Aesthetics, Nature and Physics

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2010 by Sukrit

The title of the post to say the least sounds queer. What has nature and aesthetics got to do with physics and directly mathematics ? Indeed while writing this post a number of other titles came to my head (i prefer not to use the word mind – its not scientifically defined). But somehow this title reflects the thoughts in my head.

We see only what we wish to see. In other words the way we see this world depends on the glasses we put on. In the case of physics specifically the glasses are mathematical tools and mathematical reasoning. I found a very interesting example about Galileo in an essay by R.W Hamming. Here’s the excerpt :

Let us next consider Galileo. Not too long ago I was trying to put myself in Galileo’s shoes, as it were, so that I might feel how he came to discover the law of falling bodies. I try to do this kind of thing so that I can learn to think like the masters did-I deliberately try to think as they might have done.

Well, Galileo was a well-educated man and a master of scholastic arguments. He well knew how to argue the number of angels on the head of a pin, how to argue both sides of any question. He was trained in these arts far better than any of us these days. I picture him sitting one day with a light and a heavy ball, one in each hand, and tossing them gently. He says, hefting them, “It is obvious to anyone that heavy objects fall faster than light ones-and, anyway, Aristotle says so.” “But suppose,” he says to himself, having that kind of a mind, “that in falling the body broke into two pieces. Of course the two pieces would immediately slow down to their appropriate speeds. But suppose further that one piece happened to touch the other one. Would they now be one piece and both speed up? Suppose I tied the two pieces together. How tightly must I do it to make them one piece? A light string? A rope? Glue? When are two pieces one?”

The more he thought about it-and the more you think about it-the more unreasonable becomes the question of when two bodies are one. There is simply no reasonable answer to the question of how a body knows how heavy it is-if it is one piece, or two, or many. Since falling bodies do something, the only possible thing is that they all fall at the same speed-unless interfered with by other forces. There’s nothing else they can do. He may have later made some experiments, but I strongly suspect that something like what I imagined actually happened.


PS: The correlation of mathematics and natural sciences is astonishing considering maths is a human created abstraction. I have been rather absorbed with this subject lately. More to come soon.


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