Did you ever wonder why the Laws of Physics were called the Laws of Physics? Why not, for example, the Rules of Physics? Or the Equations of Physics? Or simply, the Theories of Physics. Of all the possible descriptive terms, why Laws?
A law is, after all, an imposed rule, which if broken, subjects the law-breaker to criminal status, punishment if found guilty, and in some cases, physical or professional banishment from those who maintain or uphold the law (affectionately known as the “Old Guard”). Researchers in such fields as "cold fusion" are an obvious case in point. They didn’t break any natural law (as in the Nature of Law), but they broke an unwritten, cardinal rule of science: don’t radically threaten the status-quo (or the funding status of major projects which your new research threatens, i.e. follow the money), or do research in fields outside the narrow bounds of what your credentials and college degrees decree is your field.
For many years, for example, anyone advocating a belief that excess heat was being generated in a process which may have been a form of nuclear fusion at a moderate temperature, was quickly branded a "scientific criminal". These "law-breakers" were then scorned (a form of scientific punishment), silenced whenever possible by threatened or real reductions in their funding levels, outrageous exhaustive audits of previously funded projects, or hounded in a variety of unscientific and morally inexcusable ways if they would not be silent. All manner of harassment was directed at those stalwarts who would not recant from their views and continued to do research in a field of physics which threatened to overturn or just radically extend the existing laws of physics. In the notable case of Cold Fusion, the researchers chose a form of scientific banishment by moving to a foreign country in order to continue their work.
The history of science is replete with examples of scientific discoveries being denied, discredited and denigrated by preservers of the status quo. From Galileo and Copernicus' views of the solar system to Weggener's Continental Drift Theory and Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity, it has been the lot of scientific innovators to deal with irrational, unscientific and outrageous attacks by their peers.
In Einstein's case, for example, one well-known physicist, when confronted by the implications of Einstein's famous Twin-Paradox (where one twin travels for a time at near the speed of light and then returns to find his twin much older than himself), replied that Einstein could not possibly be right, because that "would allow a person to cheat death!" Sad to say, not all attacks on a new theory are as easy to deal with as this one.
[4/1/05] In many cases, it is the very title of the theory which causes problems. This is due to the fact that the title itself often makes some distinctive assumptions -- assumptions which are invariably unstated, but which nonetheless convey a limitation on the paradigm under which the theory is promulgated. "Continental Drift" is one such example. The title itself assumes a slow, random, drifting of continents, as opposed to sudden, catastrophic or even directed changes in the continents' locations. A more open-minded title would be "Continental Movement". The latter makes no assumptions about how sudden or how slow such continental shifting is occuring. However, inasmuch as "Continental Movement" might allow for the possibility of a sudden, catastrophic movement next week, just in time for Mardi Gras, the timid mainstream scientists would prefer to avoid such potential, and simultaneously keep their heads buried in the sand.
Another example is the counter to Evolutionary Theory, Intelligent Design. The title of "Intelligent Design" makes two fundamental assumptions: that the intravention in the evolutionary continuum is 1) planned, and 2) a smart or intelligent idea. Inasmuch as their is massive evidence for both Evolutionary Theory and Intervention by an intelligence in the history of life on earth, and that furthermore the interventions in many, many cases are neither planned for particularly smart, it is clear that Intervention by an Intelligence (the II Theory) is far superior in terms of reality than Intelligent Design (ID).
Interestingly, it is never the experimenters or theoreticians who are "breaking" the laws of physics. Actually, it's nature, or as some might term it, a perverse universe. As the saying goes: "The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine." As researchers make discoveries which demonstrate the current inadequacy of the establishment's laws of physics, it's nature that's the culprit, not the scientists.
Establishment physics, in its hubris, is not above attempting to punish nature for its infractions of physics' man-made, rather arbitrary laws, or trying to confine nature to artificial limits and boundaries. But the establishment often finds it more expedient to punish the messenger instead. It is unfortunate that too many of our scientific messengers have forgotten the wisdom of the old Turkish proverb: "When you tell the truth, make sure you have one foot in the stirrup." Or perhaps, of more current vintage to the present state of scientific affairs: "Ye shall know the truth and the truth will set ye free... But first, it's going to really make you (or someone else) very angry!" There's nothing like a little cold (fusion?) truth to make a lot of so-called scientists mad as hell.
