On knowledge – Part II - Sri Lanka Guardian

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

On knowledge – Part II



Discovery and creation

"Are we closer to objective reality with particles or waves? Or both? Is it a zigzag motion particle – wave –particle to the objective reality? Even with light we are in the dark with respect to the objective reality!"

by Prof. Nalin de Silva

(December 31, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) When Newton formulated the law of gravitation named after him, he neither discovered a theory as such, that described the at least part of the objective world nor discovered a part of the so called objective world. If that was the each planet, of course, taking into consideration not only the gravitational attraction due to the sun but the gravitational forces due to the other planets as well, would have moved along a certain orbit determined by Newton’s laws of motion and his theory of gravitation. Unfortunately for Newton and many others the planets do not obey Newton, as illustrated by the famous example of advance of the perihelion of the orbit of Mercury.

On the other hand when Einstein said the motion of the planets is governed by the space time he was telling something else altogether. Though as an approximation, Einstein’s theory may give the same results as Newton’s theory conceptually the two theories are poles apart. Approximations are Mathematical only and have no Physical significance. For example (1-v2/c2)1/2 may be approximated Mathematically as 1, 1-(v/c)2/2, etc., to any order one may please, if v/c is small compared with 1 ( v – the velocity of an object small compared with c –the velocity of light), but the approximations have no respect for the conceptual framework. They are only means of calculating approximate values for the variables without considering the conceptual framework. Einstein’s theory has done away with the so called inertial frames of reference. In Newtonian theory the planets move under a force known to the world as the gravitational force but in Einstein’s theory there are no forces as such acting on the planets. In his theory the planets move along certain orbits simply because that is all that they can do! In a sense it is their natural motion under no forces.

According to Einstein there is nothing called a gravitational force and one cannot consider Newton’s theory as an approximation of Einstein’s theory. Thus if Newton had discovered reality or a theory representing reality then Einstein could not have come out with an entirely different theory to represent the same reality. One could at the very best be benevolent and say that there is not just one reality but at least two realities. However, it is very unlikely that the objective realists, including those belong to the realist school in literature, would agree with multirealism. After all it is not as good as multiculturalism or multilinguism, and would project the objective realists into orbits with or without gravitational a force.

As Einstein is not the last word on motion of planets and projectiles there would be many more theories in the future on different conceptual footings to describe such motion. Then there would be other realities and one would have a difficult time selecting the "best" reality, if one were interested in such exercise. Now there are others who would claim that neither Newton nor Einstein came out with an objective realist theory but were heading towards such a theory. Thus according to them there is an objective reality and each generation is heading towards it and getting closer and closer to it.

However, this claim is based on the belief that there is an objective reality and also on the belief that one could reach it, may be step by step. This is nothing but begging the question and the objective reality now amounts to a belief not different from God. However, there is another problem associated with this kind of limiting objective reality. How do we know that we are heading towards it? In order to know that we are heading towards the so called (limiting) objective reality one should know in advance what this reality is. If that is the case then there is no real challenge to head towards the objective reality as we already know it.

If we do not know the objective reality or at least some clue on it, then there is no way of finding out whether we are heading towards it or going away from it. How are we to know that Einstein’s theory is closer to objective reality than Newton’s theory if we do not know what that objective reality is. Einstein would have gone away from the objective reality and are we sure that the journey to the so called objective reality is not along a zigzag path even if an objective reality exists.

If we consider a different example but still involving these two greats Newton and Einstein (The westerners believe that the three greatest scientists are Archimedes, Newton and Einstein in that order – what a pity that none of our great Sri Lankan scientists is nowhere in the list of the greats after more than hundred and fifty years of teaching science in English. Incidentally only Newton among the three greats was English and he also officially wrote in Latin, though he would have had his thoughts in English) some light would be shed on "objective reality". In fact the example is on light itself.

Newton believed that light travelled as particles. He or his followers called the theory corpuscular theory of light and it was accepted in Europe for some time. Then came the so called wave theory, according to which light travelled in the form of waves. The wave theorists did away with the light particles and were happy with the waves. Then Einstein came to the scene in 1905 to say that light travelled in packets and these energy bundles were called photons. So the particle nature of light was "re established" by Einstein more than one hundred years ago. Somebody could say that according to modern Physics light exhibit both wave and particle properties but that unfortunately would not help the objective realists as the so called observer is now needed to find out when the light exhibits wave properties or particle properties. It is not left to God alone to decide on these intricacies and a mundane observer is now elevated to the status of a decision maker!

Are we closer to objective reality with particles or waves? Or both? Is it a zigzag motion particle – wave –particle to the objective reality? Even with light we are in the dark with respect to the objective reality! If we go back to gravitation we would realise that what both Newton and Einstein were trying to do was to answer a question. The question was why the apples and other nuts did fall to the ground. Newton came out with the gravitation answer with which most of us are familiar, whereas Einstein said that the space - time curvature was the culprit.

Now did Newton discover or found gravitation in the Eureka tradition of Archimedes? In fact did Archimedes discover anything for him to run naked shouting Eureka in the streets? If Newton did that in Cambridge or London he would have been prosecuted for not discovering his clothes. Good that Archimedes lived in Greece and not in England. In any event Archimedes, Newton and Einstein and many others, though not our eminent scientists, are credited with discoveries. All these greats have tried to answer questions, and in the process created answers or theories. Yes, it was Newton and not God who created gravitation and Einstein and again not God who created space-time curvature. Archimedes, Newton and Einstein did not have anything created by God for them to discover and shout Eureka naked or otherwise.
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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