Here’s a thought experiment and a challenge for philosophers and scientists alike:

Imagine there are two universes, A and B, exactly alike in all ways except one.

In universe A there is a physical law that dictates and governs the behavior of coin flips. Every coin that is flipped in universe A is caused by this law to produce the exact following predictable pattern, 50 heads, 1 tail, 50 heads, 1 tail, and so on…

In universe B there is no such physical law governing the behavior of coin flips. However, by coincidence, meaning, without any cause, there is the exact same predictable pattern in every coin that is flipped, 50 heads, 1 tail, 50 heads, 1 tail, and so on…

The challenge then is to design an experiment that can detect within which one of these two universes the experiment was actually carried out. Remember that both universes behave exactly the same way and indeed are exactly the same in every way but one. In universe A there is a governing law that causes the predictable pattern but in universe B there is no law. It’s merely a very large coincidence that coin flips have that exact same predictable pattern every time.

If you’ve been honest with your mental construction you will realize that there is no possible experiment that can be performed to tell the difference between these two universes. That’s because the claim that there are “laws” that govern the universe, is an unempirical claim. But wait, there’s more.

As you can already see, the idea of physical laws that govern the universe is already on shaky empirical ground. The question now should be, “does the idea of physical laws that govern the universe add any explanatory power?” No, nothing is gained at all. When asked why there is a constant relationship between massive objects, it is no more informative to be told that there is a law that governs it than to be told, “that's just the way it is”.

Some might claim this view of nature threatens to “pull the rug out from under us” at any moment. Things that have been predictable so far, because they aren’t being controlled, may suddenly veer off course into randomness at any moment. The proper response to this is, so what? This is a problem for all of science. The problem of induction specifically points out that we have no reason to believe that a “sequence of events in the future will occur as it always has in the past”. Likewise, there’s no reason to believe these laws that govern things won’t simply change at any time, just as randomly, as purely descriptive laws would. Either some things will continue to be predictable in the future or they won’t and there’s no way to know in advance. Neither view of laws, prescriptive or descriptive, gives any reason to believe differently.

So then what exactly is the point of thinking that these laws govern and control things? There is no point. The idea of physical laws that govern the universe is a throwback to religion and should be rejected outright based on a lack of empirical evidence. I don’t know what else to call the apparent belief that invisible forces are somehow controlling my every thought and action other than metaphysical “woo”.

“The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike.” -Delos B. McKown

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Comment by Retrovertigo on January 27, 2009 at 1:05am
That's an interesting rational jawbreaker. I don't think our understanding of the *cringe* laws of the universe are quite the same as taking faith in a god, though. My personal philosophy is to treat the world with as little faith as possible, yet some faith is required for our existence - I just try to limit it as much as I can. It doesn't mean that I think there are centaurs living on the dark side of the moon because I heard it mentioned on a podcast, though.

I will be working at a nuclear power plant fairly soon. Though the plant will be offline, there is a beyond-astronomically small chance that the core will spontaneously go prompt critical - that the fuel pellets inside the core will simply all react with themselves blow the whole place to hell in spite of the control rods being fully inserted. I am willing to risk my life on the extreme improbability of this happening, though. Likewise, I am willing to risk my understanding of the universe on empirical evidence and the probability of laws governing the results of it. There is necessarily some faith involved, but not much.
Comment by Clarence Dember on January 12, 2009 at 1:36am
Reasoned assurance is not faith at all. One apple plus one orange equals one apple and one orange.

When you use the vague steam roller of whiming this to be that as in dropping the context of identity as in "Faith = Reasoned Assurance" your terms become a mishmosh and mean nothing.
Comment by Clarence Dember on January 12, 2009 at 1:25am
A thing has an identity. Horses for instance like apples. Call it a phenomena.
Herbivores can not eat meat or deadly protein folding called prions takes place which (dispite the MBAs on the farm's whim that the protein of downer cows would be conserved by grinding them up and feeding the pellets to the wrest of the herd) has killed people who eat them with spongeform encephilitis (Croitzfeld Jacob disease.)
The fact that farmers have fed herbivores vegetation for centuries might change sure but they're not going to live long as carnivores and neither will the farmer who eats canabalized species, or his own species. The identity of a thing can not be changed by my whim or yours. A hippo in a tutu is not a ballerina. A person who doesn't factor in the nature of a thing into his or her probabilities is missing an important predictor of behavior which could elevate probability to reasoned assurance which is more than faith.
Comment by Clarence Dember on January 12, 2009 at 1:00am
I reason that at the end of my shift I wwill go home an muck out the cat litter box or the horse stall. The animal only has the benefit of my pattern that these things will happen. The respective processes are not the same. One, operative in the animals is Pavlovian cerca Pavlov's dogs. I however am the originator of the pattern. I have REASONED ASSURANCE that it will continue.
While this is uncertain till it is carried out EACH TIME, it is not by faith but agency that I carry out my plan.
Hypothetical scenarios mean nothing to what exhists.
Comment by Clarence Dember on January 12, 2009 at 12:48am
The problem here is the given has not changed with respect to the solar system, the tides etc
Comment by michael williams on January 11, 2009 at 11:55pm
Clarence, he is right, there is no difference, he is just toying with the definition of 'law'. Call it what you want, or assume it away. If 50-to-1 happens for eons, it will be described as a descriptive law of nature, which has no didactic proof, only empirical proof grounded on the faith that the the future will conform with the past, as it always has as far as we know, but it might not. That's empiricism. Philosophy class, first year. But cheer up, if it doesn't matter, then his post's point doesn't much matter either, right? Well, as an Alaydian, I think his post does matter, because it contributes to Truth and reason, and Alaydians believe Truth itself is God. Logical inquiry and provability are holy, whereas opinion without proof is sin...Hey, is that agnostic?
Comment by Clarence Dember on January 11, 2009 at 10:54pm
Micro waves are invisable, but you can be cooked by them.
Electricity is invisable, but 1/10th of an ampere can kill so I'd rather not play golf in a lightning storm
Comment by Clarence Dember on January 11, 2009 at 10:37pm
This is the Nihilist view?
Throw statistics and controls out the window? The FBI should trash it's methodology? Section can't stop Red Cell?

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