The Primacy of Physics

http://www.fileden.com/files/2009/1/2/2248958/july2809july293.mp3

Everything relies on physics. It is the forefront of human knowledge and discovery. The deepest study into understanding our universe is the study of physics, after all, we’re in a physical universe. Its all physics. Admittedly there may be something greater than physics, I would never deny that, but if there is something greater its beyond anything we can work with. You can pray for water all you like it won’t quench your thirst, only drinking does that, a physical action. The non-physical is interesting, but its better we concentrate on the pool of information we can actually dip into. Humanity should concentrate its best efforts on exploring the physical.

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The primacy of physics is very obvious in some human pursuits. Space travel, computer advances, bigger badder weapons- no one denies the importance of physics here, but physics goes much deeper. Take something seemingly distant from physics like nutrition. There are some direct applications of physics on nutrition; it’ll take you a certain amount of force to lift food to your mouth. . . . Even the fundamentals of nutrition rely on physics. Any theory on nutrition is based upon an understanding of human biology. You need to understand the body to be able to declare what is nutritious. . . . Then, Biology is grounded in chemistry; organisms are complex system of molecules interacting with each other. You are a series of chemical reactions causing change. Chemistry, of course, is based in physics. Chemists study the physical interaction of atoms. They look at the motion and mass of atomic parts, physics- just like billiard balls.

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Physics is the most important science, because all sciences rely on physics for their fundamentals. Even mathematics is physics dependent. Any time we apply math, its applied to something in the real world, something physical. Math is also dependent on a physical theory. It was always assumed, before Einstein, that things like time and space could be used as mathematical constants. It took a great physicist to open up our modern conception of the universe. . . . ..Even the concept of numbers itself relies on the belief that separate things exist, objectified from one another physically. With no physical theory, there would only be the number 1. . . … Not to mention physics is the basis for all the fancy new computers we have to process and advance mathematics and science.

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Wondering about the phenomenal? Can spirituality, love, hate and impressions all be summed up to physics as well? Yes, because you can be summed up to physics and these things cannot exist without you. Examine your own mind for a moment, use a mirror if you think that helps. Some people believe there is a spirit in there directing your physical body, others believe the brain is the only director, still other people believe its a union of the two. The brain only guy already agrees with me about the primacy of physics, he’s bought into the whole billiard ball chemistry example from the earlier paragraph. Then there’s the guy who believes he is fundamentally a spirit. Well its true that a spirit is beyond physics, but the application of that spirit is within the realm of physics. You need to eat, you move, you breath- everything the spirit actually does in the world is physical. Even thinking is physical, your brain states physically change when you change your mind. We can only study the spirit by studying what it is doing physically. Any other type of spiritual study is purely conjecture, there’s nothing to actually look at. I’m not saying its pointless, only that its less important. We can’t see the puppeteer. We’ll learn more about him by watching the puppets than by guessing.

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So what about god? Theists seem like obvious detractors from the primacy of physics. Serve your God first, follow everything else only when it doesn’t interfere with your religion. Well, I would say to those who feel religion and science are in competition that they’re doing a great disservice to their maker. If science is god’s creation, we can honor and learn about god through science. . . . …You hang a mobile over your baby’s crib in hopes he’ll examine and learn from it. You challenge a child with a tough book so she’ll read it. If a god has presented us with a complex and beautiful universe, shouldn’t we open the book and read as much as we can?

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21 Responses to “The Primacy of Physics”

  1. julescosby Says:

    Great article, RS. Philosophical idealists (they still exist!) like to believe that we can overlook the physical universe in the quest for Truth. Of course this is nonsense.

    Having said that, I have to take issue with what you placed in bold (a lure?). Math is NOT dependent on a physical theory. Math can be APPLIED to physical phenomena (indeed, there would be no physics without math), but that’s not the same thing. Even the creators of Civ II knew that Math comes before physics!

    Now, if you use the regressive reasoning you used to arrive at nutrition’s reliance on physics, then sure, math is reliant on humans, who exist in a physical universe. But what is that really saying?

    You say that without physics there could only be the number one. Historically speaking, one could surmise that there could be the number ‘one’, as well as ‘many’. And sure, cardinal numbers like 2,3,etc probably came from physical things (like pebbles or taxes). But here I think we need to separate the epistemology from the ontology. The study of the physical universe is not the same thing as the physical universe itself. Recognizing that objects exists, then counting them, is a long way from understanding how objects interact.

    Often to make this point people fall back on the metaphysical. The forms, God, whathaveyou, is supposed to be the guarantor of math. Even if the physical universe is a mere deceptive shadow, math still has this metaphysical guarantee. 2 plus 2 will equal 4. With this reasoning, if we were all wiped out tomorrow, math would still exist (where? who knows).

