13 May 2015


According to Robert Laughlin Nobel Prize winner physicist, Newton’s “fundamental laws” aren’t fundamental at all, since their rise is “a consequence of the aggregation  of quantum matter into macroscopic fluids and solids—a collective  organizational phenomenon.” [Laughlin: A Different Universe, p. 31.] So perhaps we can build up a physics based on the idea of emergence, and it is at least questionable whether either the fundamental laws or the fundamental constants remain important after reinterpreting this field.
It is undoubtedly an interesting idea, and I don’t have any problem with the approach of a new interpretation of nature. But I have some problems with this emergent approach.
First of all, why do we presuppose that the laws of the quantum level is more fundamental than the level of Newtonian physics? Because is it about a smaller magnitude?
Second of all, the use of the term of the emergence is sometimes resembles for the “God of the gasp”: Certain theologians interpret the gaps in actual scientific knowledge as a proof of the existence of the Lord. The classical example for the emergence is the ant hill, and I don’t think that the emergent interpretation is false in this case. But notice that the emergent approach offers an answer for the strangeness of a certain phenomenon (i.e. organized ant behavior), and, at the same time, it contains a tacit an assumption.
The “normal” scientific way is to observe a natural processes and then, by using induction, we deduce the natural law which resulted the given process. The emergent approach is different: we hypothesize that not some describable laws (that are descriptions of the rules) cause the phenomenon, but the phenomenon causes the effect. But, ad absurdum, it is possible that although there is a natural law to determine the organization of the ant society, having been unable to point out it, we would declare that this process’ nature is emergent. If Newton’s laws would be unknown, then we could state with conviction that the moves of the planets in the Solar System are emergent: We observe the process, and then we conclude that the process itself causes the phenomenon. Ad analogiam: how could we sure that there isn’t a law to describe the connections between the micro- and macroscopic level in Laughlin’s example?
Of course, there are emergent processes: I.e. Wolfram in his New Kind of Science presents examples where a process is uncompressible. But there are fundamental differences between math where, optimally, we can prove whether something is impossible, and physics where a similar demonstration is more problematic.
And there are other questions, as well. The dichotomy of “laws” and “objects” comes from Aristotle: He believed that on the one hand, there is a category of “natural things, which displayed change and complexity”, and there are “static and absolute truths” that are mathematical rules. [Barrow: World within World, p. 39.] Obviously, it is a kind of Pythagorean belief about the fundamentally mathematical nature of the Universe.
But it is an important question whether both the laws and objects really exist, as it is believed by the so-called realist philosophers of science. Opposite to it, the instrumentalists state that the physical laws are only instruments to describe the observed processes but they aren’t exist in reality.
It is undecidable which camp is right, since there is no an experiment to point out whether a natural law really exists or it is only a mathematical description. In short: it is pointless to debate over it.
Similarly, it is undecidable whether the individual ants’ behavior emerge into a coordinated activity to cause the anthill or the rules behind the operation of the colony drives the individuals.

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