(This should be posted early as I will not be in a position to write a post next weekend. If I don’t make it, it may be late!)
Laws. When we think of laws we think of speeding fines, fines for drunken driving and so on, but there are a myriad of other laws that we don’t often think about. Ones about wills and probate. Laws to protect the young, the elderly, and other vulnerable people. Laws to deter people from stealing and cheating. Laws for almost everything.
Laws are odd, when you think about it. They prevent or deter people from doing things. They basically act against personal freedom. They set limits and they are restrictive. But they are usually created on public demand or at least with public acquiescence, if not approval.
A whole section, a powerful section, of our societies has grown up to maintain and enforce our laws. The police are tasked with ensuring that laws are followed and are given the power to arrest those who appear to be breaking them, although they do not decide whether or not those persons have in fact broken the laws.
The judiciary are the people who decide whether or not the laws have been broken, based on the evidence provided. Sometimes the judges or magistrates act alone, and at other times they use the judgement of a randomly selected group of citizens formed into a jury.
If the person is found guilty there are several types of punishments, fines, bans, even imprisonment and in the past, execution. A whole group of people is needed to oversee the sentence.
From the time when the person is charged with a crime until and often after the verdict he or she will rely on the services of a specialist in laws, a lawyer or attorney. These people dedicate their lives to helping prove the innocence or guilt of persons charged with a crime.
Another huge section of society is responsible for making and amending laws. One of the functions of Government is to do this, but how do they decide how to add, change, or remove laws? I find that an interesting question. It seems to me that the representatives bring their own biasses and beliefs to the party.
They would be bringing a need hopefully communicated to them by the people who they represent, either for a change in the law or a new law or for the removal of a redundant law.
There’s a huge part of human endeavours devoted to making and administrating laws. Why do we spend such a large effort in stopping people doing things that they basically want to do?
Well, in most cases laws are there to prevent people doing things that cause harm to others, either intentionally (eg stealing) or inadvertently (eg drunken driving). Some laws are intended to prevent people harming themselves (eg drug laws).
Interestingly I heard about an experiment where a bunch of students were engaged to play a game, but the game had no rules. After a while the students started to make rules, even rules about how to make rules. So far as I know they didn’t make rules about enforcing rules or have penalties for breaking the rules! I’ve subsequently tried to find references on the Internet to this game, but I’ve been unable to find any, but it does seem as if human like rules or laws.
There is another sort of law – one which cannot be broken, the so-called law (or laws) of nature. Mankind has been obsessed with these laws for a long time, longer even than they have known that there were laws.
It’s not difficult to spot that day follows night follows day. That is, I guess, a law in itself. The underlying causes for it are not apparent. All sorts of theories were tried, including Sun Gods and flaming chariots and things like that. It was realised fairly early on that the movement of the sun across the followed some fairly simple rules.
For example the sun is higher in the sky in summer, and lower in winter, and the day is longer in summer than in winter and its height depends on how far north or south one is. One of the better explanations involved celestial sphere rotating about the earth. By this time it was becoming clear that the earth was round.
As the power of the scientific method became apparent, the likes of Newton and his contemporaries really applied its power. The idea that everything was explainable in terms of a set of known laws became really prominent. I think that what was missed was that all descriptions, even back to the Sun Gods and similar, were just that, descriptions.
Newton’s laws of gravitational attraction were descriptions of how masses appeared to move under gravitational forces. Every massive object was described as being gravitationally attracted to any other massive object and Newton provided equations to model this interaction.
When one asks what a “massive object” is, one finds oneself in a spot. A massive object is one which has mass and which is attracted to other massive objects. It is evident that this is a circular definition. OK, given the concepts of massive objects and attraction, why should they have particular a particular mathematical relationship, rather than any other?
Newton’s law of gravitational attraction have been hugely successful, notably being used to calculate the orbital period of Halley’s Comet. But in the early 1900s Einstein showed that Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation are not absolutely accurate if the massive objects. Einstein’s formulations of the laws is more accurate under these extreme conditions.
The question comes to mind – is Einstein’s formulation the ultimate explanation? Firstly I’d argue that it is a description and not an explanation at all. As such, some different description may be needed under even more extreme conditions or maybe to merge the scientific description of moving objects at high speeds and the description of quantum level events.
There may be no ultimate explanation or mathematical laws accessible to humans. A photon behaves as it does because that is the way that a photon behaves, if it is correct to label a particular physical phenomenon as a photon.
(This is the post for next Sunday/Monday, since I won’t be able to do a post then. The post after that should be back on schedule.)