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Lets say, I am an astronomer, Bob Down jr. When I was twelve years old I was a perfect naive realist. I did know nature as something bigger and more powerful than me. Not that I had no power. No doubt, only two decades later I would have been traveled to Alpha Centauri. Each morning I saw the sun shining, the central star of our planetary system. Earth was rotating to make morning and evening, and a tilted rotation axis made summer and winter.

I started my scientific career. But somehow it also came and I started reading philosophers. First was Spinoza, of course. Decades later I made it up to Heidegger and I started to accept that I would never even have asked, how the morning is made up, if I not always already would have been seeing the sun rising. All my science was already confined in the first place between birth and death (had some Levinas too). Nature was all and only what I could see.

Then I catched up to Meillassoux. Finally! For sure I know the sun is not rising, but the earth is rotating. It was rotating long before mankind already (but not always already). And yes, I know there is a time before and after earth, I am an astronomer. And yes, I have had enough physics courses to know about the facticity of chaos (turbulence, non-linear systems, even that quantum stuff). Nothing is made, also not morning and evening. The earth rotates, period. No purpose.

But wait: my job is to discover the laws of nature. And now the chaos is such that even these laws may change at any instant? This is a complete different chaos than what I know about! The chaos of natural sciences is still deterministic (and yes, I guess even quantum stuff is). And even if it turns out some constants of nature are not that constant at all, it would still be possible to find a non-changing law including that.

These days, when I see the sun rising, I am truly shocked. Of course I fell apart from Heidegger. And I know it's wrong. But is it? What if over night the laws of nature have changed? What if the sun is really rising? Am I then one who always already believed the earth is rotating, but it is not? How can I even still know that? What time includes both phases of nature? And if there is no such time, if all this only happens due to a singular rupture in absolute time itself: how can we ever know it has changed? Wouldn't memory rupture as well? How, then, can we even do natural science? And if not, how can we ever know for sure the earth was rotating before the time of man? What, if back then the sun was rising?

To be honest, I don't buy it. Probably, I don't even understand it. Please, help me, I'm just a poor astronomer afraid of every new morning. Or is all this believe in changing laws just the mirror of having natural science a language game, but now nature itself is gaming? Alas, this would be salvation! We could come up with a game theory!

Given all that, how can I become a true non-correlationist realist in the face of changing laws of nature?

Or in other words, I'd like to see a trained philosopher take over the position of specultaive realism, especially Meillassoux, and tell me how the claim of changing law of nature does not collapse the ancestral argument.

And now that I'm done with Brassier, I could add the same question for his "posteriority" argument as well. What if laws of nature change suddenly and there will never be a Big Crunch but instead a period of eternal life? In my understanding, both arguments are build upon certainty of a world before and after life. But doesn't the claim of changing law of nature undermine exactly that certainty?

Some References: Heidegger, Being and Time (Sein und Zeit); Meillassoux, After Finitude (Apres la finitude); Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound

  • I think I understand your example, but can you maybe try to phrase the question more generally? Are you asking about how science changes our perception? Our beliefs? Why is this important to you, and what kind of answer do you expect? What makes this a philosophical question, not an empirical one? – iphigenie Jan 23 '15 at 13:12
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    If he is a "current" astronomer (i.e. he is living in XXI century) he sees the sun rising and he knows that the earth is rotating around the sun. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jan 23 '15 at 13:29
  • Interesting to have that distinction between "sees" and "knows" elaborated. How can he see something he does not know? – XXXZZZ Jan 23 '15 at 13:35
  • @Ingo - NO; the interesting issue is : "How can he knows something he does not see?" ... but this is the "magic" of modern science. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jan 23 '15 at 14:01
  • That's a whole lot of questions, can you boil it down to one? You will find arguments in any discipline you choose related to this sort of thing: math, linguistics, astronomy, music theory, etc. It is therefore philosophical, but I think too broad. Are you specifically asking about the astronomer, or is this just a stand-in for 'Do you believe in the North Pole?' Note that even the concept of the sun rising has a detailed analysis. I think a narrower question is more likely to get a meaningful answer. – dwn Jan 23 '15 at 15:58
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As for your example, is there a reason that both cannot be a valid description of what he believe he sees? Can the two not be correlated?

