What is a law of nature?

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#1 Vik

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 08:05 PM

Here is what I have so far. Additions and clarifications are highly welcomed.

A law of nature is an actual relationship that can be described by a single proposition.

True propositions identify actual relationships among the units subsumed by appropriate concepts. They capture some of the laws of nature. Laws of nature cannot be described or explained without an appropriate conceptual framework. First you form concepts. Then you apply them to specific situations by means of propositions

Concepts can be applied to particulars to yield universal affirmatives. For example, the concept of an elliptical can be used to reconstruct Kepler's laws when applied to astronomical data.

#2 VcatoV

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 08:16 PM

Hmm well as you said, you have described the conceptual framework for a law of nature, but that's not enough for a definition.

Maybe you should start with what you would presume to be a law of nature and deconstruct it until you understand it better. So, name a specific law...

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#3 Vik

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Posted 09 December 2010 - 03:07 PM

Hmm well as you said, you have described the conceptual framework for a law of nature, but that's not enough for a definition.

Maybe you should start with what you would presume to be a law of nature and deconstruct it until you understand it better. So, name a specific law...

I have three wires. Let's call them A, B, and C. I connect them together so that you can say that current "flows out" from A & B and "flows into" C.

So A + B = C

This equation is a specific instance of one of Kirchoff's laws:

"At any node in an electrical circuit, i.e. where the wires meet, the sum of currents flowing into that node is equal to the sum of currents flowing out of that node."

It presumes knowledge of wires and electric current.

It describes a quantitative relationship, but it doesn't explain much. I'm not trying to sell it short. It can certainly be used to explain quantitative change. It can certainly be used to predict whether the addition of a fourth wire will cause a reduction in the current in C. However, it says NOTHING of action beyond that. And it gives little insight about the entities involved.

In order to apply this law to the real world, somebody must use a measuring device, such as an ammeter.

#4 dream_weaver

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Posted 09 December 2010 - 03:57 PM

A law of nature is an actual relationship that can be described by a single proposition.

A law of nature identifies a causal relationship of one or more existents.

Actual(?) if it is not actual, can it be described?
Are all laws of nature expressed in a single proposition?
Identifies describes what the discription is trying to accomplish.

Are you trying to reduce law of nature or define it? This might serve as a more poignent starting point.

Existence. Consciousness. Identity.
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#5 Vik

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Posted 09 December 2010 - 08:19 PM

A law of nature identifies a causal relationship of one or more existents.

I think of causation in terms of entity interaction. Strictly speaking, attributes and relationships do not exist apart from entities. Things interact giving rise to everything else.

If a law of nature involves two existents where neither is an entity, it seems more descriptive to me than explanatory.

Actual(?) if it is not actual, can it be described?

What is not actual can only be imagined.

Are all laws of nature expressed in a single proposition?
Identifies describes what the discription is trying to accomplish.

When we have the knowledge and adequate concepts, we can express a law as a single proposition.

Are you trying to reduce law of nature or define it?

I'm trying to collect basic facts about laws of nature because I am having trouble distinguishing laws of nature from other types of relationships.

Is there anything more to causal relationships than laws of nature? Is there some type of causal relationship that's NOT a law of nature?

How should laws of nature be expressed so we don't run into the problem we had with Mill's rules of reasoning? Namely that we cannot know all the conditions necessary for a consequence. Do we simply tack on "ceteris paribus"? Or can Objectivism enable us to do more?

#6 dream_weaver

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 04:30 AM

I think of causation in terms of entity interaction. Strictly speaking, attributes and relationships do not exist apart from entities. Things interact giving rise to everything else.

If a law of nature involves two existents where neither is an entity, it seems more descriptive to me than explanatory.

That would expand what I was thinking. Yet, even describing something between attributes and or relationships, the connection to the entity still exists. At the risk of being myopic on the subject, as you bring up later, Laws of Nature seem to identify (a) causal relationship(s) of one or more existents.
Note: Existent does include attributes, relationships, concepts and other non-tangibles.

What is not actual can only be imagined.

Isn't this redundant. Law of Nature - Nature is Actual. How would a law of nature apply to something only imagined?

I'm trying to collect basic facts about laws of nature because I am having trouble distinguishing laws of nature from other types of relationships.

