What I picked up on and objected to in your first post was the implication (which seems clearly present to me) that it is because we can only test via interaction that we are precluded from understanding the ontology of fundamental objects (I’m interpreting this to mean their origin and identity). You seem to be saying that Behavior and Identity are two distinct things, and that because we are limited to testing the former we will never grasp the latter. Am I misreading?
In contrast, I believe that it is often possible to infer Identity from knowledge of Behavior. Once a physical theory is a good enough model, guesses about the nature of entities are often testable predictions in their own right. Consider the original study of atomic structure in the early 20th century: from a predictive model about electric charge and chemical composition, several guesses about atomic composition emerged, notably Thomson’s “plum pudding” model. This was a testable prediction, and when Rutherford’s lab tested it, it was ruled out.
Having a better understanding of pieces of the current model is one thing - what physicists want from the successor to the Standard Model is a theory that has entirely new pieces, ones that explain more phenomena.
I’m sure people do misunderstand the features and limitations of physical theories (goodness knows I see that happen often enough in the movies), but I don’t think the viewpoint you’re espousing here is in accordance with the empirical philosophy under which scientific research is (or at least ought to be) done. A phenomenon or object exists if it can be demonstrated in a controlled, repeatable experiment. That’s the best criterion I can think of for whether or not we understand the true nature of a system. Going beyond that, insisting that the true nature of anything can never be known … well, it strikes me as defeatist and potentially solipsistic. Why bother studying any system if we’ll never get the true nature?
Nope. That is a quite clear summary of what I was saying.
This sounds to me like the process of improving a model, not describing something’s ontology. But I see what you’re saying. Because “an atom has all positive charges densely packed in its center” is technically an ontological statement. I just take the view that everything we observe is in some sense only a model. You might be able to say we know the atom has a nucleus with the same surety that we know donuts have holes. But at some level, it’s still inappropriate to say “that’s what an atom/donut is” when we only just observed it.
I thought it was a widely agreed fact that the “true nature” can never be known. But that’s not the goal of science. I think that keeping a distinction between scientific models and an idea of “that’s really how things are” is quite healthy since it encourages scientists to find places where the two don’t line up. So yeah, we never get to know the true nature, just ever-improving descriptions of its behavior.
Ironically, I really like Max Tegmark’s idea of mathematical universes, where the true nature of the universe IS the math that describes it.
Also, my name change request just now went through. Hopefully no one is too confused.
Why is this inappropriate? What other level of is-ness is there besides observability?
Here I start to see your point. There is a usefulness to the distinction, as you describe. But even here I would say that the ever-improving descriptions begin at some point to include pieces of a system’s true nature.
Useful in what way? Useful in generating further predictions? That way lies ontological predictions and potential understanding of the true nature of things. Useful for building devices of some application? Okay. But I’m still gonna do the first one too, and so are all the other physicists.
Whether or not Identity and Behavior are on the same ontological level, whether or not it is possible to infer one from the other, whatever their relationship might be, I contend that anything not observable doesn’t exist. Or, to rephrase as a positive claim: Anything that exists creates observable effects. If whatever you are thinking of as Identity is not observable in any fashion, then there is no Identity. I take this as an axiom of my personal empirical philosophy, and in my experience so do most other physicists. Here is an excellent short essay expounding the viewpoint by, aptly, Carl Sagan: The Dragon In My Garage.
Once this principle is accepted, then there is nothing about a system that cannot be known once sufficient observations have been made.
Yes, here you have me cornered. Our models are certainly getting quantitatively better over time, but with each increasingly small quantitative improvement there seems to have been considerable conceptual overhaul. Hard to say, then, what the real concepts are, at least for now.
This sounds like my “useful for building devices of some application” made broader. Which is fine. But it doesn’t prohibit making predictions that ultimately explain deeper and deeper aspects of the Universe.
I refer you back to post #21, where I give an example that illustrates how increasingly accurate predictions can begin to illustrate structure and origin.
