Vin Klitzing

Chapter 7 from A Different Universe by Robert Laughlin.

The fractional quantum Hall effect reveals that ostensibly indivisible quanta – in this case the electron charge e – can be broken into pieces though self-organization of phases. The fundamental things, in other words, are not necessarily fundamental.

The important issue implicit in the von Klizting discovery is not the existence of physical law but rather what physical law is, where it comes from, and what its implication are. From the reductionist standpoint, physical law is the motivating impulse of the universe. It does not come from anywhere and implies everything. From the emergentist perspective, physical law is a rule of collective behavior, it is consequence of more primitive rules of behavior underneath (although it need not have been), and it gives one predictive power over a limited range of circumstances. Outside this range, it becomes irrelevant, supplanted by other rules that either its children or its parents in a hierarchy of descent. Neither of these viewpoints can gain ascendancy over the other by means of facts, for both are fact based and both are true in the traditional scientific sense of the term. The issue is more subtle – a matter of institutional judgment. To paraphrase George Orwell, all facts are equal, but some are more equal than others.


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