A loose analogy relates the work of Laplace and Hilbert. These thinkers had roughly similar objectives. At a time when so much of our analytic effort goes to distinguishing mathematics and logic from physical theory, such an analogy can still be instructive, even though differences will always divide endeavors such as those of Laplace and Hilbert.
The conceptual excitement of science often seems geared only to work in contemporary physics. Thus, philosophers regularly discuss current cosmology, relativity, or the foundations of microphysics. In these areas one's philosophy is stretched and strained far beyond what our ancestors might have anticipated. Historians of science have also focused attention on past events by remarking their analogies and similarities with perplexities in physics today. But there are statements, hypotheses and theories of the past which are rewarding in themselves, without having (...) to be referred to the agonies which now confound quantum theory and cosmology. Specifically, the First Law of Motion--the "Law of Inertia"--this has everything a logician of science could look for. Understanding the complexities and perplexities of this fundamental mechanical statement is in itself to gain insight into what theoretical physics in general really is. With this in view a study of the law is undertaken. (shrink)
1. The philosophical version of the primary-secondary distinction concerns (a) the 'real' properties of matter, (b) the epistemology of sensation, and (c) a contrast challenged by Berkely as illusory. The scientific version of the primary-secondary distinction concerns (a') the physical properties of matter, (b') a contrast essential within the history of atomism, and (c') a contrast challenged by 20th century microphysics as de facto untenable. 2. The primary-secondary distinction within physics can be interpreted in two ways: a. it can refer (...) to content; e.g. 'Matter has the properties of mass, shape, density... etc. -- it only appears to have the properties of warmth, fragrance, etc.' Or, b. it can refer to form; e.g. 'Whatever properties our best theories accord to primary matter, e.g., electrons, these are by definition primary. All other properties of, e.g., macromatter, are derivative.' Concerning 2.a., this interpretation is simply false when 17th, 18th, or 19th century values for the property-variables are introduced. Concerning 2.b., this either uninformative or misleading. It is uninformative when it constitutes no more than a decision to use the word 'primary' as an umbrella-word for all the properties contemporary micro-physics accords to fundamental material particles, whatever these may be. It is misleading when it turns on an implicit contrast between certain properties particles may be said to have when 'harnessed' to a detector, and certain other properties these particles have when free and unharnessed to any detector. This contrast does not exist. Quantum-theoretic information is always about particles-and-their-detectors-in-combination. Dissolve this combination and you destroy any possible knowledge of the particle. Hence the notion of 'completely objectifiable properties of particles' is in principle unsound. (shrink)
Within the past decade there has grown an acute and highly articulate group of critics of the orthodox interpretation of quantum theory,--the so-called "Copenhagen Interpretation." The writings of people like Bopp, Janossy, and particularly Bohm and Feyerabend, must be taken very seriously indeed. The future of some important discussions in the philosophy and the logic of science rests with these individuals. But they have, in their own writings, occasionally matched the inelegancies of Bohr and Heisenberg with as many inelegancies of (...) their own. The present paper is meant to present a quintet of considerations which may possibly lead to a reassessment of the issues between Bohr, Heisenberg, and their critics, especially Bohm and Feyerabend. (shrink)