systematically (as Goedel showed). This sounds self-contradictory but it isn't quite. Basically they are saying that it is possible to know some truths with certainty, but not possible to assert them since language is 'dual' and thus not up to the task. All one can do is assert half-truths.

    This is to use 'truth' in two different ways. The first means roughly 'provably true within the system given that the axioms are true' and the second 'true of reality'.

    The consequences of these two different approaches to truth can be seen in the fact that scientific or mathematical truths (inasmuch as they refer to reality) can be provable but must be uncertain, whereas by a 'non-dual' view truths about reality can be certain but cannot be provable.

    Thus Buddhists never assert anything about reality without immediately contradicting themselves, (unless they're not concentrating), for there are always two ways looking at 'ultimate' reality, two aspects which contradict each other. Hence 'emptiness/fullness', the two meanings of 'Brahman' and so on).

    I hope that makes some sense. All objections welcome.

    Last edited: Jan 26, 2004
  16. Jan 26, 2004 #15
    You are on the web right now is true.
  17. Jan 26, 2004 #16


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    And what is an initial, non-fraudulent mind? How would you spot such a thing if it came walking down the street, in the way that minds usually do?

    Notice that you again failed to answer the question. You have not for example said what definition it is fitting, and the use of the adjective non-fradulent is simply adding another level of complexity without giving any new information. The point is, what is at the bottom of this?
  18. Jan 26, 2004 #17
    Idealism, even solipsism, is impregnable to disproof. So you can't prove or be certain that I am. Think of The Matrix.
  19. Jan 26, 2004 #18
    Then how did your post get here?
  20. Jan 27, 2004 #19
    What post?

    If you had to say one certain thing about reality what would it be. Let's say that if there is any doubt about what you say, any way that it might be false, you will be horribly tortured to death. What would you choose to say?
  21. Jan 27, 2004 #20
    Being tortured to death doesn't exist.
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