Induction and Modern Physics Essay
Induction and Modern Physics
The oft used method to describe the functioning of method of induction is by means of generalization based on a number of empirical observations. The apriori cause of events is not known to human beings and there is no theory that supports itself from which it is possible to deduce the conclusions in absolute terms. The only solution is the observation of some events and identifying a pattern. While this does reveal a causal pattern, it does not establish or confirm the existence of such patterns in absolute terms.
Advances in modern physics corroborated the chinks in the thinking methodology of inductive reasoning but by itself following the established method of empirical determination. Modern physics is itself thus, subject to the same shortcomings and problems of inductive reasoning. There are three processes involved in ‘doing physics’: the immutable ‘laws of nature’ themselves as they are, the observation of events and finally the understanding of the ‘laws of nature’ based on interpretation of these events.
Human beings are not born with any knowledge base in their minds and it is only through powers of observations that it is possible to decipher these laws of nature through identification of empirical patterns and attributing causes to them. But herein lays the problem of inductive reasoning: identification a series of observations with ‘a cause’ and the need for absolute answers should not translate to hasty generalization to have found ‘the cause’ or the ‘only cause’.
Other than the problem of generalization that does not give foolproof answers, another objection to inductive reasoning is whether the laws of physics will hold in future as they did in the past. Now this is different from arguing whether the ‘laws of nature’ will play out as they always have in the past. Most modern physicists realise this and always leave a ground or two of uncertainty in their most elaborate theories that they might have missed a few factors that were not captured in empirical observations. To judge the absolute truth of a claim by inductive methods, one must have an objective criterion for determining the same.
This criterion can not be justified because the justification itself is inductive in nature. The laws of physics are human constructs for an understanding of the immutable ‘laws of nature’ and a clear distinction between the two is required. The understanding of ‘laws of nature’ and hence the laws of physics will keep undergoing changes, while not necessarily negating the earlier laws but more like building upon them by adding more causes to an observed phenomenon that were earlier missed in the empirical observations.
A case in point here is the discovery of the photoelectric effect, so fundamentally important from the perspective of quantum theory. The concepts were fundamentally contrary to wave theory of light but each was based on incontrovertible evidence by the empirical observations of the inductive reasoning. The reconciliation of these theories was ultimately possible because both were supported by observations.
So while the photoelectric effect did not negate the earlier established wave theory, it was instrumental in identifying some other causes that were missed in the empirical observations of the wave theory. Other examples that expose the problem of inductive reasoning are the concepts of complementarity by Bohr and the uncertainty principle by Heisenberg. The concepts of complementarity established the mutual exclusiveness of the eave and particle nature.
It reconciled the two concepts that were earlier deemed contradictory. Thus while modern physics did not negate the observations of classical physics, it established through another sets of observations the complementarity of concepts. The uncertainty principle shows that specifying the position and momentum with absolute precision is not possible. It lays a cap on the accuracy of the observations and thus the confidence in inferring absolute ‘laws of physics ‘ out of them.
This is a clear reflection of the problem of inductive reasoning and hence while it is possible to support some theories with empirical observations, we can not support them in absolute terms to hold valid in future as they did in the past. The relation of ideas inferred from inductive reasoning by empirical observations does not constitute a ‘matter of fact’ even in modern physics. The problem of induction is thus an existing problem and it introduces a subjective reasoning methodology from the perspective of identifying limited causes.
With it, it is not possible to achieve certainty of the conclusions no matter how many repeated observations would seem to support it. Modern physics explanations of some phenomenon exposed just a mindset but then the inductive reasoning is the only method by which it is possible to gain knowledge and modern physics follows a similar practice. While modern physics does not always falsify the claims of classical physics, it provides causes for which there are no observations to be supported in the realm of classical physics.
Whether it is the human tendency to connect events occurring in conjunction or assuming that laws of physics will hold or be built upon, the problems of inductive reasoning still apply to modern physics, albeit with a more widely accepted realization that there may be some other causes that might not have yet been found. While it is possible to infer a cause from the observations, it is not absolute in terms of identifying all the cause for the inductive reasoning always misses out on some causes that will be corroborated by another set of observations later on.
The ‘nature of evidence’ that even modern physics employs through inductive reasoning is not sufficient to make claims of the absolute nature of its findings. The presence of empirical observations between conjoining events can not lead to absolute determinism of cause and effect even in modern physics. However some of the findings in modern physics do themselves state the problems of induction, albeit in a different formalism. Works Cited Hume, David. Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Hackett Publishing, 1899.