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Re: [APD] Science

On 03/11/2005, at 4:45 PM, Jerry Baker wrote - with cuts:

> Some things are not subject to revision. I have a very difficult  
> time understanding why people have a hard time with this. There are  
> some things that just are, and they aren't going to change. I  
> suppose it ruins possibilities for some, I don't know. Gravity, for  
> instance, is precisely predictable in all situations that will be  
> encountered by a human. It's never going to change. Ever. Mixing  
> two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom will yield some heat and  
> water. Always. That's not going to change on another planet, and no  
> upstart physicist is going to prove it wrong.

Gravity does what gravity does and you're right - what it does isn't  
going to change. BUT the 'laws of gravity' aren't sacrosanct and  
gravity does not follow them. Those laws express our understanding of  
how gravity acts and that understanding has changed over time. Newton  
is fine but wasn't perfect , Einstein added to our understanding and  
showed that Newton's view wasn't complete or fully accurate, and  
there's been a bit more learnt since then. No scientist would claim  
we've heard the last word on gravity and I'd also say it's a pretty  
good bet that something we currently believe about it, and regard as  
a 'fact' or a 'law' will turn out to be not quite right. When that  
happens, something in the 'laws' pertaining to gravity will change  
but gravity won't, and gravity will continue to be as reliable as  
it's always been while the 'laws' will be a little more reliable but  
still not guaranteed.

And adding 2 hydrogen atoms to 1 oxygen atom need not always produce  
water which is a liquid, but may also produce ice or steam - they are  
all H2O but they aren't all 'water'.  You don't even have to go to  
another planet to prove that.

The laws of physics don't tell the universe how to behave and the  
universe does not behave in accordance with them. The universe does  
what it does and, after observation and study, scientists come up  
with hypotheses which attempt to describe that behaviour and which  
are tested and eventually accepted or rejected. But just because  
something is eventually accepted and comes to be regarded as a 'law'  
doesn't mean that it is a full and complete description of how the  
universe behaves in that regard, or that the 'law' can't  be changed.  
The laws of physics are man-made and are fallible like us. The 'laws'  
only tell us how we expect the universe to behave - they don't compel  
it to behave in that way. They do get more reliable over time as our  
understanding improves, but they aren't going to become perfect and  
unchangeable until our knowledge is perfect and complete. I wouldn't  
hold my breath waiting for that day.

Your problem is that you're confusing the way the universe behaves  
with the statements we use to describe that behaviour and predict  
what will happen under particular circumstances in the future. We can  
always rely on the universe to do what it will do. We can't rely on  
our knowledge to guarantee that we will always describe that  
behaviour completely and accurately, and get our predictions right  
all the time. We can and do get better at those things but we  
certainly aren't perfect yet.

Ask any really good scientist if they are as certain of the accuracy  
and immutability of the 'laws' of physics or science as you are and  
I'm sure they'll say they aren't.

David Aiken

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