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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Counter-Intuitive Science

Surveying the Internet, one can find many posts such as this one that contend that modern physics -- specifically relativity and quantum mechanics -- defy "common sense." In the place of such non-sensical physics, they promote Newtonian physics -- the physics with which they grew up. These "realist" or "objectivist" natural philosophers don't seem to realize how contrary to "common sense" was Newtonian physics. The earth is in motion: nonsense -- if one was moving, one could feel the motion; whether walking, riding a horse, or sailing on a ship, one could feel one was moving. Bodies in motion, unless disturbed, tend to remain in motion: again, nonsense, because clearly every motion in the terrestrial realm tends to dissipate, and the body comes to rest. The sun exerts some sort of mysterious force over the planets that acts instantaneously at a distance: the Cartesians were utterly dismissive of that notion, terming it "spooky action at a distance."

In fact, General Relativity was to some extent a return to an earlier, "common sense," notion of gravity, in attributing gravitational effects to the space in which they occur, the difference being that Aristotle assigned the Earth a unique role in gravitational attraction, whilst GR gives the same role to any massive body. Today's common sense is only yesterday's physics made popular.

2 comments:

  1. Ok, I will buy that energy comes in discrete "packets" of quanta. I will grant you that spacetime is a dimension and that time is a sort of location. Fine.

    But women do have one less rib than man, right? I hope science doesn't let down commonsense on this one.

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  2. I thought it was men who were supposed to have one fewer rib?

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