Is there anything more to causal relationships than laws of nature? Is there some type of causal relationship that's NOT a law of nature?

How should laws of nature be expressed so we don't run into the problem we had with Mill's rules of reasoning? Namely that we cannot know all the conditions necessary for a consequence. Do we simply tack on "ceteris paribus"? Or can Objectivism enable us to do more?

Are there Laws of nature that is are not an identification of a causal relation?

Was this thread isolated from another? The heading and the quest seem a little disjointed.

Edited by dream_weaver, 10 December 2010 - 04:33 AM.

Existence. Consciousness. Identity.
The wholiest trinity ever concretized.

Existence is Identity,
Consciousness is Identification.

#7 Vik

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Posted 10 December 2010 - 11:17 AM

TYet, even describing something between attributes and or relationships, the connection to the entity still exists. At the risk of being myopic on the subject, as you bring up later, Laws of Nature seem to identify (a) causal relationship(s) of one or more existents.
Note: Existent does include attributes, relationships, concepts and other non-tangibles.

Yes, it's indirect in the sense that the entities are implied but their interactions are left unspecified on the principle that some laws of nature are concerned with a consequence of interactions rather than the interactions per se.

Isn't this redundant. Law of Nature - Nature is Actual. How would a law of nature apply to something only imagined?

It's about as redundant as "facts of reality", but it serves to underscore the difference between a law of nature and a proposition supposedly about a law of nature.

OTOH, there are similarities between that issue and the problem of universals. It's a bit like asking if relationships are "out there". (I understand them as a subcategory of existents that do not exist apart from entities)

Are there Laws of nature that is are not an identification of a causal relation?

Was this thread isolated from another? The heading and the quest seem a little disjointed.

Just a grammar error. I finished finals yesterday.

#8 Vik

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 11:26 AM

Are there Laws of nature that are not an identification of a causal relation?

Is the Schrodinger equation a law of nature?

Or does it merely describes appearances? If the latter, then we have a sharp distinction between descriptive generalizations and explanatory ones.

Edited by Vik, 13 December 2010 - 11:31 AM.

#9 Grames

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 08:17 PM

There are no laws in nature. What exists in nature is just nature, laws are man-made. Those man-made laws of nature guide us on what is permissible to think will happen next, or happened in the past. Like other laws, the subjects of laws of nature are people.

Genus: laws, principles that set forth a normative guide for action, that specify what should be done.
Differentia: acts of thinking about nature, the physical world.

"Law of nature" is a misnomer, they are actually "laws of science".

#10 Vik

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Posted 14 December 2010 - 10:52 PM

There are no laws in nature. What exists in nature is just nature, laws are man-made. Those man-made laws of nature guide us on what is permissible to think will happen next, or happened in the past. Like other laws, the subjects of laws of nature are people.

Genus: laws, principles that set forth a normative guide for action, that specify what should be done.
Differentia: acts of thinking about nature, the physical world.

"Law of nature" is a misnomer, they are actually "laws of science".

I do not view them as guiding behavior, so "law" must be an inappropriate qualifier.

Hm... what would be a better way of putting it....

I'm trying to talk about an actual physical relationship that we've described by means of combining concepts in a certain way. As opposed to a proposition that does not fit the facts or does not apply the concepts correctly.

I'm trying to talk about a true scientific generalization based on empirical observations of physical behavior.

I'd say "scientific principle", but a lot of people associate "principle" with top-level abstractions.

Hm...

#11 JayR

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Posted 15 December 2010 - 04:50 PM

Conscious identification of an overarching principle among the causal relationships of entities.

#12 Vik

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 05:24 AM

Conscious identification of an overarching principle among the causal relationships of entities.

Would you consider identifications of invariance to be such principles? that something remains the same despite variation in something else?

An entity has compositional invariance when constituents remain the same despite structural transformations.

An entity has structural invariance when its structure remains the same despite a particular component being replaced by another particular component that is compatible with the previous component's niche.

A system has functional invariance when its function remains the same despite changes in the composition or structure of the system.

Those sorts of thing?

#13 JayR

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 09:39 AM

Would you consider identifications of invariance to be such principles?

