Saturday, July 18, 2009

What is an explanation? What is the ultimate cause?

George Ellis points out that the question, ``Why does an aircraft fly?’’ has several different answers, ranging from ``because it is on the airlines schedule’’ to ``because the air molecules produce a differential force between the top and bottom of the wings.’’ Which answer is ``correct’’ depends on the context of the original question. Furthermore, different individuals and different social groups will have different standards and values that will determine what constitutes a ``satisfactory’’ explanation.

In his book, A Different Universe, Bob Laughlin states,
``microscopic laws are true and could plausibly cause phases; therefore we are sure they do cause them, even though we cannot prove this deductively. The argument does have the strange effect of giving the word ``cause’’ a meaning it does not customarily have. One could say that the laws of chemistry ``caused’’ the destruction of Tokyo, but what really did it was Godzilla.’’

``Symmetries are caused by things, not the cause of things.’’ (p.124)
He further claims that ``protection’’ obscures ultimate causes,
``The elastic rigidity of the solid state, hides the existence of atoms, because the elastic properties are universal consequences of ordering and would be the same if the solids were made of something else. (p. 144)

No comments:

Post a Comment