Why Physics (or any other hard science) is bound for troubles

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The nature of physics and the other "hard" natural sciences is that they move us from things we know reasonably to things we barely understand or do not understand at all. The method of hard science, the hypothetico-deductive method is a way of moving from a finite set of known facts to areas barely known or areas to be discovered. It is like voyaging over an uncharted sea. When one gets out of sight of land, there are hazards out there not fully known or know at all.

Thus any science must "stick its neck out" to make progress. This creates the opportunity for error. The history of physics is rife with theories that turned out to be either flat our wrong or inadequate to gain understanding. For example, the caloric theory of heat, that is the assumption that heat is a fluid, had a surface plausibility that failed to explain how heat is generated by friction. The theory of phlogiston failed to account for the changes that occur to substances when they are burned. Phlogiston was a hypothetical substance that is lost when burning occurs. La Voissierre, the French chemist showed that if one weighs a burned substance and all its byproducts carefully there is a -gain- in weight. Something is added to the burned substance. Priestley later discovered this substance is the gas oxygen.

In biology it was believed at one time that living things had a Vital Essence that inanimate substances do not possess. When molecular biology was developed it was discovered that living things are made out of the same Stuff as non-living things. Living things are living by virtue of the arrangement and interactions of the component chemical substances. In short living things are material and do not possess an ineffable Essence. It was discovered that chemicals produced by animals, say urine, can be synthesized out of non-living substances. Thus the hard distinction between organic and non-organic chemicals was dissolved. So called organic substances can be synthesized from dead (non living) stuff.

All of these extensions of understand were accompanied by error or the discovery of facts not initially looked for which disrupted and even falsified current theory.

Newtonian Gravitation, an extremely successful theory that enabled new planets to be found, was found to be in error when telescopes with enough resolution were able to discern divergences between what was predicted and what in fact exists.

The destiny of science is to move forward by a combination of discovery and later falsification or at least modification due to new facts discovered. The natural sciences will never be completed. As long as new facts are found, there is always the chance of something not accounted for being seen. It is the destiny of physics and the "hard" natural sciences to get into trouble and for brilliant workers to rescue the science from its errors.

Just as sailors on voyages of discovery face death or being lost, so scientists who deal with things newly and freshly court error. Its the way it works.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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La Voissierre, the French chemist..

That was Lavoisier.


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