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Friday, November 23, 2012

The Limits of Counterinduction?

A paradox is truth standing on its head to attract attention.
-Nicholas Falletta

Destiny is not a matter of chance-- it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for-- it is a thing to be achieved.
-William Jennings Bryan

In this last blog post, I discuss a question that seems to oppose the rest of the arguments presented in this blog: does counterinduction have a limit--i.e. are some laws really untouchable?

The short answer is yes, some laws are untouchable.

The long answer is yes, as long as the realm of science exists in the manner that we know of.

To explain this, I turn again to Kaku's Physics of the Impossible, this time to his Class III impossibilities, or "technologies that violate the known laws of physics."

He points out in the Preface that, 
If they do turn out to be possible, they would represent a fundamental shift in our understanding of physics.
A specific example that he provides is the concept of precognition, or the ability to predict the future. Like many other topics discussed in this blog, precognition has been an area especially interesting to everyone.

(This picture shows a common conception of how "psychics" predict the future, using a "crystal ball.")

In my last post, I talked about  how time travel does not necessarily violate the known laws of science, so one might expect precognition to be a mere corollary to that fact. However, this does not appear to be the case.

The law in question is a very intuitive and simple law-- the rule of cause and effect (causality). Kaku explains that:
Effects occur after the cause, not vice versa. All the laws of physics that have been found so far have causality built into them. A violation of causality would signal a major collapse of the foundations of physics.
And precognition would clearly violate this fact-- if we know of the effect before the cause, a giant plethora of contradictions and paradoxes would instantly rise.

Yet, there are different physical concepts which have tried to counterinductively refute the "impossibility."

One example is embedded in Maxwell's equations for light. When we solve them, we find two solutions: a "retarded" wave that represents the standard movement of light, and an "advanced" light that actually goes backward in time.

HUH?

Yes, light that travels backward in time. It probably confused you, it confused me, and it definitely confused mathematicians and physicists.

But surely, if light and electrons have the ability to travel to the past already, then we can send messages through them, right? Doesn't this fact show the violation of causality?

The answer is no.

This is because as the electron travels to the past, it simply fulfills the past. No violations of causality are made, and none can be made if we treat antimatter as just another form of matter. In fact, antimatter is essential to restoring causality!

Hence, Kaku concludes that,
Precognition seems to be ruled out, at least for the foreseeable future...It would set off a major shake-up in the very foundations of modern physics if precognition was ever proved in reproducible experiments.
Hence, we can conclude that although counterinduction is a powerful tool, it still has its limits, at least in our foundations of science.


This concludes the discussion of Feyerabend's Against Method and Kaku's Physics of the Impossible.

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