I would. And by "overarching" I mean identifications on a macro level, thats the best term I can come up with on the fly, pehaps theres a better one. Like universal gravitation, or the chemical process of combustion. A "law of nature" should be more than "things fall downward" or "fire burns paper", theres a more fundamental way of looking at it. It should also be noted as Grames pointed out, that "laws of nature" dont exist per se, so a reference to a conscious identification of facts should be included as the differentia.

#14 Vik

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 10:57 AM

Like universal gravitation, or the chemical process of combustion. A "law of nature" should be more than "things fall downward" or "fire burns paper", theres a more fundamental way of looking at it. It should also be noted as Grames pointed out, that "laws of nature" dont exist per se, so a reference to a conscious identification of facts should be included as the differentia.

Hm...

"Things fall downward" can be used to explain why letting go of a pen--or any other object--will result in its fall to the ground.

Galileo's law of fall will explain fall times but it won't explain the fall.

Newton's theory WILL explain the fall.

The first is not considered a law but the second two are. Where is the boundary of the concept?

If it is explanation, why is the identification of an invariance a law?

#15 JayR

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 03:45 PM

You dont need a law to explain what is obvious to perception, that may be the boundary. The "law" is an induction of sorts. "Rocks fall" is self evident "every massive particle in the universe attracts every other massive particle....." is an induction. And the identification of an invariance is only formulated into a law if the invariance is induced beyond what can be perceptualy grasped.

The purpose for using empirical evidence to formulate a law is epistemological, almost like a form of unit economy. Once confirmed and automatized the new "law" can then be used as a metaphysicaly given fact to be plugged into new theories in an ever expanding conceptual framework. Thats why the word "principle" in my earlier definition works well, I think. Its funny how often Rands theory of concepts applies directly to a given line of thought.

#16 Vik

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Posted 16 December 2010 - 04:03 PM

You dont need a law to explain what is obvious to perception, that may be the boundary. The "law" is an induction of sorts. "Rocks fall" is self evident "every massive particle in the universe attracts every other massive particle....." is an induction. And the identification of an invariance is only formulated into a law if the invariance is induced beyond what can be perceptualy grasped.

The purpose for using empirical evidence to formulate a law is epistemological, almost like a form of unit economy. Once confirmed and automatized the new "law" can then be used as a metaphysicaly given fact to be plugged into new theories in an ever expanding conceptual framework. Thats why the word "principle" in my earlier definition works well, I think. Its funny how often Rands theory of concepts applies directly to a given line of thought.

Sounds like that would include anything passed first-level generalization, but you aren't pushing any particularly high level of abstraction. That's a slightly wider scope of "principle" than I've seen.

Thank you for the clarification.

#17 Leonid

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Posted 17 December 2010 - 11:57 AM

Laws of Nature describe cause-effect relations which define the mode of interaction between entities. Objectivism views Law of causality as Law of Identity applied to action. That means that Laws of Nature are not invented. They are intrinsic properties of entities which have to be discovered.

#18 Vik

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 05:17 AM

Laws of Nature describe cause-effect relations which define the mode of interaction between entities. Objectivism views Law of causality as Law of Identity applied to action. That means that Laws of Nature are not invented. They are intrinsic properties of entities which have to be discovered.

What do you mean by "intrinsic properties" in this context?

Are you referring to the fact that causation is entity-based?

#19 Grames

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 12:53 PM

Laws of Nature describe cause-effect relations which define the mode of interaction between entities. Objectivism views Law of causality as Law of Identity applied to action. That means that Laws of Nature are not invented. They are intrinsic properties of entities which have to be discovered.

This is a statement diametrically opposite of my statement that laws of nature are human artifacts. If my earlier statement seemed a bit curious it because I was looking ahead to this argument which hadn't been made yet.

Certainly some things are intrinsic. We have a set of concepts for entities and their intrinsic attributes, for example in physics such things as mass and charge and energy and magnetic moment. But the laws that relate them together cannot be assigned to the entities themselves nor should they be reified into separate existents, so the laws cannot be intrinsic.

The Objectivist three-fold way of analyzing the possibilities into the intrinsic, the objective, and the subjective is appropriate here. I put forward what I claim is an objective position, Leonid what can be fairly described as an intrinsic position. I doubt anyone will show up for the subjective side.