A critical factor in the attempted sanctity of the laws of physics, is the implied dominance in physics, and science in general, of theory over experiment. All too often, the observed results of experiments are discounted for lack of a viable theory. It's as if nature cannot exhibit properties (or science will not recognize the existence of such properties) when the experimental results do not conform to some pre-established theory. And yet the ONLY truly valid reason for theory is to suggest new experiments (or practical applications)! Otherwise, theory, when presented in the form of immutable, sacrosanct laws, becomes merely dogma, while creative experiments becomes heresy.
A good example of experiment driving theory which in turn ultimately drives more experimentation is the case of photovoltaics. It was the offhand note in a reported experiment by Hertz which prompted Einstein to develop his theory of photovoltaics. Once the theory was proposed, a host of other experiments (not to mention practical applications) were motivated and physics was never quite the same thereafter. This was one of those cases, when the scientific method worked quite well.
But Einstein was also responsible, along with his cohorts, Podolsky and Rosen, for the EPR Experiment, a "thought experiment" or theory, which was supposedly going to demonstrate that Quantum Mechanics was inherently flawed (Einstein did not like the inherent probability aspects of Quantum Mechanics, and is reputed to have said that: "God does not play dice"). This attempt to demonstrate a flaw in Quantum Physics, and the validity of the EPR theory, generated an actual experiment in the 1950's, but one which confirmed Quantum Physics and denied Einstein’s basic assumption.
However, the experimental results caused an additional quandary, in that they have never been adequately explained by a theory acceptable to establishment physics. Mainstream science has thus been forced to consistently avoid the subject ever since -- while science innovators (with or without scientific credentials) have been having a field day!. The reality is that mainstream science simply abhors a vacuum, particularly one that has no easily acceptable theory, or which, worse yet, contains an ether! (In one of standard physics textbook, the only reference to ether is on page "666", yet another of the Nines!)
The reason theory dominates experiment in mainstream science, or that their “laws” rule over observations, is not entirely clear. However, such dominance may be due to a psychological condition which requires, for the comfort level of many so-called scientists, the stability of law and order in science -- in lieu of chaos or unpredictability.
Unfortunately for them, a universe which operates like a well-tuned, predictable machine does not appear to be in the cards. Machines are closed systems, and as such, form only a small part of the universe. As Alvin Toffler commented in his forward to Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers' book, Order Out of Chaos, Man's New Dialogue with Nature, "Most phenomena of interest to us are, in fact, open systems, exchanging energy or matter (and one might add, information) with their environment. Surely biological and social systems are open, which means that the attempt to understand them in mechanistic terms is doomed to failure. This suggests, moreover, that most of reality, instead of being orderly, stable and equilibrial, is seething and bubbling with change, disorder, and process." There is, admittedly, a degree of order in Chaos Theory, but predictability does not seem to be in the general scheme of things.
Mainstream science is not a big fan of change, disorder, and/or chaos; nor does it leap on the bandwagon of investigations into non-linear and far-from-equilibrium systems. It could be that in chaotic physics, where man-made laws are often ignored or discarded, the mathematics are far too difficult with which to deal. But it could also be the fear on the part of conservative science in dealing with singularities or "bifurcation points", where "it becomes inherently impossible to determine in advance which direction change will take; whether a system will disintegrate into chaos or leap to a new, more differentiated, higher level of order or organization." Bummer!
Science has always prided itself on its ability to predict -- This is how it has sold itself to society. Small wonder that it avoids Cold Fusion, tapping the Zero-Point Energy, Connective Physics, the EPR Experiment, virtually any mention of Consciousness, the ORME, and similar experiments and fields of thought. Entirely too many laws are being broken and predictability is just not immediately available. Sorry about that. Get ye over it.
It is time for physics and science to recognize the dominance of experiment over theory, to relabel its alleged "laws" as "succinct, mathematical descriptions of observed phenomena" (SuMDOPs?), and to accept the reality that in its eagerness to describe the universe, it must deal with open, chaotic systems -- even when the mathematics are much more difficult. The motivation for such an action may very well be that the benefits of order and organization arising spontaneously out of disorder and chaos, will turn out to be a great deal better than what we have now. And probably, a lot more interesting.
[3/10/05] For example, check out Frontier Science, Alternative Science, and other such strange and bewildering websites. Of course one might want to first the standard warning labels for physicists. One can't be too careful in this day of creative embellishments and preferential realities.
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