[lit-ideas] Re: knowledge and belief briefly

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 26 Dec 2013 09:39:30 +0000 (GMT)

>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 

We can go further than a case where the physics "used" is "consistent with" 
Newtonian physics - further, that is, than a case like Einsteinian physics 
which is "consistent with" Newtonian physics to a large degree: i.e. to a large 
degree Einsteinian physics ['Ep'] and Newtonian physics ['Np'] do not give 
different predicted physical outcomes. 

We can use Newtonian physics itself, not merely physics "consistent with" it up 
to a point (as is Einstein's), to do all kinds of things. And while 
Wittgenstein might be quoted or misquoted here to say it is nonsense to say so, 
clearly Newtonian physics is "identical with" Newtonian physics. So we can use 
what is "identical with" Np (i.e. Np itself) in all kinds of applied physics.

Not only can we but we have. As a matter of historical fact, Newtonian physics 
was a foremost instrument in producing the Industrial Revolution. We could give 
myriad other examples of the application of Np, many more impressive than 
Richard's posted example.

But we should not for one second (whether that second is understood in terms of 
time in Newtonian physics or in Einsteinian physics) confuse the usefulness of 
a theory as an instrument with its truth or its degree of truth.

We can go further with this last point: imagine we produce a differential 
prediction between Ep and Np and experiment produces an outcome consistent with 
Ep and inconsistent with Np. We now have grounds to say Np is false - it has 
been falsified by experiment. This could be so even though there is no 
practical application of Ep that we can "use" where Np cannot be used instead; 
and indeed it could be the case that in practice we always use Np and not Ep in 
our applied physics because Np is more straightforward to use. Yet none of this 
massive instrumental prowess of Np, nor its greater practical advantages from 
an instrumental point of view when compared with Ep, reverses the crucial 
experiment - none of this greater instrumentality means Np is true or more 
truth-like than Ep. Np may be false yet more useful in practical terms than Ep.

Only a very confused and/or scientifically illiterate person would suggest that 
crucial experiments, decisive between two competing theories, are, in effect, 
overthrown or reversed by practical considerations as to how useful a theory is 
in applied physics. Yet that seems to be the long and short of Richard's post. 

Perhaps Richard's post should wear its own cap: "truly a "tempest in a (tiny, 
tiny) teacup" of practically 
irrelevant, wrong-headed philosophizing of the worst stripe"?


On Thursday, 26 December 2013, 2:22, Richard Henninge 
<RichardHenninge@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
Let's get this straight: Newtonian physics (Np) is 
"[f]alse. False. False-false-false. False as false can be," according to 
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 
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 
speed of light. I doubt if any of the scientists on the project or involved in 
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, 
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 Award.
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 

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