    Perhaps we can agree that math and physics have grown together, twisting into the tapestry of human knowledge. Of course they interact in all sorts of fun and interesting ways. But that is not enough to say that math is dependent on physics. I can almost hear the theoretical mathematicians carrying burning torches and pitchforks outside your door.

  2. remistevens Says:

    I’m in a rush out the door, I’ll have to get back to you.

    Physics is before math. Sure one or the other may have been given a human name first, but thats not the same. Physics and math we’re both around before humans started studying them- unless of course you believe we’re creating the universe as we go.

    Physical structure enables objectivity. Math is made up of integers, objective physical things. One is needed to make the other possible.

  3. Jules Cosby Says:

    I look forward to your return and response. But before we wade into this any further, let’s make it perfectly clear that I’m not offering any sort of nomalist argument: one of two was named first and is therefore prime.

    Second, to say that physics and math were around before humans started studying them is to fall back into metaphysics again, which it seemed like you were reluctant to do. Even from this stance, math is a priori (an oft-abused term), before experience, but physics must always have some base in the physical world.

    Third, an integer is not a physical thing. It can represent a physical thing (1 Fat Spooky cat), or something a little more abstract (30 lbs) but it is not itself physical in nature.

    Again, when you talk about physical structure, it’s an ontological question, not an epistemological one. I have little doubt that the addition of the human species to the planet did not affect the Law of Gravity, for example. Apples or stones or cats fell to the ground the same way before and after humans. But the study of physics, that’s humanity. That’s ALL humanity.

    You need math for physics. You don’t need physics for math.

  4. remistevens Says:

    Hey man,

    yea, I’m not talking about the study of math and physics whatsoever. Its all humanity, absolutely, i have no objection to that.

    I’m in fact only concerned with the ontological as my foundation here and love falling back on metaphysics. Humans came across two facts and started calling them math and physics. Part of our study is to try and analyze the relation between these two characteristics of the universe. . . . ..When we analyze the metaphysics, math needs physics and physics does not need math.

    Physics governs how the universe functions. Like you’ve said, the apple falls- something made it fall, it can’t just happen and it happened before we got here. Consistently apples keep falling because there is something about the structure of the universe which governs the motion of free apples.

    Math has a metaphysical existence as well, but it is not one that seems to be governing anything. Anything like boiling temperatures or force equations etc are not the product of math but of physics. The math we use to talk about these things is really just descriptive of a physical characteristic. I suppose there are also odd math realities like prime numbers and magic cubes, but these things only seem to exist in the realm of math. Something like gravity exists in the real world. Even if you cited Pi as a reality of circles in the real world, its just descriptive. A circle is what it is, the math is just a convenient way for us to talk about it.

    Again, I agree that elements of math or maybe all math is a priori, but they remain within the numbers only. Physics is for real, physics is the structure of our universe.

    One characteristic of the universe is that objects are physically separate. Sure, integers themselves are not physical. But the fact that there are things in the universe which can be separated into integers is entirely physical. In a universe where nothing was separate there could not be math. Sure it might exist beyond that universe in a different reality, but a monistic universe can not have numbers within it.

    We have a universe that allows separation, so we can have numbers and math. As well, this allows us to uncover the anomalies which exist solely within the realm of math.

  5. remistevens Says:

    If one is enabling the other, best we study the enabler. That’s the epistemological conclusion.

    Although if understanding physics is best done by advancing our mathematics, then lets do that. So long as getting to the bottom of physics is the goal.

  6. ponch58 Says:

    I’m sure I’m getting in WAAAAAY over my head here, buuuuut…

    When I first read this post, I thought “Remi’s right! What a smart guy!” Then along came Mr. Cosby and it got me to thinking. Remi can’t always be right, can he?

    So I did a little bit of research.

    An oxygen atom, like any atom has a specific amount of electrons and merely one nucleus. Invariably, there is a nucleus, orbited by 2 electrons in the first shell and 6 in the second. Hence, Oxygen’s atomic number being 8.

    If this atom cannot PHYSICALLY exist without these numbers, PHYSICS cannot exist without the influence of MATH. Conversely, without the PHYSICAL existence of the nucleus, and the electrons, there would be no math to explain it. (unless you want to count “0” as math) Therefore, MATH cannot exist without the influence of PHYSICS

    You cannot say that it wasn’t math until someone figured it out and called it something or else your whole argument is moot. Someone called “physics” something, someone called an “element” something, someone called “the wind” something. This did not bring them into existence, it merely made man feel important, as though he owned it.

  7. remistevens Says:

    at work, must hurry, . . . …

    nope

    2 electrons, 2 rocks, 2 pizza boxes. . . .whathaveyou. Point is they are separate things. All the physical rules that apply to objects apply to the two objects. But “two” is just a human declaration of the physical relation. Further the declaration “two” would never be possible if there wasn’t the physical relation.

    later dudes

  8. ponch58 Says:

    Right but the physical relation wouldn’t exist if there weren’t the “two” in my example. 3 won’t do it, 5 is right out, countest not thou 7. It must be 1 nucleus, 2 electrons in the first ring and 6 in the second. Without this formula it isn’t what it is. Without the numbers there would be no physicality. The numbers make it exist. Furthermore, it’s there whether it’s called “two” by a human or not. The fact is, without the mathematical equation, it would not exist. And vice versa, without the physical existence of it, the math would not exist. They cannot exist without the other.

