What Are Laws of Nature?

Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in Night;
God said, let NEWTON be! and all was Light.

- Alexander Pope, Intended for Sir Isaac Newton

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Laws of Nature. Since ancient times philosophers and physicists have tried to discover simple underlying principles that control the Universe: In the 6th Century BC Thales declared “Everything is water”, centuries later Aristotle claimed that all of creation was forged from four elements, Newton more successfully laid down the Law of Universal Gravitation and as we speak, contemporary scientists are struggling to complete the task of ‘String Theory’ - the quest to find a single over-arching equation that unites all of physics, and can perhaps explain the organisation of everything in existence.But are the Laws of Physics really ‘facts of life’? Is what is true in physics, true in all areas of existence? Is it even true in other areas of physics?

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Laws of Nature

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

We humans are an unruly bunch. So much so that we need laws to keep order, to make sure we stay on track. Without our laws, society would quickly descend into chaos. The laws of man are guarantors of order, a necessary control against the inherent greediness of our species.

Nature, on the other hand, shows ordered patterns at all scales: trees branch, and so do rivers, bodies, and arteries; tides and planetary orbits are periodic, day follows night, the seasons alternate, the moon has phases. The display of order in Nature allowed for a methodic counting and organizing as a means to gain some level of control over what was otherwise distant and unapproachable, the marching patterns of a world moving in ways beyond human reach....

Continue reading Marcelo Glieser's article: Laws Of Man And Laws Of Nature

Further Reading

Science includes many principles at least once thought to be laws of nature: Newton’s law of gravitation, his three laws of motion, the ideal gas laws, Mendel’s laws, the laws of supply and demand, and so on. Other regularities important to science were not thought to have this status. These include regularities that, unlike laws, were (or still are) thought by scientists to stand in need of explanation. These include the regularity of the ocean tides, the perihelion of Mercury’s orbit, the photoelectric effect, that the universe is expanding, and so on. Scientists also use laws but not other regularities to sort out what is possible: It is based on their consistency with Einstein’s laws of gravity that cosmologists recognize the possibility that our universe is closed and the possibility that it is open (Maudlin 2007, 7–8). In statistical mechanics, the laws of an underlying physical theory are used to determine the dynamically possible trajectories through the state space of the system (Roberts 2008, 12–16).

Philosophers of science and metaphysicians address various issues about laws, but the basic question is: What is it to be a law?...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Laws of Nature by John W. Carroll

Related Topics

Mathematics | Metaphysics | Science | Scientific Method | Quantum Mechanics


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