Whqt physics depends on

[From Bill Powers (931227.1900 MST)]

Martin Taylor (931227.1415) --

Bill P has offered for Xmas a rather bleak and despairing view
of the state of physics.

It's bleak and despairing only if all hope is tied up in having
physics stand forever on the same foundations. I am looking for,
and perhaps finding (although real physicists will have to decide
that point) cracks in the foundations, not just to enjoy the
sight of a pile of rubble but because I think that physicists
have become too narrow in their approach to nature -- too narrow,
and at the same time too ambitious in trying to extend their
theories of matter to the organization of living systems. I think
they have become too reliant on mathematics, forgetting that a
curve that exactly predicts the positions of well-separated
points can still be totally wrong in the regions between the
points, and thus convey an erroneous picture of the underlying
phenomenon. If the experimental points were closer together in
particle physics I would feel less critical and skeptical.

B. F. Skinner could predict certain kinds of behavior with far
greater precision than anyone could achieve before. But his
explanation of WHY he was able to predict so well was wrong. I
can admit and admire the great predictive achievements of
physics, where they lie within range of experimental
verification, without having to believe the story behind the

I am put off by the enthusiasm with which physicists try to
explain everything at the subatomic level in terms of particles,
even the forces that exist between other particles. As Harry
Rymer, an old friend from astronomy, wryly remarked, these
particles seem to have awfully good aim. And it's difficult to
apply that concept while at the same time physicists speak of
forces that vary continuously with separation, like the force
binding quarks together which increases steeply with their
separation. If one particle carries a force between two other
particles, what particle carries the interaction between the
force-carrying particle and its target particle? And just what
kind of interaction is that? Infinite regress lies just around
the corner.

I am also put off by the reification of the concept of
probability, which in my mind is still just part of the processes
we use to make predictions based on previous experience, when we
lack data. I think it is far more profitable to assume that if a
phenomenon fails to repeat when all initial conditions are the
same, we have simply failed to include all necessary initial
conditions, or we are unable to discern the degree to which
initial conditions that look the same are actually different.

I have to grant that both then and now it all comes down to
what we can see on meter dials or imagery, or otherwise get in
through our senses. That doesn't mean that the phenomena of
physics was or is restricted to what we see, feel, or hear
directly. Those are the phenomena of psychology. Physics
helps us to understand how they occur, but it is not about

... and ...

Other sciences explain "why" by reference to supporting
sciences, physiology to biochemistry, chemistry to physics.
Where is physics to go to ask why? There is no simpler science
to support it, is there?

Physics is fundamentally about perception, not about the real
world. Even in Copenhagen they recognized this, although they
weren't thinking in terms of PCT. They spoke of "observation" and
"measurement," thinking of what artificial instruments could
reveal, but what they said applies more widely to human
perception itself. And even more to the point, it applies not
only to the senses, but to higher levels of perception derived
from sensory information by transformations that exist in a human
brain. At some level of perception, these transformations yield
variables amenable to mathematical treatment, which is itself a
product of the brain's activities. There is no mystery behind the
fit of mathematics to our perceptions of the world: both are
products of the same brain, consequences of applying the same
transformations. Sums and differences, products and ratios,
equalities and inequalities, sequences and series, are all
elements of perception, products of a brain's functioning. The
functions involved are those that give us a world to experience
in the first place, at many levels. Of course the mathematics
fits them!

There is no simpler science on which physics rests, but there is
another science on which it rests: the science of life and more
specifically human life. Perhaps the insight I am waiting for
that will put physics on a new foundation can come about only
through exploring the organization of human perception and
action. Schroedinger's equation is a structure in the human mind.
Like all mathematical expressions, it can't be applied to other
experiences until the variables have been assigned meanings. It
is in this process of assigning meanings that human perceptions
get into the picture without necessarily announcing that they are
perceptions. Quantum physics, like the rest of physics, is loaded
with human perceptions, yet I have never heard a physicist point
out this fact. Human perceptions are accepted as given aspects of
the world. Under PCT, this can't continue to be the case.

The kind of system that can have and control perceptions is not
continuous with other kinds of systems. It is the fundamental
kind of system, as far as our knowlege of a universe is
concerned. Without it there would be no knowledge, and nobody to
know it.



Bill (Scrooge) P.