philosophy science

natural law?

There is a division between the thing itself and the laws which govern it.  Unless, of course, one holds that it is self-governed or autonomous (Gk: auto, self; Gk: nomos, law), which seems just as assumptive as claiming it is ruled by an ‘other’.

If nature is governed by laws, then those laws themselves are not themselves the thing they are governing, and are therefore not ‘within’ (Lat: intra) nature.  This could only mean that they are other than, outside of or ‘above’ (Lat: supra) nature.

17 replies on “natural law?”

One thing I’d add is that often a thing governed by a law is actually defined (and therefore created) by the law itself. Energy is a good example since there is no such “thing” as energy except as defined by the laws of thermodynamics. The same applies to matter and gravity.

Also it is worth noting a natural law doesn’t really “govern” anything – it is a description of a pattern that seems to be universal and therefore artificial.

Indeed, the mere word ‘energy’ speaks to a reality we don’t fully know. I don’t know how you can say laws are ‘artificial’ though. Whatever we call it, and whether the ‘law’ is from self or an ‘other’, the lawfulness is certainly not artificial, but at quite a deep level of reality?

Energy is purely a descriptive device, no different to velocity. That things seem to behave regularly and that regularity can be expressed using mathematics certainly seems to match what we observe but I don’t think you can read any more into it than that?

Also modern thermodynamics (as well as quantum mechanics) is statistical in nature and shows us that while at a macro scale we can expect certain behaviors because they are statistically virtually inevitable but they are NOT guaranteed. For example the entropy of a closed system can decrease from one instant to another (nominally breaking the macro version of the second law) but it is statistically infeasible that it will continue to decrease over time (but not strictly forbidden). In other words these laws are purely descriptive in nature and imposed on nature by us to help predict things.

Of course we would only know chaotic behaviour in contrast to lawful/orderly behaviour. There are of course many conversations (philosophical and cosmological) about the tension between determinism and freedom. But the point here is that in spite of the real free and ‘chancy’ behaviour of nature, the lawfulness and orderdness if real.

It certainly appears real and useful to us. Can we really say any more than that though? Take away our particular viewpoint of the universe (scale, time etc) and that familiar order all but vanishes. I am becoming more and more convinced that order is a function of the observer, not the observed.

I am becoming more and more convinced that order is a function of the observer, not the observed.

Seeking order and patterns is what our brains do. It does something else, too: it is highly biased to assign agency. I wonder how we might mitigate our biases and come to have a better understanding of what is? If only there were such a method…

there goes objective scientific observations…

Where did they go? :) I see objective observation as observation with the bias of an individual removed. They don’t say much about the absolute reality of what was observed but it does help us understand the patterns more directly by taking away some variables.

‘Order’ implies something organized, which is then taken by some to mean that it requires an organizer. Clearly this is not necessary and this is exactly what we find in every field of nature we study. What we see over and over again is self-organization and not as an active agency in any way separate and distinct from that undergoing organization. There remains no causal evidence of any organizing agency in any of these processes and mechanisms. There is, instead, always a self-organizing means that is favoured by such factors as that which we call natural selection, thermodynamics, and so on.

It is presumptuous to assume agency for organization without evidence for that agency or – as importantly – evidence that should be there if agency were involved. And it’s not. It’s absent. And this is the case everywhere we look:; we find cause and effect by mechanisms that are ‘blind’. If this is agency, then it looks exactly like no agency at all.

Indeed, I mentioned the notion of the ‘autonomy’ of nature in the first paragraph of the original post.

The ‘evidence’ has to be interpreted. Nature doesn’t wear name tags saying ‘I’m self-organised’ any more than it holds a sign saying “I’m organised by an organiser”. All scientific eyes can see is (philosophically speaking) ‘bodies in motion’, or phenomena – no presence or absence of an organiser.

We have, of course, noticed that these bodies move in an orderly enough way for us to do experiments. We can observe an organising principle at work. Any talk of ‘no agency at all’ or ‘look what God did’ is no longer purely scientific.

…and personally, for me, it starts to get circular when I hear people say that not only is nature self-organised, but also self-originating!

yes, but the whole point is that there is a collective ‘bias’ that nature is ordered enough to perform experiments.

We are starting to cross over with the other thread now, but experiments can be done in any universe. We just happen to learn a lot more when there is more order. (As an aside, I suspect a meaningful consciousness requires some degree of non-randomness in order to function – so some order may be necessary via the anthropic principle).

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