[lit-ideas] Re: knowledge and belief briefly

  • From: "Richard Henninge" <RichardHenninge@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 26 Dec 2013 03:22:45 +0100

Let's get this straight: Newtonian physics (Np) is "[f]alse. False. 
False-false-false. False as false can be," according to Donal.

Then consider this: of recent memory, Chinese physicists managed to launch a 
rocket from the surface of the earth carrying as payload, among other things, a 
lunar rover-type vehicle, cameras and various other pieces of scientific 
equipment, and managed to land that payload in operating condition on the 
surface of the moon. Wittgenstein famously said in the first proposition of the 
Tractatus Logico-philosophicus that "[t]he world is everything that is the 
case." As a thought experiment, imagine everything that had to be the case from 
an hour before blast-off to an hour after the landing. Picture it to yourself 
as a sort of three-dimensional cartoon along the actual timeline of the days on 
which the actual events occurred. Imagine that every piece of equipment could 
be modeled to be as close to functionally identical to the equipment that was 
actually used. Or, what is practically-speaking the same thing, simply imagine 
the actual equipment that was actually used.

Now, the physics that was used to do all that or that would have to be used to 
repeat it, is, I suggest, consistent with or identical with what Donal labels 
as that "false-false-false" Newtonian physics. Np is not only "partially true, 
or true under certain conditions"; there are only extremely limited 
circumstances in which it doesn't "hold" (I would prefer to say) 
apparently--subatomically, i.e. below the order of magnitude of the atom and in 
relation to objects in motion at or approaching the speed of light. I doubt if 
any of the scientists on the project or involved in a future similar endeavor 
to the moon or Mars is even, nor need be, conversant with Eddington's results 
or relativity theory or quantum physics. Proof enough of this would be to see 
whether any correction reflecting twentieth-century physical "discoveries" is 
reflected in the computer programs used to carry out such a feat. 

Wittgenstein, the "Austrian engineer," worked on kites and a newly invented 
jet-propulsion engine. All he needed to explain that was Newtonian physics. 
There comes a point at which one realizes that, analogous to the world inside 
the atom, the "revolutionary impact on philosophy [of, say, Eddington's 
findings] via Popper's philosophy of science and theory of knowledge," is truly 
a "tempest in a (tiny, tiny) teacup" of practically irrelevant, wrong-headed 
philosophizing of the worst stripe, perhaps in particular in the philosophy of 
science and theory of knowledge, well worthy of Wittgenstein's Golden Poker 

Richard Henninge
University of Mainz


  So one experimental result that is incompatible with Newtonian physics (where 
that physics makes claims that hold throughout the whole physical universe), is 
enough to show Np is false – not merely “partially false” and not merely so we 
can claim Np is nevertheless “at least partially true, or true under certain 
conditions”. False. False. False-false-false. False as false can be.

  This is why Eddington’s experiments were so important. There was more at 
stake than merely showing that Newton’s physics was now only “partially true, 
or true under certain conditions”. What Eddington’s results appeared to show 
was that the Newtonian physics under test was false. That meant that physics 
was false even in the myriad cases where it was proven consistent with the 
experimental outcome. 

  Now that is something with potentially revolutionary impact on the direction 
of scientific theorising, testing and research. It also had a revolutionary 
impact on philosophy via Popper's philosophy of science and theory of knowledge.


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