Legalistic Stuff

Marooned (Photo credit: Wikipedia

Suppose two men are marooned on a remote island somewhere. At first each is unaware that the other is there, but eventually they meet. Suppose that for some reason they don’t want to join up, but they do want to interact. So they set about working out ways to share the island, and obviously they want to live amicably until they are rescued.

So they might draw an imaginary line across the island. A can only go into B’s half as long as B is aware and approves, and vice versa. Maybe it turns out that food is easier to come by in B’s half, but there is plenty for both. B allows A to venture into parts of his half of the island and A drops off a few items that he has gathered as thanks.

The upper part of the stela of Hammurapis' cod...
The upper part of the stela of Hammurapis’ code of laws (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Later on they find that A’s part of the island has the best spots to catch fish or something, and they come to an agreement about that. Slowly but surely they build up a set of rules on how to behave and live on the island in harmony.

One can imagine that an arbitrarily complex set of rules may be developed, and these rules could be further complicated if a third man, C, were to join them on the island.

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You can probably see where I am going with this. As the population of the island rises, more and more rules will become necessary, or if not necessary, useful, and at some stage someone will have the idea of writing them down. The rules become laws and eventually attract all the mechanisms of a full legal system.

While browsing around while thinking about this sort of thing, I came across a review of “Day Z”, which the author of the review describes as “A Video Game Without Rules”. The author describes how the ability to do nasty things to others leads to characters in the game, especially established players doing nasty things to other players, usually new spawned players.

English: Uppercase and lowercase Greek letter ...
English: Uppercase and lowercase Greek letter zeta, the 6th letter of the Greek alphabet. Times New Roman font. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s possible that the behaviour of players in the game is merely an early stage in its evolution, and it may be that later on stronger players may band together to help the newly spawned players and the people who treat new players badly will be marginalised or persuaded to change their ways. One can hope.

Another dismal view of the island scenario was that of William Golding who wrote “The Lord of the Flies”, where a group of English schoolboys are marooned on an island, perhaps as the result of an atomic war. They soon revert to savagery and murder, overriding the civilised urgings of Piggy and Ralph. As Piggy says “Which is better—to have rules and agree, or to hunt and kill? … law and rescue, or hunting and breaking things up?” The rest of the boys obviously want to hunt and kill.

Pig head for sale at Cleveland's West Side Market
Pig head for sale at Cleveland’s West Side Market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nevertheless, the process of generating laws by discussion and agreement was probably along the lines that I have suggested above. No doubt there were many tries to achieve this process which failed in the manner that things appear to have failed in the video game and how they were depicted as failing in “the Lord of the Files”, before a working system of laws was achieved.

It’s possible that the magic ingredient was the evolution of system of magistrates and a method of enforcing the laws. With a supposedly impartial system to decide the rights of a matter, and a special force or police system to enforce the laws, the weak individual would be protected against the stronger.

English: Hammurabi code. One of the first law ...
English: Hammurabi code. One of the first law sets in the world. Now it is in the Louvre museum, Mesopotamia section. Asia. Español: Código de Hammurabi. Uno de los primeros conjuntos de leyes del mundo. Se encuentra en el museo de Louvre, sección de Asia antigua. Mesopotamia, Babilonia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In early days, the system of laws and the enforcement of them would have been vested in the priests and spiritual leaders, who would have controlled the enforcement system, probably “Temple Guards” or similar.

Where do kings fit in? The rulers were often not priests themselves, but the rulers were seen to rule by divine right, so there was a tight link between the rulers and the religious leaders. Kings such as Hammurabi supposedly led the way in law making, though no doubt there was much political to and fro between the kings and the priests.

English: Priest Mongaku's forty-five article r...
English: Priest Mongaku’s forty-five article rules and regulations (文覚四十五箇条起請文〈藤原忠親筆/, mongaku yonjūgokajō kishōmon). Document requesting the restoration of Jingo-ji temple from Emperor Go-Shirakawa. Located at Jingo-ji, Kyoto, Japan. The scroll has been designated as National Treasure of Japan in the category ancient documents. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These days, in many countries the law has been secularised and in many laws are decided by the government of the country, and are arbitrated by a separate branch of the administration called the justice system, and the enforcement is carried out by the police and retribution by the prisons system.

