The Logical Basis of Physics

The word science comes from the Latin scire “to know”. Science simply means “knowledge” acquired through inquiry. The word physics comes ultimately from Greek phusis ‘nature’.

The science of physics is the knowledge acquired through objective inquiry into the nature of the universe.

The logical perspective used in physics has been described as follows.1

From the earliest recorded thoughts about physics and philosophy, beginning in ancient times, theories about the constitution of nature have been divided into two opposing conceptual frameworks, one based on the idea of a continuum of substance permeating all space, and the other based on the idea of isolated entities moving through a void of empty space.

In the “continuum of substance” perspective we have a gradient at the boundary between matter and space. Here the substance gradually thins out from matter and ultimately becomes space. Faraday2 described this gradient as made up of “lines of force”. These lines were concentrated in atoms, and from there they extended out making the fabric of space. Therefore, there was a gradient scale of substance from matter to space.

In the “particles in void” perspective we have a sharp divide at the boundary between matter and space. Here matter ends abruptly and space starts. It is a much simpler black and white view of substance. It is either present as “matter”, or absent as “space”. There is no gradient in between. It is simple to represent this view with mathematics.

There are two logical perspectives that have been used in physics: (a) “particles in void”, and (b) “continuum of substance”.

The “particles in void” perspective found its biggest success in Newtonian Mechanics, where matter and space were treated clearly as separate entities. Since space is viewed as “nothingness”, it is addressed mathematically through the use of Geometry in explaining mechanics.

Newton was also successful in discovering the universal phenomenon of Gravity. He provided the mathematics for assessing the gravitational attraction between two objects. But it raised more questions. Space was “nothingness” and had no properties, so how could two objects attract each other across a distance? Newton was mystified by this “action at a distance”, but he had no answers.

The “particles in void” perspective has been extremely successful but it has been unable to explain the mystery of “action at a distance”.

More questions arose in 18th century in the context of light, heat, electricity and magnetism where the separation between matter and space was not so clear. Mathematics has helped to a large degree but it seems to be substituting increasingly for some unknown reality.

There have been attempts to apply the “continuum of substance” perspective to the mystery of “action at a distance” and other problems; but, for some reason, this perspective has not caught on.

The “continuum of substance” perpective  may solve the problem of “action at a distance”, but it has not been applied diligently.

Modern physics is still focused on the “particles in void” perspective supported by mathematics. This perspective is visible in quantum mechanics, which conceives that atom and its nucleus are made up of particles. The subject of Particle Physics is at the forefront of current physical research.

The scientific mindset is currently dominated by the “particles in void” perspective supported by mathematics.

The “continuum of substance” perspective has yet to be applied diligently to the fundamental problems in physics that have long been considered but still unresolved.

The book looks at the unresolved problems in Physics from the “continuum of substance” perspective.

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1Why Maxwell Couldn’t Explain Gravity” by Kevin Brown
2Thoughts on Ray Vibrations”, Lecture by Michael Faraday (1846),  Experimental Researches in Electricity, Vol III, M. Faraday, p447-452.

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Reference: A Logical Approach to Theoretical Physics

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