Friday, November 18, 2011

Bertrand Russell on the Abstract Nature of Physics

The following quote relates to this post:

"It is not always realised how exceedingly abstract is the information that theoretical physics has to give. It lays down certain fundamental equations which enable it to deal with the logical structure of events, while leaving it completely unknown what is the intrinsic character of the events that have the structure. We only know the intrinsic character of events when they happen to us. Nothing whatever in theoretical physics enables us to say anything about the intrinsic character of events elsewhere. They may be just like the events that happen to us, or they may be totally different in strictly unimaginable ways. All that physics gives us is certain equations giving abstract properties of their changes. But as to what it is that changes, and what it changes from and to—as to this, physics is silent." (My Philosophical Development, p. 13)


  1. I have watched some interviews with physicist Steve Weinberg. He made me understand a bit of what real physicists actually do and learn.

    The physics we are taught in school is just an approximate analogy, and even that doesn't really apply in all cases.

    All the "laws" of physics are broken when advanced physics comes into the picture. They are not precise cause-effect relations, but one of the many relations possible in many situations. The laws of thermodynamics don't always apply and the basic properties of gravity change completely in some cases.

    Weinberg says that it might be comforting to laymen to believe that there is a set of fundamental principles in physics from the base of which we develop all latter physics. But he explains that the truth is that when we observe phenomenon on a cosmic scale and when we observe it on an earthly scale, there is a major disconnect between the two of them.

    I believe Daniel Kuehn emphasises this nature of physics to be an illustration of the difference between "microeconomics" and "macroeconomics". There are no fundamental rules or laws.

  2. preteek,
    A good example of what you're talking about is the differences between astrophysics and quantum physics, there is almost no common laws between the two. In fact, in quantum physics there are often cases where the laws are the exact opposite of both classical and astrophysics.

    Granted, it has been about 10 years since I was into physics.

  3. Sorry, I meant to say cosmology rather than astrophysics. Like I said, its been a while.


George Berkeley, Common-sense Realist

"According to Berkeley, the perceived world is itself a language -- or, rather, a discourse in a language. Berkley intends this claim...