Lawmaking, justice and enforcement are in many countries legally independent of one another so that, for example, the government cannot manipulate the system for its own advantage. The principle is that justice should be independent of lawmaking and the enforcement systems.

English: The courthouse of Tours. Français : L...
English: The courthouse of Tours. Français : Le palais de justice de Tours. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How does all this affect the man in the street? Well, in practise, not very much, usually, at least not directly. When driving along the road, a motorist is aware that the speed limit is so-and-so, and usually keeps to it, more or less. He or she treats it as an advisory rather than a restriction, in that it is taken as the top speed that is safe for that road.

The man in the street also uses laws for his own protection. He will assume that the consumer protection laws back him up when he purchases something which it transpires is defective and will feel confident in returning it. In most cases the retailer would not be too upset by someone returning a defective product as in most cases the retailer would want a happy customer and can return the product to the manufacturer.

In general, laws work best when they conform with the principle of “natural justice” or what would generally be considered fair. It is not fair for example for someone to keep others awake by holding noisy all night parties, and in most cases the law will support the sleepless neighbours over the noisy one, but it could come down to a matter of perception.

Things like disputes about access to properties can hinge on such matters and are very often cannot easily be settled. The law has been evolving for thousands of years, but it can’t solve every dispute, although we would be worse off without it. It has to change as the world is changing, so it is constantly evolving. We cannot expect it to be perfect.

At the Law Rock, or Lögberg, a rocky outcrop o...
At the Law Rock, or Lögberg, a rocky outcrop on which the Lawspeaker, or lögsögumaður, took his seat as the presiding official of the Icelandic Althing (Alþing), at Thingvellir, or Þingvellir, Iceland. assembly. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Law of the Land and of Nature

(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!)

English: Rules bye laws and orders of the Beve...
English: Rules bye laws and orders of the Beverley Westwood The new set of boards with the rules of the Beverley Westwood pastures placed at the entrance of the common. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Ferrari speeding at Piazza Duomo, Milan.
Ferrari speeding at Piazza Duomo, Milan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

English: France in 2000 year (XXI century). Fl...
English: France in 2000 year (XXI century). Flying road police. France, paper card. : L’Agent Aviateur. Русский: Карточка серии “Франция в 2000 году” – “Воздушные полицейские”. Репродукция публиковалась в журнале “Очевидное и невероятное”, 2008 год. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Dartmoor Prison in Princetown with North Hessa...
Dartmoor Prison in Princetown with North Hessary Mast and tor visible behind it. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

A British government leaflet describing variou...
A British government leaflet describing various penalties given out to people breaching the wartime rationing legislation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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?

Thai lawyer in academic attorney gownl in the ...
Thai lawyer in academic attorney gownl in the court models of the Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

English: Quantum Cloud, Bugsby's Reach The scu...
English: Quantum Cloud, Bugsby’s Reach The sculpture by Antony Gormley stands in the River Thames by the jetty for the O2 Arena. A computer generated algorithm was used to position the tetrahedral units to create a figure inside the cloud. Now that’s what I call art. Seen better here : (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Ra, the egyptian god was the god of sun and kings
Ra, the egyptian god was the god of sun and kings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Some trajectories of a particle in a box accor...
Some trajectories of a particle in a box according to Newton’s laws of classical mechanics (A), and according to the Schrödinger equation of quantum mechanics (B-F). In (B-F), the horizontal axis is position, and the vertical axis is the real part (blue) or imaginary part (red) of the wavefunction. The states (B,C,D) are energy eigenstates, but (E,F) are not. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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?

Infra-red image of the centre of our Milky Way...
Infra-red image of the centre of our Milky Way galaxy revealing a new population of massive stars. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Eddington's photograph of a solar eclipse, whi...
Eddington’s photograph of a solar eclipse, which confirmed Einstein’s theory that light “bends”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Diagram for quantum teleportation of a photon
Diagram for quantum teleportation of a photon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(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.)