Understanding Physics Today

Understanding Physics Today

Understanding Physics Today

Understanding Physics Today

Excerpt

This book is a remote descendant of On Understanding Physics written a quarter of a century ago. The new writing was stimulated in part by the reprinting of it, and in part by a period of active philosophical reflexion during the past three years. This activity was sustained by the desire to understand how it is that physics goes on with ever-increasing pace to reveal new structure in the world in which we live, matching the achievements in chemistry and biology and in applied science, yet the theoretical apparatus for managing microphysical phenomena seems to involve us in some philosophical confusion.

We have no difficulty concerning the existence of the cells in living matter or of the molecules composing them. We have scientifically effective descriptions of many processes that play an essential role in the real world. We commit ourselves confidently to new discoveries in genetics, physiology, biophysics, biochemistry, geophysics, and astronomy, as well as physics, so long as they are presented in terms of our classical intuition associated with the use of ordinary language. But when mathematics is used to design theoretical methods for managing microphysical phenomena we are deprived of the supports on which we have been accustomed to rely in our naïve approach to nature, and our treatment of atoms, nuclei and elementary particles seem to present them disembodied in space and time. Are we to regard this as a mystery? Or, are we to say that we still stand in ignorance of how we got into this situation, and how we might extricate ourselves by a better understanding of our metaphysical naïveté in the face of representing the world and how we use our representations?

The main bias of my thinking is against misplaced erudition that conceals what should be laid bare and made clear. Unfortunately what is clear for one man may not be so for another, for this . . .

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