Mount Newton

Chapter 3 from A Different Universe by Robert Laughlin.

“Despite the success of Newton’s laws and the engineering advances they made possible, many people still find the clockwork universe difficult to accept. It flies in the face of our commonsense understanding of the complexity of nature and our belief that the future is not completely predestined but depends on how we choose to behave.”

“The existence of physical law is, in fact, astonishing and should be just as troubling to a thinking person today as it was in the seventeenth century when the scientific case for it was first made. We believe in universal physical law not because it ought to be true but because highly accurate experiments have given us no choice.”

“A universal constant is a measurement that comes out the same every time. A physical law is a relationship between measurements that comes out the same every time.”

“Over the years, as the list of successes of Newton’s law lengthened, there arose a speculative use of them very different from the original highly conservative one. The new strategy was to assume that Newton’s laws were true in circumstances where one could not verify this directly, compute various physical properties based on this assumption, and then argue from agreement with experiment that the initial assumptions were correct.

“Thus we say that the kinetic theory “explains” the ideal gas law – meaning that it accounts for the origin of the law. But this reasoning has the obvious flaw that the behavior against which tests the assumptions might be a universal collective phenomenon.”

“Atoms are not billiard balls at all but waves, as are their constituents, which bind together to form atoms the way waves of water bind to make a surge.”

“Thus Newton’s legendary laws have turned out to be emergent. The are not fundamental at all but a consequence of the aggregation of quatum matter into macroscopic fluids and solids – a collective organizational phenomenon.”