Critique with Regards to the Truth and Lies behind the Laws of Physics

The dispute regarding the truth or falsity as explained by the laws of Physics through the techniques of idealization began prior to the arrival of the 21st century. The battle has started even during the time of Galileo through his spokesman Salviati and the opposing team which was represented by Simplicio. According to critics, the techniques of idealization should be rejected because it tries to falsify the world by making it neat and regular when it is in fact complicated and messy (Mcmullin, 1985, p. 247).

Ronald Giere shares a similar conclusion by stating that the laws of physics are not really statements about the world but part of the characterization of theoretical models, which in turn may represent various real systems (p. 90). For him, the laws of physics are simply social constructs created through the collective judgments of scientists who in turn determines the resemblance of family models and the real world because for the physicist, the literal exact truth is not what matters but the purpose at hand (Gierre, 1988, p. 79). These statements are in unison with Cartwright who initially argues that the laws of physics are firmly based on the utility of these laws (laws of Physics) and has nothing to do with the truth (Mcmullin, 1985, p. 247). On the contrary, Ernan Mcmullin believes that the explanatory success of certain laws warrants belief in their correctness because it should be accepted that mathematics can indeed provide the mathematical syntax of the language of the Book of Nature (p. 273).  Thus in this paper, I shall briefly summarize the arguments presented by these two thinkers and analyze the validity of their claims.

The technique of idealization is of utmost importance in the field of empirical science and here lies the core of the dispute between Guiller and Mcmullin. Guiller sees idealization as a form of approximation that distorts reality. For him, the most that it can do is to construct an entity which is not in existence that will possibly fit into the proposed systems of the scientific world. A perfect example of a constructed entity is the harmonic oscillator. The harmonic oscillator is the conceptualization of a frictionless pendulum which is in accordance with Hookes law F  -kx wherein k, is a positive constant and F refers to force. Another one example is the linear oscillator which is the free motion of a symmetrical rigid body and the motion of a subject to a central gravitational force (p. 78). Both of these entities have no reality beyond that given to them by the community of the physicists. Their existence was only made possible through the minds of their creators, the physicists but such entities do not really exist in the real world.

The same goes with theoretical hypothesis which are proposed by scientists. These are simply linguistic entities which seem to exhibit a relationship between models and designated real systems but it can only claim similarities between models and real systems and can never go beyond that. Guiller states that  to claim a hypothesis as true is to claim no more or less that an indicated type and degree of similarity between a model and a real system exists (p. 80).  His claim can be clearly seen in the manner most physics textbooks are designed and conceptualized. According to him, these modern physics textbooks present forms that are well adapted to the actual operations of human cognitive capacities and are preferred over complex formulations because of its simplicity and convenience. What is contained in these textbooks is not reality but simplified laws of nature constructed and agreed upon by the scientific community. These contents are further given authority as scientists communicate with one another and actively show support in a particular theory. In the end, the scientific community becomes a powerful manipulation of scientists who uses language to wider the scope of their influence in the social world. What science does is invent truth rather than discover truth.
On the contrary, Mcmullin sees idealization in a different light. He defines it as the deliberate simplification of something that is complicated with a view of achieving at least a partial understanding of the thing (p. 248). He does not hide the possibility that it may produce a distortion of the original or it may also leave aside some of the components of the complex world order but we should not focus on the moment distortion is allowed but focus on the reason why such distortions are inevitable especially in the beginning of a scientific inquiry. The reason for this slight distortions if for man to eventually reach better understanding of the real world by using the intelligible order of form (p. 248).

Mcmullin believes that that phenomenon of the real world can be ordered geometrically and the Book of Nature employs a mathematical grammar which can be discovered by man through mathematical idealization. Mathematical idealization as he defined it is a matter of imposing a mathematical formalism on a physical situation in a hope that the essentials of that situation will lead themselves to mathematical representations. (Mcumillin, 1985, p. 254). This was the method used by Galileo in order to formulate simple laws of terrestrial motion and is still widely used by modern scientists, primarily the physicists. It uses subjunctive assertions, an appeal to simple experiences and to the intuition tutored by the most general sorts of observation of motion which can never be refuted by anyone for the sole premise of it being a factual given.

He adds that the theme of idealization presupposes a world to which the attempts to fit the conceptual scheme to a world which in some sense independent of these schemas and to which they only approximately conform (p. 254). But this does not necessarily imply that the scientist is trying to refashion the world so it will fit into his own schema rather he uses idealization to better understand nature. These can be done through construct idealization and causal idealization.

Construct idealization implies a conceptual representation of the world. Examples of this include infinite planes and equable motion which are abstract entities. In his words he states that the complicated features of the real world are deliberately simplified in order to make theoretical laws easier to infer, in order to get the process of explanation under way (p. 258). Why are abstract entity necessarily constructed in the scientific world It is because only through these method can we better understand how nature works. Let us take for example Bohrs hydrogen atom model. It is considered as the perfect example for theoretical models because it is the most simplified structure of an atomic model but it still manages to retain its basic features and the essence of the original problem situation. It is an idealized atom since it is assumed that the nucleus is at rest and the electron orbit is circular. There is no argument that this is a constructed entity but in doing so, Bohr was able to make a perfect fit between the theoretical model and measured values which eventually validated the model. Newtons laws of motions and the kinetic theory of gases were discovered in the same manner. Theoretical and idealized models were the initial step that was performed by scientists so they can reach a closer resemblance to reality and most of the time scientists benefited in this procedure.

Causal idealization is another method used by experimenters. In this method, the experimenter determines how nature is to be observe, when factors will be varied, which will be held constant and which will be eliminated (Mcmullin, 1985, p. 265). The experimenter acts as the absolute manipulator of a specific world, the world of theories. But the experimenter does not remain confined within his own world. After using this technique of idealization, he goes out to the world of reality and adds something to his causal idealization so it can have a perfect fit with reality. Thus, it does not become the authority rather it still becomes patterned to reality and not vice versa. There is still room for self correction amidst the complex world of idealization. If the theory does not fit then it is adjusted until finally we arrive at a perfect resemblance and ample justification of the different processes involved in nature.

In conclusion, it is certainly wrong to assume that the laws of physics are not really statements about the world because if these are not founded on truth then what could be the reason behind their functionality in our daily lives. Most of the machines, inventions, and technological advancements that we are currently using in the modern world rely on the laws of physics. Automation would have not been invented if inventors did not trust the laws and principles of engineering. Space travels will not be possible if they did not take seriously the calculations and mathematical diagrams of projectile and linear motions proposed by physicists. It is a fact that the modern world is in efficient operation thanks to the discoveries of the laws of physics so why can we not believe its authenticity nor refuse its aid  There is no sense trying to argue against it, especially for the sake of efficiency and functionality.

It may certainly be true that idealization involves distortions, manipulation, and eliminations but there is always room for self correction. In the words of Mcmullin, experiments are made to isolate true causes and to eliminate false starts. It does not recreate the world but it traces the principles governing the world so we can use it to improve our lives. There is no denying that the sciences are not perfect and does not provide absolute truth. In as much as it is considered to be one of the most respected field of study with mathematics and logic as its core, it is still prone to errors but the errors incurred in the pas by some scientists, which includes Galileo, does not make the entire field of inquiry a hoax. The capacity of mans mind is still very limited. We can only grasp as much information as we could and only a very few individual can go beyond what an average mind can fathom. There may still be inconsistencies along the way in some of the laws of physics because of this but idealization is trying its very best to provide the most accurate mathematical syntax of the physical world which can later on be used for the betterment of the world.


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