    Let me lay it out.

    1 nucleus + 2 electrons + 6 electrons = 1 oxygen atom

    1 nucleus + 1 electron + 6 electrons = 0 oxygen atoms

    The math makes it exist.

  9. remistevens Says:

    Ok sure, i see what you’re saying. Only a certain mathematical grouping of certain objects can result in Oxygen. From this you deduce that the equation is the enabler of the oxygen object.

    Its a clever argument, but it doesn’t quite cut it.

    First, an oxygen atom is not physics. Physics are the ‘hard facts’ about our universe. Universal characteristics like gravity and the speed of light etc. . . . ….An oxygen atom is a thing. Your math here creates a thing, not physics.

    Secondly, the mathematical equation you depict is still the product of physical relations. Physical forces cause the atomic particles to group in this manner, vectors of these particles bring them all into the right place at the right time. You could tout this equation til you’re blue in the face. If physical forces never brought the parts together, the equation would be meaningless. If the elements you mention were simply brought together, but the electrons didn’t start orbiting according to the laws of physics, you wouldn’t have oxygen.

    Its interesting that this mathematical equation can always be applied to the physical grouping of atoms we refer to as Oxygen, but its no different than any other mathematical equation that nicely correlates to a physical reality. I admit there are things in our universe which always correlate to a specific mathematical equation, but they are only realities ABOUT the thing, not that which enables the thing.

    Of course the separation argument still trumps all of this. If there were no physical separation, there would be no 1,2 or 6.

  10. remistevens Says:

    I knew that 3rd line in my home made table was going to start trouble. . . . .Good arguments, Thanks guys.

  11. remistevens Says:

    Jules you also said in your first comment that math would still be around even if we were wiped out tomorrow. Further to that, i would say math might still be around even if our physical universe was wiped out. Its not physical so why not.

    Thing is, in this universe, math is only apparent because our universe’s physical structure has permitted math to be here and bring us its godly goodness.

    • Jim Smetchland Says:

      Ok, but here’s the winning game of attrition. *Remember when Data beat the fingertip chess master guy by forcing a tie until his opponent surrendered?

      You could argue that math is a necessary part of the universe. Admittedly its hard to imagine how a universe like ours could exist without math as one of it basic features. Matter, physical laws, energy, space, math, time. . . .all of it coming into existence together as characteristics of the same whole. I don’t think i could give you a good answer to that where physics remains prime. (who am i again?). . . . . .How about physical structure? That’s still prime.

      Question remains then whether physics and physical laws ARE the structure of the universe, or just things which govern it. If they’re not the actual structure of the universe and just some rules, they wouldn’t be any more prime than matter or math or any of the other things which are just hard facts about reality.

  12. remistevens Says:

    hmmm, pushes us back to the metaphysical again. If the structure isn’t physical laws, or time and the other shit- what is it? Some wacky unattainable metaphysical thing that we can’t even imagine.

    I must admit i don’t like relying on the metaphysical, so I’ll need to think up a good way that physical laws are the structure of the universe and not just rules pertaining to it. . . . .

    Einstein again baby. Travel fast enough and somethings got to give. Either time warps or space crunches. The physical universe changes its structure as we change our vector and speed. As we change our variables the universe changes structure. . . .I know you don’t believe in Einstein Jules, but i don’t believe in your god either.

    He never did offer the alternative that math changes while going close to the speed of light. Maybe 2+2=5 if you go fast enough!

  13. exuvia Says:

    “…You hang a mobile over your baby’s crib in hopes he’ll examine and learn from it.”

    This is a Nobel prize; no book on early stimulation should be without it. Forget the silly floats of abstract shape and color. Parents get real! Prepare the way. This is how you could mix religion and science. A digital alter for little Joye. Let him fix upon it and behold.
    Lights and ring tones should give you all you could ever want from your home church. And the implications… the crib!

    Have to read the rest, comments and all, later. I’ll be back for more.

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  15. exuvia Says:

    “You can be summed up to physics”

    I was once summed up before court and found guilty; my wife made a head count of all my mistakes and ruled unfavorably on that day.

    You can be summed up to more than physics; the whole of physics is not as much as the sum of our parts.

  16. remistevens Says:

    Sorry to hear that. mistakes, you? I don’t believe it, she made the mistake.

    A good point as well, i’ll get back to you, just a little busy and want to give the whole/parts idea a full treatment.

    somehow i wasn’t surprised my best commentators would rally against this one.

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