Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Newton would accept modern physics

A reader sends me this Nautilus interview from last year:
Kuhn’s popular because of his phrase, “the paradigm shift.” The idea, roughly, is that Einstein came along and displaced Newton. He superseded the old view about the universe and now Newtonians couldn’t talk with Einstein’s people because they had two fundamentally different versions of reality.

And this is nonsense because of course scientists talk to each other all the time. We are endlessly changing the nature of science without losing our ability to communicate with each other about it. It’s inconceivable to me that Newton and Einstein, if they had the opportunity to get together and carry on a conversation, would have stared at each other in kind of mute incomprehension. ...

So Kuhn’s idea, correct me if I’m wrong, is that to some degree we’re always trapped inside of our own biases, our own theories. We can’t see beyond the paradigm. And this stays on until a new paradigm comes along and then our view becomes outdated.
If Isaac Newton could somehow be brought from the past and educated in XX century physics, he would certainly reject Kuhnian ideas that the newer physics was revolutionary or incommensurable.

I think that Newton would conclude:

1. Newtonian physics is still considered valid on scales far beyond any he proposed or contemplated.

2. Relativity solves the problem of how gravity is transmitted at finite speed. (Poincare solved this in 1905 based on Lorentz's ideas; Einstein had nothing to do with it.)

3. The only planetary orbit requiring a post-Newtonian correction requires centuries of observations to get a very slight effect.

The modern philosophical ideas about scientific revolutions are complete nonsense. Physics has advanced a lot since Newton, but not so much that Newton would think that he had been proved wrong, or that he would find the new physics unrecognizable.


  1. Too much to ask for!




  2. If relativity is so great, how are they solving Einstein's field equations with more than a single mass in the same non-linear system?

    Toy gravitational models which can't accommodate more than one mass are useless without a hell of a lot of bullshit.