In math, 2/3 and 4/6 are obviously very different symbols, as is sqrt(4/9), but they are all valid notations describing the same number. In interpersonal relationships, I may be obliged to call your friend Mr. Robert Downey Jr, but you may be allowed to call him Bobbie from time to time. But he is the same person, regardless.

From the astronomer's (finite) perspective, the sun rising and the earth rotating are indistinguishable without an external influence to force him to distinguish them (such as a desire to point a telescope in that direction to measure gravitational lensing around the sun). Thus there is no reason he could not experience the qualia of both at the same time. In fact, the grammar may change to better reflect what he might feel: "the sun-rising-earth-rotating." There is no reason a skilled astronomer must limit himself to the two choices you gave him.

In fact, a very wise astronomer would recognize that "the earth rotates" is also a finite view, centered on the earth.

As for the rest of your questions, the answer to that is philosophy. Sadly, I'm not kidding. Those are the questions philosophy grapples with, and there are thousands of answers to each of your questions. In my opinion, the joy of philosophy is being able to find the answers which satisfy you while simultaneously allowing others to experience the joy of finding answers which satisfy them, even if you disagree.

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As I am not that familiar with your reference, I will respond in almost a purely scientific context. Implication of my response will be that scientific practice most probably will still be there in place to cope with newer situations if and when we confront with them however they would be counter intuitive or unexpected.

Question-1 (Q-1): Could the laws of nature as we discovered (and formulated/stated in their current form) be changing over time? Could they turn out to be wrong or become weaker?

Question-2: Could a particular observation as we mark as a fact turn out be wrong (or a slight variation: Could a particular observed event's nature exhibit a different form than what we observed in the past)?

Q-1 is a purely scientific one. Take the speed of light which is postulated to be constant for all observers in the context of special relativity. Was it at its current (fixed) value (of about 300 000 km/s) right after the big bang? Is it "changing" as the universe expands? If so, how? Is there a regularity in the way it changes? If so, what would be the reason behind it? If so, in what way we should modify special relativity to accommodate this new observation? So, no worry if the laws of nature or particular constants would actually be changing... The science immediately starts asking how they are changing, or if there would be yet another law behind these changes, if any.

Q-2 can be handled in multiple ways. One approach would be noting that many observations' interpretation really depends on the (scientific) theories on that field that try to generalize/explain/predict those observations (which includes terming like "rotating", "boiling", "entangling", "evolving", etc.). As demonstrated in the history of science, accumulation of such events eventually give birth to newer theories or newer branches of science. If I am not mistaken, the birth of quantum theory really started in such a fashion: The development of a (primitive) model for atoms followed by impossibility of having electrons moving around the nucleus in the classical fashion as would be modeled by Maxwell's equations and a bunch of similar impossibilities... Here, what happened is in a way having electrons orbiting the nucleus is equivalent to earth orbiting sun. If one day it turns out that earth can't and really isn't orbiting the sun (just as electrons cannot simply orbit around the nucleus as initially be believed to be so), then one can simply hope that we will have a newer cosmology science or replacement/enhanced/better/more developed science in place of general relativity. Just as we had in the past: Birth of powerful quantum physics.

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One can take a scientific theory to be the best explanation of observable phenomena. Scientific laws are not located in time as facts are, so a natural law suddenly changing is a contradiction in terms. If one day the sun rises, then it's not the law that changed: we'd discover that what we thought was a law was not a law after all, but an approximation, and we'd have to find new generic principles that can account for all past and present phenomena.

In any case all this is Hume's problem of induction: a generalisation can never be deduced from a finite amount of particular facts (rather particular facts are deduced from generalisations: the generalisation purports to be an explanation for the facts we observe). All we can have is credence in scientific laws.

  • I don't know much of Meillassoux (I am more in the analytic tradition of philosophy than in the continental one) but the speed of light in vacuum is a fundamental theoretical constant on which our theories rest, not to be confused with a mere phenomenal description. If the effective speed of light changes, thay could provoke a paradigm shift. But we could also attempt to save our paradigm by assuming an external factor (after all the speed of light in water is not c). – Quentin Ruyant Jan 24 '15 at 14:55

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