Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Natural Philosophy

Of course natural philosophers - physicists - have the same philosophical bent. As a case in point, consider the efforts to come up with a Theory Of Everything, or a Grand Unified Theory. In those efforts physicists are trying to understand something that is far beyond human experience, with almost no connection to the real world, so that we have to build billion dollar machines if we want to hear even the slightest whisper from nature about these matters. Not practical at all.

But going back to the natural philosophers, you can imagine how it looked at the time when a person asked whether heavy things really fall faster than light things, or debated the commonplace knowledge that vacua can not exist in nature, or claimed that everything is made out of very small invisible indivisible pieces. This last was proposed by the Indians and Greeks but had no connection with real world evidence until two millenia later. These people clearly had an unworldly bent, the sort of attitude that is epitomized in so many pictures of Einstein.

But there was something a bit different about these natural philosophers, which made them far different from other philosophers, and still lies between the two like a canyon. The natural philosophers emphasized numbers, experimental verification of their ideas against nature's actual behavior, and complete control over experiments. I'll expand on all three.

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