Are there laws of nature?

by Neil Rickert

This post is partly a reaction to a recent post that I saw at Erraticus.

That blog post is mostly a discussion (or disagreement) between two people, David and Margaret, about whether there are laws of nature. David thinks that there are, while Margaret is a skeptic.

As best I can tell, both David and Margaret are fictional. The author, Eleni Angelou, is using them to bring out some of the controversy involved with that topic.

I’ll start with my answer. No, there aren’t laws of nature. There are laws of physics, but those are not laws of nature. The distinction here is that I see laws of physics as human constructs, while I understand “laws of nature” to refer to things that are said to be independent of humans.

That puts me on the side of the skeptic. If anything, I am even more skeptical than Margaret.

I’ll extract a small part of the discussion:

David: My point is that there are regularities everywhere you look. And that tells us something about how the world really is.

Margaret: First of all, why is seeing regularities everywhere telling us something about how the world is and not about how we are?

This excerpt gets to the heart of the disagreement. How much comes from the way the world is and how much comes from how we are? In previous posts here, I have suggested that there isn’t a way that the world is. The most we can talk about is the way that we see the world.

David is right, that there are regularities everywhere we look. The etymology of the word “regularity” seems to suggest that a regularity is something that follows a rule. All of the rules that we know about seem to be human constructs. The basic principle, as I see it, is this:

  • he who makes the rules creates the regularities.

In accordance with this principle, any regularity that we see comes from us. How we create regularities can be quite subtle. And, because of that subtlety, people miss that they are our creation. But they are our doing nonetheless.

It is often assumed that we get to laws of nature using induction. My next post will be about induction, and I will attempt to get at the subtleties in that post.

4 Comments to “Are there laws of nature?”

  1. Regularities are in the eye of the beholder.

    Neil, are you familiar with Husserl’s transcendental idealism? And how it compares with Kant’s transcendental idealism?

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  2. ” But some people want to assume that they observer-independent.”

    Seems to me that perhaps there can not be anything which an observer observes which is observer independent. The observer can observe nothing without coloring the observed with his faculties of observation. Perhaps I can clarify what I mean later. But I do think that this point is the centeral point in transcendental idealism. Please give me your thoughts on this subject.

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