#20 Vik

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 01:45 PM

This is a statement diametrically opposite of my statement that laws of nature are human artifacts. If my earlier statement seemed a bit curious it because I was looking ahead to this argument which hadn't been made yet.

Certainly some things are intrinsic. We have a set of concepts for entities and their intrinsic attributes, for example in physics such things as mass and charge and energy and magnetic moment. But the laws that relate them together cannot be assigned to the entities themselves nor should they be reified into separate existents, so the laws cannot be intrinsic.

The Objectivist three-fold way of analyzing the possibilities into the intrinsic, the objective, and the subjective is appropriate here. I put forward what I claim is an objective position, Leonid what can be fairly described as an intrinsic position. I doubt anyone will show up for the subjective side.

Propositions do not exist any more than concepts do.

But planets travel in elliptical orbits around the sun. THAT is existent by virtue of the entities involved.

Does that distinguish the objective position from an intrinsicist's position?

#21 Grames

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 08:18 PM

Vik, propositions and concepts are both existents because they are both attributes of the mind that has them. The only unreality that can attach to either is when a concept does not validly refer to anything, or the proposition is false. Relationships are existents also, so a concept or proposition can validly refer to a relationship.

The sun exists, the planets exist, the distance and velocity relationships between them exist but there is no orbit. An orbit is an abstraction referring to the set of position and velocity relationships between two celestial bodies that exist over time. In general terms, an orbit as a type of concept is an abstraction about a relationship of relationships.

Note that it is not even true that the planets travel around the sun in ellipses, their paths are only approximately ellipses due to the precessions of the orbits.

#22 Vik

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 09:19 PM

Vik, propositions and concepts are both existents because they are both attributes of the mind that has them.

I mean they have no existence apart from consciousness.

Relationships are existents also,

Yes.

so a concept or proposition can validly refer to a relationship.

Yes.

The sun exists, the planets exist, the distance and velocity relationships between them exist but there is no orbit.

If distance and velocity relationships exist, so does the relationship among the planets and the sun constituting an orbit.

An orbit is an abstraction referring to the set of position and velocity relationships between two celestial bodies that exist over time. In general terms, an orbit as a type of concept is an abstraction about a relationship of relationships.

An orbit is the gravitationally curved path of an object around a reference point. If that path exists by virtue of the entities involved, then orbits exist as much as any other relationship.

Note that it is not even true that the planets travel around the sun in ellipses, their paths are only approximately ellipses due to the precessions of the orbits.

That's why I never said "ellipses".

#23 Leonid

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Posted 23 December 2010 - 10:26 PM

What do you mean by "intrinsic properties" in this context?

Are you referring to the fact that causation is entity-based?

Yes, if you want to put it like that. Entities interact in certain ways because they are what they are. The mode of action is defined by their identity. Laws of Nature aren't invented, but discovered. What people do invent are artificial concepts like orbit, horizon, meridian etc... They are tools which help to understand Laws of nature, but not laws in themselves.

Edited by Leonid, 23 December 2010 - 10:32 PM.

#24 Grames

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Posted 24 December 2010 - 01:30 PM

An orbit is the gravitationally curved path of an object around a reference point. If that path exists by virtue of the entities involved, then orbits exist as much as any other relationship.

Such a path is composed of the past positions of the object. The past does not exist, therefore the orbit is not an existent. An orbit is imagined and constructed mentally. There is only one correct way to construct an orbit, which is where the "law" part of a "law of nature" enters as a guide to thought.

#25 Vik

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Posted 24 December 2010 - 06:14 PM

Such a path is composed of the past positions of the object. The past does not exist, therefore the orbit is not an existent. An orbit is imagined and constructed mentally. There is only one correct way to construct an orbit, which is where the "law" part of a "law of nature" enters as a guide to thought.

Time does not exist apart from the entities and changes used to measure it.

But doesn't it exists AS a measurement of change?

We are measuring something, namely a type of change in relationship among entities.

If orbits are not existents, then they cannot be relationships. But they are no mere mental constructions. So I'll accept that orbits are abstractions insofar as time has no existence apart from relationships.

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