Wednesday, October 13, 2021

A pedagogical universe

Our science developed over milennia, progressing from false theory to less false theory. Why did we not give up long ago? I take it this is because the false theories, nonetheless, had rewards associated with them: although false, they allowed for prediction and technological control in ways that were useful (in a broad sense) to us.

Thus, the success of our science depends not just on a “uniformity of nature” on which the correct fundamental scientific theories are elegant and uniform. Most of our historical progress in physics has not involved correct scientific theories—and quite possibly, we do not have any correct fundamental theories in physics yet. The success of our science required low-hanging fruit for us to pick along the way, fruit that would guide us in the direction of truth.

We can imagine worlds where the ultimate physics requires an enormous degree of sophistication (much as we expect to be the case in our world) and there is little in the way of low-hanging fruit (except maybe for the lowest level of low-hanging fruit, involving the regularities needed to enable evolution of intelligence in the first place) in the form of approximately true theories that rewards us with prediction and control so that beings like us would just give up on science. Our world is better than that.

Indeed, our world seems to be pedagogically arranged for us, arranged to gradually teach us science (and other things), much as we teach our children, with intellectual and practical rewards. There is a design argument for the existence of God from this (closely related to this one).


Walter Van den Acker said...

Paley's watch. Or perhaps Douglas Adams's puddle.

swaggerswaggmann said...

Wrong. As science is selected to bring us valid results, and only the low fruits are readily accessible. All after following from the uniformity of the laws, going slowly outside the bounds then usually modifying the theory, is the orbit of mercury a low hanging fruit ? Not at all for Ptolemy and yes indeed for Einstein, you make an Equivocation fallacy in putting the two in the same category, your arbitrary low doesn't seems to exist .

When a god could have made us live in any non understandable universe, naturalism needed us a linear one, so that all evolutionary steps can come, from singularity to galaxies .

Strange that your skydaddy always seems to make choices that seems make him inexistant...

"Our world is better than that " nice assertion.

After the god of the gap, now no gap therefore god...sad.

Brandon said...

I seem to remember Stanley Jaki, I think, arguing something very roughly along these lines. The point can be filled out in quite considerable detail. We live on a planet with a fairly visible sky (which makes it easy to track astronomical regularities), with sharply defined seasons over much of the surface (which made it possible to infer essential facts about the relative position to the sun), with a moon that is large enough and close enough to allow for (1) full solar eclipses and (2) large tides (the latter two being among the most important evidences for our universe that are recognizable without special instrumentation). None of these things, as far as we know, are actually guaranteed for a habitable planet, and they are so central to the development of physics as we know it that we don't even know how it could have developed for a people who didn't have these things. And there are other things, not just astronomical, too; the development of science as we know it required the ability to harness and manipulate fire, which depends specifically on our primate hands and not being water creatures. If there were dolphin-like creatures as intelligent as or even more intelligent than we are, how would they develop any actual chemistry or engineer advanced scientific instruments? It's not clear that there's any causal pathway at all. Science depends on what you can test; what you can test depends on what you can sense and do; what you can sense and do depends on the make-up and overall structure of your environment.