3.314 chaos and physics (49)

Wed, 2 Aug 89 21:16:43 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 314. Wednesday, 2 Aug 1989.

Date: Wed, 2 Aug 89 20:17:00 EDT
From: Tom Thomson <tom@prg.oxford.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: 3.297 culture and science?

Ouch! After "Physics is anti-intellectual" (alright, I'm oversimplifying) we
now have (from Itamar Even-Zohar) "Scientists (and Mathematicians) are naive
and blinkered". I used to think Snow was wrong, the division of modern thought
into two cultures was at most a tiny localised phenomenon and more likely
just a figment of his imagination. Reading Humanist is beginning to make me
think he was right - - - there are a lot of rather blinkered people out there
who don't (want to?) understand that a scientist (or a mathematician) has
just as much need for imagination, creative thought, willingness to stand
against eminent authority, ability to give up long-held views/prejudices, and
so on as does any student of the humanities.
The claim that there the very nature of [physical] "laws" is significantly
transformed by [classical?] thermodynamics seems to indicate a
misunderstanding of thermodynamics, which uses statistical techniques to
predict the behaviour of masses of DETERMINISTIC molecules. This is indeed
similar to chaos theory, in that the equations of motion for a mass of gas are
so complex as not to be effectively computable with available resources just as
are the complex non-linear systems that give rise to apparent order out of
apparent chaos. But it doesn't appear to be any different from (say) a 50-body
problem in classical gravitation, where the computation would have been beyond
c19 (same date as statistical thermodynamics) resources, although the laws
underlying the problem were regarded as deterministic and computational.
It's perfectly legitimate to argue different ontologies in physics, but not
to attribute such arguments to the founders of thermodynamics, nor to complain
because teachers of "exact" (what a NONSENSE word; stuff gets accepted as good
theory because it makes predictions about the right order of magnitude, so in
so far as science is about new ideas rather than refinement of existing ones
it's rather inexact) science present students with a simple view until such
time as they've acquired the mathematical, conceptual, philosophical tools to
handle a more complex one.
As for mathematics, which model of the world is "naive", which is the "archaic"
semiotics? Constructive, non-constructive, semi-constructive? Do you prefer
your logic (the tool, not the subject) with or without excluded middles? Are
numbers fundamental (if so, which ones), or sets, or moded logics, or .... Of
course maybe the mathematical world isn't the real one, so all this
mathematical discussion is vacuous, but "vacuous" is a synonym neither for
"naive" nor for "archaic".