The Comprehensible Cosmos
Where Do The Laws of Physics Come From?Prometheus Books 2006
The laws of physics were not handed down from above. Nor are they
somehow built into the logical structure of the universe. They are
human inventions, though not arbitrary ones. They are not restrictions
on the behavior of matter. They are restrictions on the way physicists
may describe that behavior. In order to describe an objective reality,
those descriptions cannot depend on the point of view of observers.
They must be "point-of-view-invariant." When point-of-view invariance
is implemented, the laws of physics follow with few additional
assumptions. We live in a comprehensible cosmos.
In a series of remarkable developments in the twentieth century,
elementary particle physicists, astronomers, and cosmologists have
removed much of the mystery that surrounds our understanding of the
physical universe. They have found that the cosmos is, on the whole,
comprehensible. Of course, no one can claim to understand or explain
every facet of the structure of reality. However, we now have
theories--mathematical models--that describe the general character of
that reality. At this writing, these theories are consistent with all
observational data, including measurements of incredible precision.
While they will undoubtedly be superseded by better theories as science
continues to advance, the great success of current schemes makes it
likely that they are on the right track. The broad picture that is
drawn by modern particle physics and cosmology is very probably the way
nature is, and what we have yet to learn may be expected to fit
comfortably on its foundation--just as these sciences fit comfortably
on the foundation of Newtonian physics.
We now have a deep and revolutionary understanding of the true nature
of the mathematical quantities and theories of physics. We have
realized that they are basically human inventions, including the
notions of time and space. The quantities of physics are defined by how
we measure them. The laws of physics are not, as usually assumed,
restrictions on the behavior of matter--handed down from above or
somehow built into the logical structure of the Universe. Rather, they
are restrictions on the way that physicists may formulate their
Of course, the theories of physics must agree with observations. But,
beyond that, they are formulated in such a way as to assure that they
do not depend on any particular point of view. Otherwise they cannot be
expected to faithfully describe an objective reality. Stenger calls
this principle point-of-view
invariance, although it is known
technically as gauge invariance.
When this requirement is met, the most
basic principles of physics, as we know them, appear naturally.
Not everything in the Universe is thereby "explained." However, the
structural details of the Universe, including basic facts such as
particle masses and force strengths, can be understood as following
from an accidental process known as spontaneous symmetry breaking. The
origin of this structure may be likened to the origin of biological
structure, the combined result of tautological necessity, random
chance, and even some natural selection.
In the main text of this book, the arguments are laid out without
mathematical details so that general readers can grasp the gigantic
conceptual changes that have taken place over the last century.
Mathematical supplements at the undergraduate level of sophistication
are appended showing precisely how the basic principles of
physics--from Newtonian mechanics through relativity, quantum
mechanics, and the standard models of physics and cosmology--follow
from gauge invariance. A scenario for the natural creation of the
universe based on these well-established models is presented, along
with an explanation of why there is something rather than nothing.
Paper based on book.
Table of Laws
A list of the laws of physics and their sources.
Chaotic Inflation. Excerpts from Mathematical Supplement G on cosmology.
How the superposition principle, which is responsible for quantum interference, follows from point-of-view invariance.
Quantum Mechanics Is Just a Theory of Transformations.
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