Rise, and (Impending) Fall of Physics Fundamentalism


Science is widely taken to aim, and often to succeed, in producing truths, a “mirror of nature”. Not so. Instead, science fashions models, understood broadly as representations that are never both completely precise and completely accurate. . This chapter discusses how the misconception arose and how it is now being corrected. The account begins with a tension between the founding metaphors of the Scientific Revolution, reading God’s book of nature and the clock metaphor. The former pre-frames laws and physics fundamentalism; the latter the discovery of mechanisms, how things work. Laws aimed at truth, but the world is too complicated for us to get generalizations exactly right. Likewise, the complexity of mechanisms always requires simplifying idealization. Further, different problems require different idealizations and so a pluralism of accounts. The pluralism is unproblematic as different problems about the same subject matter can be consistently dealt with using very different schemes of simplification.

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