Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Any Ideas ? (III)

[We continue with our inventory of Leading Ideas.]

(5) The world as law-driven

            We each have an innate sense of causality – indeed, rather too robust a one, as it frequently reaches beyond the facts (post hoc ergo propter hoc).  Thus  observed regularities are already partway along towards being conceived as laws, which Nature tends, by nature, to observe. Any one of us could write a pretty extensive lay, after the manner of De rerum naturâ, setting down all the laws we know.  Mine begins:

            Ducks like to quack;
            Cows like to moo.
            Frogs often jump;
            Worms never do.

The ancients made astounding progress along these lines, predicting eclipses and minutely analyzing the wheeling of the stars.
So, if it does qualify as an Idea, it is still a generalization of something we grow up taking for granted.  The question is, does this basic instinctive-cum-observational idea at some point pass into something qualitatively different – so that the laws are no longer parasitic on the phenomena, rather if anything the latter are dependent on them.  And I think it does.
            For many a philosopher and scientist, the laws we in time arrive at seem more real – nay, are more real – than any one of their apparent instantiations.  So that, in many cases, such savants are led to defy the very face of phenomena, something the plain man seldom or never does.   Thus, the plain man notes, as a regularity of nature, that objects put in motion soon slow down, like a tossed ball, unless continually impelled, like a running deer.  He leaves it at that; Aristotle furrows his brow and comes up with little curling  air-currents impelling the ball until, as it were, the wind goes out of its sails.  But Newton bids defiance to the mere evidence of our senses (insert well-known story here).  Someone struck by law-drivenness to the point of monomania may thus attempt to explain away some things more certain than the existence of ducks: to wit, free will.  Still, the principle is sound, though in excess it may lead to fever.

            I cannot develop this Idea/idea further, since it is one of which I myself have but a feeble grasp.  To me (and to my friends the ducks), the world appears to work by magic. 

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