Ralph D, particle physics, and BS

Hans Ehrbar ehrbar at keynes.econ.utah.edu
Sat Jun 17 09:13:27 MDT 1995



Rahul, I agree that deep down physicists think their mathematical
formulas mean something, and that their hunch is right.  The concept
which you seem to be missing is that reality is layered, and a
scientific explanation is the unearthing of deeper-lying things which
generate the empirical phenomena.  After the existence of these things
has been "predicted," these deeper-lying things themselves may become
the subject of empirics.  I am always bringing the example of quarks
in class when I talk about this and you may correct me if I am wrong
because it is only hearsay: quarks started as a mathematical device to
bring more order into the zoo of elementary particles, and after this
device was invented, physicists thought: perhaps it is more than a
mathematical device, maybe one can observe them, and they did.  I
understand that the theory of gases as a cloud of atoms swirling about
started in the same way: first it was simply a "model", a way to make
ideas from Newtonian mechanics help[ful for an understanding of
thermodynamics, without claim that gases really were clouds of mass
points, but at a later time physicists designed experiments to count
how many molecules are in a given volume of gas.  Since Hans Despain
is talking about Bhaskar in a different context here, I would
recommend: read at least the beginning pages of Bhaskar's Realist
Theory of Science.  It has what Kuhn is missing.

I have read Feynman's QED and I think it should be on the list.
Feynman stresses that at present we have formalisms to predict quantum
elelctro-dynamic phenomena, but these formalisms do not seem to imply
any plausible mechanisms how these phenomena are generated.

I am intrigued by your remark that one cannot base quantum mechanics
on observables alone.  Can you elaborate?  I expect this to support
the "depth-realist" theory of a stratified world versus a flat
empiricist view: there is no necessity that everything real can be
observed or can be reduced to observable phenomena.  Such a view should
be rejected anyway on the grounds that it is anthropocentric.


--
Hans G. Ehrbar                                    ehrbar at econ.utah.edu
Economics Department, 308 BuC                     (801) 581 7797
University of Utah                                (801) 581 7481
Salt Lake City    UT 84112-1107                   (801) 585 5649 (FAX)
For Info about our Graduate Program Contact  program at econ.sbs.utah.edu


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