But a better explanation of behavior still doesn’t tell you what the true nature of the universe is.
I assume you mean this:
Knowing what the universe IS NOT does not tell you what it IS. You’re assuming that there are a finite number of possibilities for what things are, and by eliminating the wrong ones, we can eventually winnow our options down to just one. But there are an infinite number of ways the universe could be constituted. Empirical observation can rule out many options, but it can never force convergence on one. The best we can do is to create models that put really tight bounds on which ontologies are viable.
I would suggest that His Holiness was not referring to the possibility of existence of non-observables entities, but rather just to the legitimacy of any positive claim that they do exist. And I’ll agree with you 100% there. I even regularly make negative claims about existence when I actually just mean “I don’t know because there is zero evidence from that claim.”
If you want to have the axiom that things that have no observable properties also have no existence, that’s fine. But it strikes me as somewhat silly because one way or the other, it has no impact on how you approach life, including how you do physics. Basically, it seems to me that you are limiting your view of the universe for no benefit.
I’ll give you credit for insisting the ontological “identity” level is practically worthless, given that it’s by definition outside of our reach. I guess the main point I want to emphasize is that having excellent models of physical phenomena does not mean you actually know what they are. Going back to the OP, someone might have answered the question about neutralizing charge negatively, saying something like “of course not, the charge is an inherent property of the proton/quarks” (again, IANAP; going out on a limb here). But they don’t actually know that; it’s just what the model says. Yeah yeah, I know that statement is true for everything, but it seems to me to be useful concept just to have in the back of the mind.
In a sense, it’s surprising that anything other than gravity can accelerate a mass. Electric charge, whatever it is, provides an alternate way for masses to exchange energy and momentum (pretty much the defintion of a force). I think a proper unified theory would have to explain what electric charge ultimately is, at least as far as giving it some relationship to gravity, given gravity’s pivotal role in General Relativity.
(Bolding mine) It has no impact - that is exactly my point. If something unobservable has no impact on anything, it doesn’t matter whether I believe in it or not, because it will never pop up in any circumstances ever. Occam’s razor then handily removes it from our theories. For all intents and purposes that real creatures like you and I could ever have, it does not exist.
That the charge is an inherent property of the particles is exactly what the model says. Physicists don’t believe it and they don’t like it. We want a model that explains it. (Side note: We have the tiniest piece of the explanation already: the electromagnetic interaction was created when the electroweak interaction fractured into two pieces as the observable universe cooled. We can even make a decent guess that before that, the electroweak interaction was created when the G(rand) U(nified) T(heory) interaction fractured. And a lot of us would like to be able to say that the GUT interaction was created when the single fundamental interaction fractured into GUT and gravity.)
I think, to be blunt, that you’re wrong. Let me give you another example, from further down the rabbit hole of atomic structure: the proton. For decades physicists thought the proton was a truly fundamental particle, i.e. possessing no internal structure. But then, due to entirely separate developments in particle physics, Murray Gell-Mann and others postulated the quark model, which among other things required the proton to be composed of three quarks. This was a new prediction about the structure of the proton. Eventually experiments confirmed that the proton indeed is composed of three smaller pieces. This is exactly the opposite of what you claim: it is an example where an ontological prediction (the proton is not fundamental but is a composite entity) picked one possibility out of the infinity and was proven right.
Also tangentially relevant is Asimov’s essay, The Relativity of Wrong. *Asimov wrote the essay in response to an “English major” who criticized him for believing in scientific progress. This unnamed individual took the postmodern viewpoint that all scientific explanations of the world are equally in error. * (wiki)
I knew I came up with an impossible question in my OP. I’m really trying to make a comprehensible world for myself - so my questions are a never ending story I suppose. The next one is easier: how many times an electron (of Hydrogen) rotates it’s nucleus per second? Plus: does the speed come from the electric charges or vice versa? Could elementary particles be reseptors of another (unknown) force and so becoming “charged”?